Apr
23
2021

17 Cottage Garden Ideas – Charming Cottage Garden Plants And Design Tips

The appeal of cottage garden ideas is enduring. After all, who doesn’t love the look?

Plants are the main event, blending a profusion of blooms in a random way that mixes up color and form. Get the look right and nothing beats the subtle combination of textured foliage, tumbling climbers, romantic drifts of softly colored perennials, and perfumed flowers.

Roses, lavender, and tall spires of lupins, foxgloves, and hollyhocks are the stars of the show. This style of planting softens the look of a garden and brings you up close with scent, foliage textures, and a tapestry of soothing color.

If you want to channel your inner Gertrude Jekyll and go big on cottage garden ideas, the trick is to create an intimate space packed with color and scent, with dense planting spilling over pathways and framing windows and doors to create a serendipitous vibe.

If you love the idea of this style, look at what you already have that fits in with this theme then create a wish list of what you need to buy to fill the spaces. We’re here to help and have made it easy for you. Read on to find all the inspiration you’ll need.

Cottage garden ideas – to inspire your scheme

Use these cottage garden ideas as an easy step-by-step guide to creating your own cottage garden at home – they contain all the elements you’ll need.

1. Pick the right flowers

(Image credit: Ian Kirkland/Unsplash)

According to garden designer Tracy Foster MSGD, historically, as well as being pretty to look at, the plants in a cottage garden earned their place by being easy to grow, useful, edible, or a mixture of all three.

It’s the versatility of the cottage garden style which appeals too. Tracy suggests that ‘the resulting symphony of shape, texture, color, and scent in a seemingly unstructured layout can bring a bucolic charm to any plot, even in the heart of a city.’

For a truly authentic cottage look, there will be a variety of different shapes and forms on the border. Landscape and garden designer Ana Mari Bull MSGD recommend using history as a guide, ‘where possible look at modern cultivar equivalents of the plants which would have originally grown in a Victorian cottage garden. Roses are the obvious choice but they must be scented.’

Tracy Foster adds height with hollyhocks, delphiniums, and foxgloves. For other flower shapes try the flat panicles of achillea, ball-shaped inflorescences of globe thistle (Echinops retro), or cheerful daisy flowers of Leucanthemum or rudbeckia.

2. Go for a pink and mauve color palette

(Image credit: Jonathan Buckley/Sarah Raven)

Choose the right color scheme for your cottage garden look and you’re halfway there. A muted palette of soft pinks and mauves (perhaps with a dash of purple to add some drama) always works especially if you keep things simple and stick to it.

Add in some touches of vintage cream and set the whole thing against a neutral backdrop of green and the result will be positively painterly. As you get more confident mix in some pale greys, washed-out blues, and silvery foliage to add depth and complexity that will segue beautifully with your look.

Where to start? With drifts of heavenly mauve lavender and ruffled old-fashioned pink roses (of course), as well as jewel-toned purple and magenta Verbena bonariensis like these beauties.

3. Blur the boundaries

(Image credit: Future)

This is so easy to achieve. Pick plants that will flop over paths, tumble from arbors and pergolas, and scramble over walls and fences. This softens the hard landscaping so it fades into the background rather than being the dominant force as is often the case with more contemporary gardens.

It’s time to let nature takes its course too. Put away those secateurs and let your plants go on a rampage. Get a hazy effect with a lady’s mantle (AKA Alchemilla Mollis, used to edge the path here).

The soft lacy flowers form scalloped edging. And you can’t beat airy cow parsley to blend in hard boundaries. It’s like looking through a filtered lens to enhance things.

4. Introduce fragrant plants

(Image credit: Thompson & Morgan)

The scent of lavender and the soothing buzz of bees hovering around it on a summer’s day is traditional but timeless features of the cottage garden.

Plant lavender near a path or doorway so you can brush your fingers through the scented leaves as you pass by.

A heavenly fragranced rose scrambling over an arbor will envelop you as you wander underneath, while a twiggy wigwam of sweet peas will drench the air with their old-fashioned scent.

Other favorites for packing perfume into borders include frilly garden pinks and sweetly honeyed phlox, while a perfumed lilac bush always works well and is a butterfly magnet too.

5. Pick flouncy cabbage roses

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With their big, blowsy blooms and glorious scent, old-fashioned roses add a dusting of magic to the cottage garden. Available in a range of opulent colors, their silky ruffled petals pack an old-style glamour punch. They are the ideal flowers for creating a sense of romance in your cottage garden too.

Opt for something like this ‘Enchrantress’, a stunning double pink ruffled rose with densely packed velvety petals that gets a top rating scent-wise and is also what’s known as a ‘repeat flowerer’.

Remember to keep snipping off any faded blooms and you’ll be rewarded with a second flush. It has a good vase life too and looks gorgeous paired with lilac.

6. Get the picket fence look

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Traditional white picket fences are the signature look for a cottage garden. Also known as palisade fencing, back in the day they were the obvious choice as they were simple to construct on-site with standard pieces of timber.

The fence was often painted white to improve longevity and it’s this iconic look that we’ve grown to love. Now there are new long-lasting products on the market to achieve the same look with modern materials that don’t require upkeep. Once they’re in position all you need to do is plant a mass of blooms that will peek over and through the panels.

7. Make doorways pretty

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Set the scene by framing doors and windows, both front and back, with pretty collections of flowers and foliage in a restrained color palette that fits with the exterior scheme of your house.

Add perfumed plants to the mix too. As you walk up to your path one of the most welcoming sensations on arriving home is being hit by a delicious waft of fragrance so a pair of planters (we love these terracotta chimney pots – what could be more cottage garden?) with lavender will give your entrance the standout factor.

An inviting porch creates the right mood and lets you show off your passion for plants too. Tap into cottage vernacular by choosing classics like lupins and perennial cornflowers, then let them romp around in a naturalistic way.

8. Escape to nature with dreamy lilac

(Image credit: Future)

The most magical of plants, lilac is one of the cottage garden shrubs of old that’s rightly having a comeback. A longtime favorite of cottage planting schemes, where it was once considered the height of fashion, it grows easily and the showy cones of blossom come in a range of pretty shades as well as signature soft mauve.

Some of the oldest varieties are known as French Lilacs. The lush double flowers of ‘Mme Lemoine’ are pure white and the heady perfume is incomparable so it easily earns its place in the cottage garden.

Lilac can be grown as a tree, a shrub, or in a pot according to variety, and adds a pleasing shape to the structure of your planting.

9. Plant in romantic drifts

(Image credit: Future)

This is a signature look for cottage gardens, where swathes of naturalistic planting are used to create a loose and unstructured effect. It’s easy to do too. Just remember you’ll need three, five, or seven lots of each plant, then arrange them in repeat groups for impact.

One of the most distinctive cottage garden plants with their tall spires of speckled bells, foxgloves are a natural choice for this look. Drift planting works best when it creates a gentle wash of color, so foxgloves are perfect for the job as they come in a range of dusky pink, soft apricot, and misty mauve shades.

Add punctuation marks to the structure of the planting scheme with pompom plants like agapanthus or alliums, also planted in repeat patterns.

10. Add stunners to fill borders

(Image credit: Future)

Choose dramatic spikes with striking vertical lines and big showy plants with larger-than-life leaves to add show stopper moments to a cottage planting scheme. If you want drama in your borders opts for statement plants like these.

For attention-seeking towering spires go for showy lupins, delphiniums, and foxgloves as they will always catch the eye. A few vertical notes from plants like this will lift a run-of-the-mill border and turn it into something special.

The huge, silvery, thistle-like leaves of towering cardoons make it a stunning addition to the back of a border. Just perfect for some leafy seclusion in your favorite relaxation spot.

11. Choose a cottage garden classic

(Image credit: Thompson & Morgan)

Adding fragrance, color, and height, traditional sweetpeas would have to be your first option if you could only choose one plant.

Give them a wigwam of hazel branches to scramble up and over and sweet peas will be off, their tendrils winding through the twiggy frame to create a sensational summer display.

‘Three Times As Sweet’ is new – and the first cultivated modern Grandiflora variety, with a ton of that lush, rich and evocative scent that’s the signature of these cottage garden classics.

The tri-color blooms of this variety blend lavender-blue, purple and white to create an eye-catching display that’s just the perfect finishing touch to a cottage garden.

12. ‘Right plant, right place’

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‘Always think right plant, right place’’ says garden designer Rosemary Coldstream. Your plants have the best start possible being in their ideal soil and sun conditions, so bear this in mind when selecting your plants. From there Rosemary recommends deadheading plants regularly to prolong flowering.

If your border is either heavy or very dry then mulch it with good quality compost. Looking to the long term if clumps get too big then lift and divide them to grow your space even more and prevent overcrowding.

13. Bring in the bees

(Image credit: Gardening Express)

There are plenty of nectar-rich cottage garden plants but not all will be attractive to bees. Ana Mari Bull avoids plants that are wind-pollinated as they don’t need the help of insects. She advises that double flowers, though attractive in a cottage border, should be avoided as bees can’t get into the plants and many are sterile.

For summer Ana likes geranium ‘Rozanne’ for small gardens and lavender for low hedging to edge a path. But late winter and early spring supplies of pollen are important. She says ‘Hellebores, cyclamen, primroses, crocus, Lamium, Galanthus, Eranthis and winter flowering clematis with being a food source for early emerging bumblebees, who can fly at lower temperatures than other bees.

‘Borage flowers refill their nectaries every couple of minutes so are perfect for bees and other pollinators. The flowers can be added to Pimms too,’ concludes Ana Mari Bull.

14. Combine edibles with flowers

(Image credit: Future)

‘The traditional cottage garden encapsulates a hand-made, do-it-yourself style of gardening so when it comes to planting include a mix of simple flowers and edible plants,’ says Debbie Roberts of Acres Wild.

‘Scented, herbal and healing varieties will by definition be beneficial to butterflies and bees, and when combined with some good structure you will have a chocolate box image of a cottage garden.’

15. Consider function and form

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‘A cottage-style garden still needs to function in terms of design, so routeways and destinations still need to be considered, somewhere to sit in sun or shade, along with good views to exploit and eyesores to screen, perhaps with a carefully located blossom tree for bees and that will also provide berries for birds later in the season,’ continues Debbie Roberts.

‘The idea here is to create an ambiance to transport you to a time and place and disguise anything that detracts from this.’

16. Choose the right hard landscaping

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‘Locally sourced, natural materials and building techniques ground a garden in its place and would have been what was used in the past. Nearby salvage yards and local stone suppliers would be a good starting point for paving materials and search out local craftspeople for furniture and ornamental additions,’ continues Debbie Roberts.

‘For terraces and pathways reclaimed stone is ideal, along with brick, if this chimes in with the locality, and gravel (cinder would often have been used in the past).

‘Small ornamental pieces may be salvaged and randomly arranged.’

17. Consider a cottage garden water feature

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‘Water might be used to animate the space. A salvaged stone trough with a hand pump for instance wouldn’t look out of place in a cottage garden. If a pond were to be considered in the overall layout it would be appropriate if it were designed to encourage wildlife and so increase the biodiversity of the garden,’ concludes Debbie Roberts.

How do you plan a cottage garden?

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Cottage gardens are traditionally simple and regular in layout, with a path to the door, and rectangular beds on either side packed with unrestrained planting.

Hedges and decorative topiary can be used to divide the garden into a series of enclosed spaces with different planting themes.

The combination of soft and riotous planting with formal clipped hedges and decorative topiary works as a design contrast.

Choose natural stone, reclaimed brick, setts and cobbles, and other found materials to add structure but blur the edges seamlessly with moss, lichen, or creeping plants like scented thyme filling the gaps.

Gravel pathways and simple picket fences also suit this naturalistic design style. Add twists and turns with curves and wilder planting to introduce elements of surprise, while romantic arbors or arches with blooms scrambling over them frame entrances to other areas.

How do I start a cottage garden from scratch?

To start a kitchen garden from scratch, the key is to plant traditional flowers and plant them at the right time of year. Garden landscape designer Fi Boyle MSGD explains that there are two key times of year to plant. ‘The first is the early autumn when the soil is still warm and not waterlogged but everything is starting to die back and settle in for the winter.’

For Fi, the advantage of planting in the autumn is that the plants settle into warm earth and start to establish their roots before the winter. This means that when spring comes they are ready to get going.

However, if you have missed the autumn window fear not, you can also plant in spring and this does work just as well. You may need to keep a bit more of an eye on your plants as in recent years we have had very dry springs. Fi recommends giving plants good soaking from time to time while they’re establishing.

What plants go in a cottage garden?

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Abundant planting and a mass of flower forms, textures, and colors define a cottage garden. The secret is to create a framework of structural plants that includes drifts of lavender and masses of roses and mix with perennials such as foxgloves, lupins, and hollyhocks to add tall punctuation marks to the planting.

Use low, clipped box hedging and topiary to define borders and create an evergreen framework. Evergreens give year-round interest and structure when other plants fade.

An easy way to get stylish results is repeat planting, so choose your favorite combinations and replicate them all around the garden. Get into the habit of buying several of each plant to fill out space.

Try planting en masse, in groups of sevens or nines. You can also introduce fruit and vegetables to the mix. And if you don’t have a gnarled apple tree, choose a lilac to get that country garden feel.

What is a cottage garden style?

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The romance of the quintessentially English cottage garden makes it a firm favorite. This is mainly due to the dense planting, profusion of color, and mix of different flowers used in pockets of planting with different themes.

While many cottage gardens stick to simple patterns, others are more relaxed with paths delineating spaces, although any geometry is blurred by the generous planting.

It’s an informal style that feels ‘undesigned’ and the appeal lies in getting the mix right. You can’t beat this style of planting to give your garden the standout factor every time.