English cottage gardens date back centuries. They were used to grow vegetables, herbs for healing, fruit trees, perhaps a beehive, and common flowers. The informal style went through a renaissance in the late 1800’s when they became somewhat more nostalgic than practical.
The informal aesthetic of dense planting and natural materials is still en vogue today. In this video, Laura outlines 10 design principles to help you design a cottage garden. Before you start, make sure you have plenty of Espoma’s organic Bio-tone Starter Plus plant food to make sure your plants get the best possible start.
No Straight Lines
Cottage gardens are always informal and a touch whimsical. Avoid straight lines. Gently curving edging looks more natural and playful. If your site restricts you to a straight edge, let the plants spill over it to create an unrestrained look.
Large Groups of the Same Plant
White cottage gardens are more relaxed in their design, it is still best to use large sweeps of the same plant. Think of planting in groups of three, five or seven. That is far more restful to the eye than a jumble of onsies and twosies.
Spacing Doesn’t Matter
This is one time you do not have to follow the advice on the plant tag. Cottage gardens are always densely planted and generally grow more densely packed with time. Annuals and biennials are often used in cottage gardens and will self-sow in the border. Biennials are plants that take two years to grow and flower from seed like the foxgloves shown. Another advantage to planting things close together is that there is less room for weeds to grow.
It’s very important to pick a collection of plants that have harmonious colors. Without that the border would look chaotic. Garden Answer uses a collection of soft pinks and peaches with touches of blue and lavender. It needn’t always be soft colors, but they do need to be unified in some way.
Use Varied Heights and Textures
In any planting, it’s a good idea to think about texture, height and foliage color as major design elements. Nothing blooms all the time. Varied foliage forms and colors will create interest even when the flowers aren’t in bloom. Laura uses Heuchera specifically for the silvery foliage color.
Anchor Plants/Structural Elements
This is sometimes referred to as the “bones” of a garden. It’s a structural element that all of the other plants get woven around. In this case, it’s a beautiful shrub rose named Rose ‘The Lady Gardener’, a fragrant beauty with full, apricot blossoms. The rose is repeated three times. Repetition is soothing to the eye. It’s possible to use evergreens for a slightly more formal feel, or whatever peaks your interest.
The first thing everyone does when they pick a flower is to hold it up to their nose. Cottage gardens are known for their fragrance. Try to select varieties that smell good at the garden center. Roses, lavender, sweet peas, and sweet alyssum are all good choices.
Not Perfectly Maintained
Along with relaxed design principles, comes relaxed maintenance. Planting tightly will discourage weeds. Annuals like poppies will self-seed and move around the border, just like the biennial foxgloves. Weeding everything that comes up might mean that you weed out these plants and inhibit their spontaneous movements.
The Look Will Change Over Time
This style of gardening is the exact opposite of a formal border filled with geometric shaped boxwood. By its very nature this is meant to be more random. People often sow cosmos, violas and other plants that have a tendency to move around. Let them surprise you. If you really don’t like where one popped up, it’s easy enough to remove.
Being patient is really what gardening is all about. A garden is never really finished. Enjoy the journey!
Garden Answers Plant List
Nepeta ‘Cat’s Pajamas’ – catmint
Achillea – pink yarrow
Allium ‘Serendipity’ – ornamental onion
Rose ‘The Lady Gardener’
Heuchera Dolce ‘Spearmint’ – Coral Bells
Clematis ‘Brother Stephan’
Digitalis Foxy Hybrids – foxglove
Lobularia ‘Blushing Princess’ – sweet alyssum
Here are more videos from Garden Answer we hope you will enjoy.