By Sarah Wilson
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.
- See: Small garden ideas – maximize a compact gardening space
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. Go for a pink and mauve color palette
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.
2. Blur the boundaries
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 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.
3. Introduce fragrant plants
The scent of lavender and the soothing buzz of bees hovering around it on a summer’s day are a traditional but timeless feature 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 arbour 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.
4. Pick flouncy cabbage roses
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.
5. Get the picket fence look
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.
6. Make doorways pretty
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 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.
7. Escape to nature with dreamy lilac
The most magical of plants, lilac is one of the cottage garden shrubs of old that’s rightly having a comeback. A longtime favourite 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.
8. Plant in romantic drifts
This is a signature look for cottage gardens, where swathes of naturalistic planting is 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.
9. Add stunners to fill borders
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 opt 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 favourite relaxation spot.
10. Choose a cottage garden classic
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.
How do you plan a cottage garden?
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 arbours or arches with blooms scrambling over them frame entrances to other areas.
What plants go 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.
What is a cottage garden style?
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.
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