Native Plants for the Cottage Garden

Ten Bold Native Plants to Update Granny's Cottage Garden

I recently read a great article in the British Gardens Illustrated magazine that took a fresh look at plants for the traditional cottage garden. I’ve always had a soft spot for cottage gardens, as they are one garden archetype that adapts as well for small American gardens as it does for British ones. Plus, the charming jumble of perennials and shrubs is a truly sustainable model for American gardens. It made me think: can we create an American cottage garden out of a purely native palette?

The answer is a resounding “yes”. American gardeners can have all the advantages of a cottage garden—the romantic appeal, the low maintenance, and the goopy prettiness of it all—with a wildlife-friendly native mix.

The key to designing a successful cottage garden is to create the appearance of abundance in small spaces. Good cottage gardens recall moments of rural landscapes: loose grasses, towering ubellifers, and architectural spires. Here a few design principles for creating a cottage garden:

1. Create volume with herbaceous plants. Good cottage gardens overflow with a voluminous massing of pernnials, grasses, and shrubs. The actual mix of species is less important than creating mass and volume within planting beds. Americans are notoriously bad at creating this kind of massing. If you can see mulch in your beds, your plants are too far apart. And don’t use groundcovers; cottage gardens need full, heaping beds of plants that spill over the edges. As a rule of thumb, use plants that are two to four feet tall on average with accent perennials that reach for the sky.

2. Use a high percentage of filler plants: The trick to making a cottage garden look good year-round is to rely on a base of filler plants. Filler plants are those that lack a distinctive shape and fill in around other plants. Think about baby’s breath in a bouquet of roses. icastrum virginicum). The filler plants typically look good year round and create a backdrop to contrast the real stars of the cottage garden: the structural perennials.

3. Mix a variety of structural flower types: Perhaps the most recognizable feature of cottage gardens are the distinctive mix of flower types. There’s nothing quite as romantic as a richly layered composition of architectural spires (like Baptisia), button shaped flowers (like Monarda), feathery plumes (like Aruncus), statuesque umbels (like Heracleum), and the bright daisies (like Rudbeckia).

And now, what shall we plant? If you follow the design principles above, the truly great advantage of cottage gardens is that there’s a lot of flexibility about what species you select. Here are some native plants that would be ideal for creating the cottage garden effect.


1. Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis): The colorful spires of Wild Indigo have much of the romantic effect that Foxgloves or Hollyhocks had in the English cottage garden. Used in the back of the border, Wild Indigo doubles as both a filler plant (when not in bloom) and a structural plant (when in bloom). The plant also fixes nitrogen in the soil, actually improves the fertility of your planting beds. If you like yellow in the garden, the cultivar ‘Carolina Moonlight’ is spectacular.2. Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata): Nothing says grandmother’s garden like the billowing blooms of garden phlox. This sweet, upright perennial reaches 3-4 feet tall, and blooms in late summer when many other perennials are spent. Great for butterflies or hummingbirds. Try some of the newer mildew-resistant cultivars like ‘David’ or ‘Katherine’.

Source: landscapeofmeaning.blogspot.com

Timber Press The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year-Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage
Book (Timber Press)

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All yards are not created equal.

There are so many outlying factors that are weighed in when designing a garden for a back yard.
Even if you were given 50 back yards that were all the same dimensions you will have 50 different designs because you have 50 different opinioned clients.
One wants a Japanese garden with traditional authentic stone work, while the next one wants a English cottage garden and the next one wants a Moorish styled garden.
Each design is built with completely different materials so each design has to be detailed and drafted differently .
A design that details extensive architectual detailing takes a lot longer to craft than a planting plan

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