Cottage Garden

Thatched roofs, tudor siding and passalong plants make cottage style lanscaping timeless and pastoral.

Think of a cottage garden and what comes to mind are the thatched cottages and quaint, whimsical gardens of Tudor England or the rural landscape of the American South. Like a scene from your favorite fairy tale, a cottage garden bursts with the glorious color of flowers, a picket fence and cute gate and natural rock walls that adorn a humble country dwelling.

First, put the notion that you have to live in a small thatched-roof cottage to use this theme in your landscape design, although if you build a shed or other outbuilding to look like an English Cottage it will make a dazzling focal point that grounds your garden in the style of Cottage style gardens.

Cottage Garden History

Cottage style gardens came into being during the Tudor period in England between 1485 and 1603 AD. Humble families living in the countryside had to grow their own crops to eat and so the cottage style garden has firm roots in hardy plants and vegetables; vines, small fruit trees, and flowers including foxglove, iris, hollyhock and daisies are typical.

During the long era of Queen Victoria, from 1837 until 1904, the cottage garden became especially popular and evolved into the style of garden a country gentleman would have; the more formal estate gardens of wealthy English families living outside the cities for some of the year.

Today, the cottage garden remains popular, especially with more dedicated and serious do-it-yourself gardeners. One thing to bear in mind when choosing a cottage style garden will be the amount of time and labor that must be devoted. With the variety of plants found in a cottage garden, serious labor is the norm.

Whimsical and colorful, the cottage style garden requires a lot of love and care, but this authentic cottage garden shows how magnificent the results can be!

Cottage Garden Characteristics

A cottage style home or other structure designed with the look of a cottage will be the best choice for a focal point. The enclosure is typically a wooden picket fence; the functional purpose is to keep animals out of the garden and to frame and define the garden space.

Arches, arbors and trellises help accent entry points, seating areas and to provide more vertical landscape design elements. Walkways are small and intimate; gravel, pavers or naturally shaped stones will do nicely as materials for walkways and borders or low walls in the cottage garden.

Green and lush, the yellow siding, dark cottage roof and white gate make this cottage garden feel like stepping into a fairy tale.

The Cottage Style Garden is informal and relaxed, with a whimsical flare. It meshes particularly well with homes decorated in English Country or Victorian styles. Try a Cottage Garden if you have a Colonial style home, a Queen Anne Victorian, or a Cape Cod.

Cottage style landscape design is a particularly good choice for people who like wildflowers and more natural looking gardens.

Cottage Gardens can be tailored to large or small landscaped spaces. In a large space, create twisting pathways that lead to hidden bowers or dining areas.

In a smaller space, build around a single central eating area while maintaining the casual style of the Cottage Garden.

You can easily develop a Cottage Style Garden in your front yard by putting up a white picket fence, planting some tall flowers like snapdragons or delphinium along its length, and then layering on some smaller plants.

Cottage Garden Layout Tips

  • Stick with meandering paths and steer away from straight lines
  • Common materials for pathways include stone, old bricks, and wood chips
  • Pathway materials should also be irregular, and ground cover can be planted between them to give a comfortable, established look
  • Edge plant beds and walkways with old bricks or fieldstone to maintain the casual look
  • Rather than pruning plants into geometric shapes and away from pathways, let them grow naturally to overhang (but not engulf) pathways
  • Plant flowers in small groups, but don’t be afraid to mingle them. Look for pleasing color combinations and make sure to plant smaller species toward the front so they’ll be visible without having to prune your larger plants
  • Don’t forget to consider your entryway. You might consider a white picket fence with a gate or, if you have a larger space, an arbor covered with climbing plants

Shrubs and small fruit trees or rose trees will add structure and visual height in your cottage garden.

Plants to Use in a Cottage Garden

The original plant varieties used in cottage gardens were ones that grow easily and could be traded and shared with neighbors; they are sometimes called “passalong” plants. Since it was a working crop garden, flowers were primarily from seeds that blew in on the wind. Herbs were also plentiful.

Plant annuals for seasonal color and perennial in balance so that you get nice color all year round (or three seasons at least, if you live in a colder climate). Shrubs will add structure and stability to the garden, while small fruit trees that flower and produce apples, peaches or other tasty fruits in your cottage garden. Use creeping vines to give your garden more privacy and vertical enclosure. Here are some cottage garden planting ideas and tips:

  • Pick a few self-seeding species and watch as they pop up in new places each year
  • Striking contrast is achieved with the red flowers in this cottage style garden; choose flowers that will provide color in each season if possible.

  • Consider starting with a base of perennials and work in some annuals each year to fill in empty spaces
  • Old-fashioned blooms work best in the Cottage Garden rather than fancy tropical hybrids
  • Pastels usually form the base of a cottage garden, but don’t be afraid to throw in some deep blooms like damask roses
  • Some popular choices include:
    • Bleeding heart
    • Columbine
    • Coralbells
    • Cosmos
    • Daisy
    • Delphinium
    • Foxglove
    • Hollyhock
    • Hydrangea
    • Pansy
    • Peony
    • Rose
    • Snapdragon

A picket fence keeps animals out and frames the cottage garden perfectly!

Cottage Garden Accessory Suggestions

  • Furniture materials:
    • Wicker (white painted pieces in particular)
    • Wrought iron
    • Distressed, painted wood
  • Some accessory ideas to integrate into your Cottage Garden include:
    • A cluster of birdhouses, painted and distressed
    • An old section of fence or a window frame used as a trellis
    • An old watering can or a wooden wheelbarrow could be used as a planter
    • Place an old wooden bench or swing at the end of a meandering pathway

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