Backyard Ideas Questions

What is a Cottage Garden & What Plants Work Best?

Want to start your own cottage garden? This guide has everything you need to know about what a cottage garden is and how to grow your own.

Want an outdoor space that isn’t all about order, well-defined spaces, and doesn’t take too much of your free time? Set up your own cottage garden!

If you’re anything like us, then you probably have very little time to care for a complex outdoor space and you don’t want to feel like your garden doesn’t leave you with any time to relax, you need a cottage garden.  

A cottage garden is the type of outdoor space that allows you to forget about babysitting tidy rows of high-maintenance plants. Instead, it gives you the time to simply relax in your garden and enjoy all the plants with minimal effort put into growing them.

Want to start your own cottage garden from scratch? First, read this article to learn everything you need to know about what a cottage garden is and how to grow your own.

What Is a Cottage Garden?

First things first, let’s dig deeper into what a cottage garden is.

Cottage gardens involve a unique style that combines informal design, traditional materials, dense plantings, and a combination of ornamental and edible plants. More precisely, cottage garden style is all about filling your outdoor space with a mixture of a wide variety of plants, including perennial and annual flowers, vegetable and foliage plants, all in the same spot thus achieving a pretty chaotic, but in a good way design.

Cottage Garden Ideas
Cottage Garden Ideas

The origins of cottage gardens go back to Elizabethan times when the “naturalness” of this informal gardening design was noticed and improved by the British leisured class. Back then, British labourers started to plant cottage gardens because they had little land and little time to care for their outdoor space. In addition, they needed to grow food for their loved ones and herbs that they would use to treat illnesses. That’s how cottage gardens became the norm. They were low-maintenance, and they combined all types of plants that people needed, from vegetables to fruits, herbs, and a few native flowers that would thrive with very little care and would ward off bugs.

Advantages of Cottage Gardens

Still not sure that a cottage garden is right for you? We have plenty of advantages of growing a cottage garden that will convince you. Having a cottage garden has these advantages:

It is very personal

When it comes to embracing the cottage-style garden, you’ll find out that no two gardens will look the same. Sure, your own cottage garden will also not look the same two years in a row either. But the point is that every design it will have it’s going to be very personal.

It costs you less

Having a thriving outdoor space can be an expensive business. It can be pretty expensive, especially in the early years when you’re just setting up the infrastructure of your outdoor space. Besides that, you’re going to spend significant amounts of money on necessary supplies like seeds, bulbs, fertilizers, equipment, and so on. Well, growing a cottage garden can cost a lot less.

Starting your own cottage garden can only cost you buying some seeds and some patience. Sure, you won’t get an immediate impact, but your outdoor space will soon have the wanted design if you give it some time.

It is low-maintenance

The one advantage that typically all busy gardeners enjoy the most is that maintenance-free is the word that best describes the cottage garden style. Cottage gardens are popular, especially for their “messy” look and lack of order. So, you won’t have to invest a lot of time and effort into keeping an immaculate order in your outdoor space. There is simply a minimal chance that your neighbours will notice a couple of weeds or a plant that needs staking or pruning.

Tips for Creating a Cottage Garden

Now you know what a cottage garden is and why growing one is a great idea. But, you’re probably wondering, “how do I start my own cottage garden?”. Don’t worry! We got you covered!

Summer Flowers in an English Cottage garden
Summer Flowers in an English Cottage garden

Here, we have the best tips to know on how to create your own cottage garden:

Start small

When you’re just starting your cottage garden, you don’t have to start with something huge that will require a lot of your time and a significant investment in feeding, seeds, and pest infestation treatments. It’s best to start your cottage garden small, and as your confidence, as a gardener grows, you can increase the size.

Invest in the quality of the soil

If there’s one thing that you should invest time, money, and effort in when it comes to growing your own cottage garden, that’s the quality of the soil. How good the soil is in any type of garden can make a difference between how thriving or unsuccessful the plants are.

So, make sure that you start with good, rich, organic soil that will help the plants you grow in your cottage garden, even with a minimum of watering and fertilizing. We recommend having your garden soil tested to see which type of soil you have. Plus, make sure that you add organic matter like compost every year.

Choose the right spots for your plants

If you want to do yourself a favour and decrease the amount of work you’re going to put in your cottage garden, make sure that you choose the right spot for each of the plants you grow. Plants that thrive with less care are those that are positioned in their ideal conditions.

So, make sure that you carefully research every plant you choose for your cottage garden. Understand its specific needs and try to position it in a spot of your outdoor space that fulfils these needs as much as possible.

Some plants will need more sunlight to thrive, while others require partial shade. Plus, some plants prefer to grow in slightly moist soil, while others don’t really fancy wet feet. Just make sure that you learn the unique requirements of each plant.

Add some structure

Sure, cottage gardens have an informal style, but this doesn’t mean that they don’t need just a little bit of structure to tame down the “messy” look a little bit. You can add such structures with small trees, shrubs, or obelisks that you can cover in vines. You can use plants that have a strong structure, such as shrub roses, flowering trees, or shrubs which will all prevent the design of your garden from appearing blurred or gauzy.

Add decorative touches

Gardens aren’t just about plants. They are also those outdoor spaces where you can relax and enjoy all the beauty of your garden plants. So, don’t be afraid to add some personal decorative touches such as hedges, rustic fences, benches, or even a wall which can later serve as a background for your garden beauties.

The fun part about having a cottage garden is that you can decorate it with all kinds of objects and garden accents that you like having around, thanks to its informal style.

Embrace the diversity

If you truly want to embrace having a cottage garden, you need to embrace diversity in terms of looks. In other words, get used to the idea that your cottage garden won’t look exactly the same year after year. Once you accept the idea of an informal style and a messy look, you’ll be able to allow the plants to be your partners in how your garden will look.

9 Plants for A Cottage Garden

As mentioned above, cottage gardens are a romantic combination of bulbs, annuals, perennials, flowering shrubs, climbers, and vegetables and fruits if you decide so. In other words, growing a cottage garden leaves you with a lot of options when it comes to choosing which plants to grow.

But, choosing the right plants that work perfectly in such a garden can seem difficult when you’re just starting yours. So, we have a few recommendations of plants that work best in cottage gardens. Here are our X ideas:

1. Aquilegia

Also known as Granny’s bonnets or Columbine flowers, Aquilegias are very popular among gardeners who own cottage gardens. Their bonnet-shaped flowers look extremely attractive in such an informal design.

Beautiful blue columbine flower
Beautiful blue columbine flower

They start flowering in early summer, and they resist enough to fill the seasonal gap before spring bulbs, and summer roses appear. Aquilegias typically prefer moist, well-draining soil and are happy in both full sun and partial shade.

2. Delphiniums

Delphiniums are absolutely gorgeous and a blast to have in your cottage garden. They come in different shades of blue, pink, and white, and they grow tall enough to be visible among other flowers from your garden. Thanks to their unique look, they also make amazing cut flowers if you want to bring some beauty from your garden inside your home.

Blue Delphinium Flowers
Blue Delphinium Flowers

They also prefer moist and well-draining soil but only thrive in full sun. Delphiniums need protection from slugs and snails in the early season. So, make sure that you pay attention to eaten foliage. In addition, you can help your Delphiniums by feeding them with a high potash fertilizer.

3. Lupins

These plants are other plants that are favorite among gardeners that prefer cottage gardens. They feature unique-looking and pretty spires of pea-like flowers that come in various shades. Gardeners typically combine them with roses.

You can plant Lupins alongside Delphiniums, but remember that these plants need protection from slugs and snails. In terms of ideal growing conditions, they do best in full sun or partial shade and prefer moist but well-drained soil.

4. Lavender

This evergreen shrub isn’t specifically suitable for cottage gardens. The best thing about lavender plants is that they look great and suit all types of outdoor spaces. Most varieties of lavender feature purple flowers, but you may also find some varieties with white or pink flowers.

Lavender
Lavender

Lavender has a very unique and pleasant smell that will fill your outdoor space. Plus, it will attract bees and other pollinators to your garden. It is a low-maintenance plant, requiring only well-drained soil and full sun to thrive.

5. Hollyhocks

Another sun-loving plant suitable for a cottage garden is the Hollyhock. This perennial features tall spires of large flowers from summer to early autumn. This flower will grow in any garden soil but thrives in fertile, well-draining soil.

Hollyhocks
Hollyhocks

It’s best to choose a spot in your cottage garden where it is protected from strong winds. Remember to cut down after the plant has flowered to encourage fresh growth.

6. Peonies

Featuring flowers in various colours, including shades of white, pink, rose, red, coral, and deep purple, peonies make an excellent addition to cottage gardens.

Pink Peony Bush
Pink Peony Bush

They flower from late spring and resist all summer long. They thrive in neutral or slightly alkaline soil that allows good drainage and are sun-loving.

7. Catmint

This long-flowering perennial is another favorite for cottage gardens. It attracts pollinators, is resistant to pests and diseases, and also tolerated drought well. Besides that, catmint is a reblooming plant and looks attractive throughout the entire summer, even without being sheared. Catmint is best grown in sun or partial shade and prefers well-draining soil.

Flowering Catmint
Flowering Catmint

Besides its attractive grey-green foliage that looks amazing all year round in cottage gardens, the flowers of catmint come in shades of purple-blue, pink, and white and enhance its look.

8. Wisteria

Every cottage garden needs at least one climbing plant. Wisteria should be on your list when starting your own cottage garden. It is ideal for growing over walls, trees, or other structures you have in your outdoor space.

Wisteria House
Wisteria can give chalm to older properties

Wisteria is beautifully scented and comes in various beautiful colours, including white, blue, pink, and purple. This twining climber flowers in May and June.

9. Roses

Roses are a must-have in your cottage garden. You can choose from whatever variety you like best, from ramblers to climbers or shrub roses.

All My Loving Rose
All My Loving Rose

They feature beautifully scented and attractive flowers that will look amazing in your cottage garden. Generally, roses prefer well-drained, fertile soil and full sun.

In Conclusion

Cottage gardens are perfect for all gardeners who want a thriving outdoor space where they can relax but don’t want to compromise on working hard to achieve it. This gardening style is informal and low-maintenance, and if you don’t mind the “messy” and uneven design, you’re going to be thrilled with the result.

If you have a cottage garden, share your experience in the comments below!

Miruna is an experienced content writer with a passion for gardening. She is the proud owner of an outdoor rose garden and an indoor collection of tiny succulents. She bought her first succulent 10 years ago - an adorable Echeveria Setosa. Now she owns more than 100 succulents and cacti of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Miruna is a versatile writer and, as you might have guessed, her favorite topic is gardening. Contact miruna@gardenbeast.com

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