Jul
17
2021

Cottage garden plants – the best flowers and shrubs to grow

Cottage garden plants provide romantic blooms, intoxicating scents and colors in a soft, natural planting. Pick the right combinations of cottage garden plants and successive planting schemes and they should generate interest year round.

Cottage gardens should have something for everyone – that’s why we took the advice of experienced gardeners to find out their favorite cottage garden plants and share some tips on how to get the most out of them.

Which plants are best for a cottage garden?

We asked gardening expert Jenny Williams about her favorite cottage garden plants. Together with her husband Tom, Jenny designed, planted and tended the garden for The Laundry in Wales. She documents the garden @thelaundrygarden. These are Jenny’s top five cottage garden plants that will bloom in spring / early summer.

Euphorbia epithymoides (pillow milkweed)

Euphorbia pillow milkweed in the best cottage garden plants

Jenny says: “This euphorbie (picture above) now brings an intense acid punch into the garden and is not too big, makes a nice pillow and works well in repetitions in a long border”.

Geranium phaeum var.Phaeum ‘Samobor’

Cottage garden plants - black cranesbill

Black cranesbill in Crocus

Such a great plant that sits well in most positions and next to many other plants, ”says Jenny. ‘Cut back after flowering to get a repeat bloom in summer.’

Polygonatum x hybridum (Solomon’s seal)

Cottage Garden Plants - Polygonatum x hybridum (Solomon's Seal)

A real pleasure in a shady location, which is a wonderful sight with its hanging white teardrop flowers on a long, arched stem, ”says Jenny.

Dicentra formosa ‘Bacchanal’ Bleeding heart

Cottage garden plants

Photo by Yoksel 🌿 Zok on Unsplash

“Of all the dicentras, this has to be the most striking,” says Jenny, “with its red flowers and delicate leaves. It prefers a forest setting, but is just as happy on the edge of a border where it can shine. ‘

Paeonia daurica subsp. mlokosewitschii ‘

Peony daurica subsp.  mlokosewitschii in the best cottage garden plants

The first peony to bloom here in the laundry garden, ”says Jenny. “The delicate buttery yellow flowers (pictured below) last a week, and boy are they worth the wait! The beautiful leaves look good for months afterwards. ‘

See: Cottage patio ideas – create a nice place to relax and chat

Monty Don’s favorite cottage plants for height in borders

Cottage garden plants

In a clip by Gardening world, TV gardening guru Monty Don picked his favorite cottage garden plants of all time to create height in a flower bed.

Verbascum ‘Jackie’ Mullein

Verbascum in the best cottage garden plants

This Verbascum (pictured above) produces dramatic flower spikes and grows up to 3 or 4 feet tall. She does well in barren soils, says Monty Don, and likes rocky, sandy, or chalky conditions that drain freely. The plants don’t last long, but they will sow themselves in places where the conditions are right.

Hollyhock ‘Halo Apricot’

Cottage garden plants - hollyhock

Hollyhock, Thompson & Morgan

A cottage garden classic that Monty Don says should thrive provided you can protect it from rust. The best protection against this, he says, is “good drainage, good air circulation and lots of sunshine”. Hollyhocks are biennial, which means they set their seeds in autumn and in the following spring produce bushy, leafy plants that grow into the tall flower stalks by summer. You will sow yourself productively.

Delphinium ‘Magic Fountain Lavender’

Cottage garden plants, delphinium

Delphinium, primrose

A light purple variety of the popular cottage garden that Monty Don says is easy to grow, provided you protect the young shoots from snails early in the year. He says that these are real herbaceous perennials that grow larger over time and last for a few years, which gives him a “tower of flowers”. You need good soil that contains organic matter and supports the long flower spikes. And he advises cutting off faded flower stems to the ground in order to stimulate new flowers.

Cottage garden plants for summer color

In her seasonal blog on her website, gardener and author Sarah Raven lists her top cottage garden plants. The following add plenty of summer color and continued interest

Campanula lactifolia ‘Prichards variety’

Campanula Canterbury Bells in the best cottage garden plants

A very personal favorite here for Sarah Raven, who says, “I grew up with this plant. ‘Prichards Variety’ is a large, bushy bellflower for the back of a border. ‘ She goes on to say that it works great in “large, natural-looking flower arrangements.”

Aquilegia ‘Clementine’

Cottage garden plants - aquilegia

Aquilegia, garden express

Also known as Granny’s bonnet, Aquilegia is an unbeatable spring to early summer garden filler. It will sow itself and appear elsewhere in the garden the following year. Look for shades of pink, white, blue, and dark purple.

Aster amellus ‘Violet Queen’

Aster - cottage garden plants

Sarah Raven’s choice of aster is, as she says, “an excellent deep amethyst purple with a very long flowering time. An invaluable plant for those of us who want to keep our garden full of color late in the year. ‘

Fragrant cottage garden plants

Fragrance is an integral part of any cottage garden program, Sarah Raven selects the key players.

Dianthus ‘Mrs. Sinkins’

Cottage garden plants - Dianthus

The classic English garden pink, “with the strongest scent that fills an entire room – unbelievable,” she says.

Phlox ‘David’

Phlox David in the best cottage garden plants

A medium-sized white phlox (above), with vigorous growth and light green leaves. “The phlox in Perch Hill’s Oast Garden fills the whole place with that extraordinarily rich and delicious scent. I love their flowers, I love their colors and I love their perfume, ”says Sarah Raven on her blog.

Roses Felicia, Rose de Rest and Tuscany Superb

Rose Felicia in best cottage garden plants

Of course, no cottage garden is complete without roses, which provide fragrance and color. Sarah Raven recommends Felicia, Rose de Rescht (above) and Tuscany Superb for an unbeatable fragrance in a sunny, well-drained location.

See: Ideas for the rose garden – for a colorful and sweet smelling outdoor area

The list of cottage garden plants selected above by our expert gardeners is by no means exhaustive or final. There’s a lot more that you could expect in a cottage garden plan. Sweet peas, honeysuckle, lavender, broth, dahlias, scabious, catnip, cornflower and many, many more deserve their place in the cottage garden equally.

The choice of plants is personal and depends on the soil and the growing conditions in the garden. However, use some of the suggestions above as a starting point and your cottage garden will take shape.