Cottage garden plants – the top flowers and shrubs to grow
What are the best plants for cottage gardens? Garden experts choose their favorites and advise on where to plant them and how to care for them
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Cottage garden plants provide romantic blooms, intoxicating scents and color in a soft, natural planting scheme. Choose the right combinations of cottage garden plants and successional planting schemes and they should provide interest to last the year round.
Cottage gardens should contain something to please everyone – so we have called on the advice of expert gardeners, to find out their favorite cottage garden plants and to sneak a few tips on how to get the most out of them.
What are the best plants for a cottage garden?
We asked gardening expert Jenny Williams for her favorite cottage garden plants. Along with her husband Tom, Jenny designed, planted and tends the garden at The Laundry (opens in new tab) in Wales. She documents the garden @thelaundrygarden (opens in new tab). These are Jenny's top five cottage garden plants in bloom in spring/early summer.
Euphorbia epithymoides (cushion spurge)
Jenny says: 'this euphorbia (pictured above) brings and intense acid punch to the garden now and is not too big, it forms a lovely cushion and works well in repetition in a long border'.
Geranium phaeum var. phaeum 'Samobor'
'Such a great plant that sits well in most positions and next to many other plants too,' says Jenny. 'Cut it back after flowering for a repeat flower in the summer.'
Polygonatum x hybridum (Solomon's seal)
'A real joy in a shady position that brings a wonderful sight with its hanging white droplet flowers on a long arching stem,' says Jenny.
Dicentra formosa 'Bacchanal' Bleeding heart
'Of all the dicentras this has to be the most striking,' says Jenny, 'with its red flowers and delicate leaves. It prefers a woodland setting but is equally happy on the edge of a border where it can shine.'
Paeonia daurica subsp. mlokosewitschii '
The first peony to flower here in the Laundry Garden,' says Jenny. 'The delicate butter yellow flowers (pictured below) last for a week, and boy are they worth the wait! The beautiful leaves look good for months after.'
See: Cottage patio ideas – create a pretty spot for relaxing and entertaining
Monty Don's favorite cottage plants for height in borders
In a clip from Gardeners' World (opens in new tab), TV's gardening guru Monty Don picked out his all-time favorite cottage garden plants to provide height in a border.
Verbascum 'Jackie' Mullein
This verbascum (pictured above) produces dramatic flower spikes and grows up to 3 or 4 feet tall. It grows well in poor soil, says Monty Don, and likes free draining stony, sandy or chalky conditions, so there's no need to add any compost to enrich the soil. The plants don't last long, but they do seed themselves in places where the conditions are right.
Hollyhock 'Halo Apricot'
A cottage garden classic which Monty Don says should thrive, provided you can protect it from rust. The best defences against that, he says, are 'good drainage, good airflow and plenty of sunshine'. Hollyhocks are biennials, meaning they set seed in autumn, producing bushy, leafy plants the following spring which will grow into the tall flower stems by summer. They will self seed prolifically.
Delphinium 'Magic Fountains Lavender'
A pale mauve variety of the popular cottage garden stalwart, which according to Monty Don are easy to grow, provided you protect the young shoots from slugs early in the year. He says they are true herbaceous perennials that will get bigger over time and last for some years, giving what he terms 'a tower of flower'.
If you are growing delphiniums, They need good soil, incorporating organic matter and support for the long flower spikes. And he advises cutting spent flower stems right down to the ground to encourage new blooms.
Cottage garden plants for summer color
Writing in her seasonal blog (opens in new tab) on her website, gardener and writer Sarah Raven lists her top cottage garden plants. The following provide plenty of summer color and lasting interest
Campanula lactifolia ‘Prichards Variety’
A very personal favorite here, for Sarah Raven, who says 'I was brought up on this plant. 'Prichards Variety' is a big, bushy bellflower for the back of a border.' She goes on to say it's excellent in 'large natural-looking flower arrangements'.
Also known as Granny’s bonnet, aquilegia is an unbeatable spring to early summer cottage garden filler. It will self seed and pop up elsewhere in the garden the following year. Look out for shades of pink, white, blue and deep purple.
Aster amellus ‘Veilchenkonigin’
Sarah Raven's choice of aster is, she says, 'an excellent, deep amethyst purple, with a very long flowering season. 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 essential part of any cottage garden scheme, Sarah Raven picks out the key players.
Dianthus ‘Mrs Sinkins’
The classic English garden pink, 'with the strongest scent which will fill a whole room – incredible,' she says.
A medium height white phlox (above), with vigorous growth and light green leaves. 'The phlox in the oast garden at Perch Hill fill the whole place with that extraordinary rich and delicious scent. I love their flowers, I love their colors and I love their perfume,' says Sarah Raven in her blog.
Roses Felicia, Rose de Rescht and Tuscany Superb
Of course, no cottage garden is complete without roses to provide fragrance and color. Sarah Raven (opens in new tab) recommends Felicia, Rose de Rescht (above), and Tuscany Superb for unbeatable scent in a sunny, well drained spot.
The list of cottage garden plants chosen by our expert gardeners above is by no means exhaustive or definitive. There are many more that you might expect to see in a cottage garden scheme. Sweet peas, honeysuckle, lavender, stocks, dahlias, scabious, cat mint, cornflower, and many, many more are all equally deserving of their spot in the cottage garden.
The plant choice is personal, and dependant on the soil and growing conditions in the garden. However, use some of the suggestions above as a starting point and your cottage garden will start to take shape.
What plants grow in a cottage garden?
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 a 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.
Karen is the houses editor for homesandgardens.com and homes editor for the brand’s sister titles, Period Living and Country Homes & Interiors, and an experienced writer on interiors and gardens. She loves visiting historic houses for Period Living and writing about rural properties for Country Homes & Interiors, and working with photographers to capture all shapes and sizes of properties. Karen began her career as a sub editor at Hi-Fi News and Record Review magazine. Her move to women’s magazines came soon after, in the shape of Living magazine, which covered cookery, fashion, beauty, homes and gardening. From Living Karen moved to Ideal Home magazine, where as deputy chief sub, then chief sub, she started to really take an interest in properties, architecture, interior design and gardening.
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