Learn to design a traditional Cottage Garden with attractive flowers and scents, traditional furnishings and productivity; yeilding harvest for craft, culinary and other purposes.

Course Code: BHT110
Fee Code: S3
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Learn How to Design & Develop Cottage Gardens

Most people are familiar with cottage gardens, and understand just how beautiful a cottage garden can be. But behind the vibrant displays of flowers and the seemingly straightforward designs is someone adept at cottage garden design. It takes a good eye for detail, plant knowledge, and awareness of what works and what doesn't work so well to create a truly inspirational cottage garden. 

Derived from a culmination of ideas from different garden designers, this course helps students to put their own creativity to work with a backdrop of design knowledge and skills. It is ideal for garden designers or landscapers wishing to expand their repertoire, or for anyone wishing to develop their own garden using this eye-catching style.    

  • Learn what a cottage garden is
  • Learn to choose appropriate hard and soft landscape materials
  • Learn to apply the principles of this concept to garden design and garden renovation. 

Cottage Garden Components

Cottage gardens are characterised by one thing, if nothing else, and that is a great diversity of plants.

There are no rules to stop you mixing different types of plants in a Cottage garden; you still need to carefully select and arrange the plants you intend using if you are to achieve the best visual affect, and a sustained, productive and healthy growth of all cultivars you plant.

You can plant vegetables into a flower bed or bulbs into a lawn; and let strawberries sprawl around the base of a rose if you think this will create the carefully contrived and intended affect you are seeking to achieve.
The one rule that must be met is always is "only use it if you have a good reason to use it.

To create a cottage garden properly requires not only a sense of design and style; but also a very good understanding of the things that make up the cottage garden; and for this type of garden, that means you need an ability to identify and understand the growth habits of lots of different types of plants. 

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction to Cottage Gardens.
    • What is a Cottage Garden
    • Components
    • Guidelines for Using Cottage Plants
    • Plant Naming
    • Principles of Landscape Design
    • Preplanning Information
  2. History of Cottage Gardens
    • 19th century Cottage Gardens
    • History of Cottage Gardening
    • Case Study
  3. Design Techniques and Drawing Plans
    • Garden Rooms
    • Positioning Garden Features
    • Framing Views
    • Drawing the Plan
    • Design Procedure
  4. Plants for Cottage Gardens
    • Mixing Plants
    • Designing a Garden Bed
    • Perennial Plants
    • Designing a Perennial Display or Border
    • Bulbs
    • Scented Geraniums
    • Lavender
    • Other Cottage Garden Plants
  5. Planting Design in Cottage Gardens
    • Using Colour in theGarden
    • Shade Trees
    • Repellant Herb Plants
    • Companion Planting
    • Planting Design
  6. Hard Landscape Features and Components
    • Walls and Fencing
    • Pickets
    • Woven Wire Fencing
    • Stick Fencing
    • Stone Walls
    • Garden Art: sculpture, pottery, architecture, wall plaques, sundials, weather vanesfeature tiles, etc.
    • Furnishing; outdoor furniture
    • Paths, Gravel, Coloured Gravels, bark, brick, cobbles, etc
    • Guidelines for Path Design
    • Seating
    • Arches
    • Barriers and Walls
  7. Cottage Gardens Today
    • Where are Cottage Gardens Appropriate
    • Making a Courtyard More Exciting
    • Planning For Perfection
    • Old (disappearing) Garden Skills
  8. Special Assignment
    • Coherence and Contrast
    • Evaluating Cottage Garden Designs
    • Design of A Complete Garden.


  • Explain the concept of a cottage garden.
  • Prepare concept plans for cottage gardens.
  • Prepare planting designs for cottage gardens.
  • Plan the incorporation of appropriate non-living landscape features in a cottage garden.
  • Prepare a detailed design for a cottage garden.

What You Will Do

  • Explain the concept of a cottage garden, both in historical and modern contexts.
  • Explain the influence of one famous landscaper on cottage gardens.
  • Explain the relevance of garden design concepts to cottage gardens, including:
    • Unity
    • Balance
    • Proportion
    • Harmony
    • Contrast
    • Rhythm
    • Line
    • Form
    • Mass
    • Space
    • Texture
    • Colour
    • Tone
  • Analyse the designs of three cottage gardens inspected by you.
  • Describe the steps involved, accompanied by a sequence of illustrations, in the planning process for a cottage garden.
  • Develop a checklist of pre-planning information required for a proposed cottage garden on a specific site.
  • Compile pre-planning information for a specific site, for a proposed cottage garden, through an interview with a potential client, and surveying the site.
  • Prepare drawings to represent landscape features on a cottage garden plan, including trees, shrubs, herbs, walls, rocks, buildings and other landscape features.
  • Analyse the designs of different cottage gardens, inspected by you.
  • Prepare different cottage garden concept plans for the same site, to satisfy given design specifications and pre-planning information.
  • Prepare a plant collection of cottage garden plants, which includes:
    • A photo, drawing or pressed specimen of each plant
    • Plant names (scientific and common)
    • Cultural details
    • Uses/applications in garden design.
  • Prepare a planting plan for a garden bed in a cottage garden style, including:
    • A sketch plan
    • A plant list.
  • Design a perennial border in an appropriate cottage garden style.
  • Design a garden bed which incorporates companion planting principles.
  • Evaluate the companion planting design in a cottage garden visited by you.
  • Design a colour themed garden, such as a white garden, to suit a proposed garden development, on a site you visit.
  • Describe briefly, different non-living features that may be included in a cottage garden, including:
    • Seating alternatives
    • Bird baths
    • Sun dials
    • Fountains
    • Statues
    • Pergolas
    • Gazebos
    • Fencing
    • Ponds
    • Weather vanes.
  • Determine criteria for inclusion of different landscape features in a cottage garden, including: *Gazebos *Ornaments *Arbors *Tub plants *Water features *Paths.
  • Compare the characteristics, including: *Suitability for a cottage garden *Cost *Availability *Longevity *Appearance *Maintenance, of different landscape materials.
  • Explain the use of plant sculpting, including topiary and hedging, in cottage garden designs; including references to:
    • Ways of creating it
    • Ways of using it
    • Maintenance.
  • Analyse, in a report including photographs, the use of different structures as features, in the designs of different cottage gardens, visited by you.
  • Prepare several cottage garden concept plans, each for different specified sites, which incorporate different types of features sympathetic to cottage or heritage gardens.
  • Develop a brief for a cottage garden design, for the redevelopment of an established garden around an old building in your locality.
  • Analyse the designs of two different well established cottage gardens you visit.
  • Compile pre-planning information for a specified cottage garden development.
  • Prepare detailed plans for a cottage garden (following industry standards), including:
    • Detailed plans
    • Materials lists
    • Costings
  • Explain the reasoning behind a cottage garden you design.


Cottage gardens can be large, but can also face the challenge of having less space available than what is needed. Even if the overall property is a reasonable size; there are often odd places around a property that are small (eg. between a fence line and a building). Small spaces can be a real challenge for a cottage garden. They need not be. Some of the most stunning gardens I've ever seen are areas no more than a few metres wide, which with good design and a little imagination, have been turned into the envy of all who visit.

For small areas there is also a challenge to retain sufficient space for other needs, such as entertainment or play, but still have room enough to create the appearance of a comprehensive garden.

Nearly every home will have a small space somewhere that is suitable for creating a garden. Common types of small gardens include:

  • Narrow strips between a house or unit and a boundary fence or another building.
  • Courtyard gardens
  • Balcony gardens on multi story homes, apartment buildings, etc.
  • Roof top gardens
  • Entry areas, particularly for homes with small frontages such as terrace housing.
  • Oriental gardens, where landscapes are recreated, or represented in miniature.

Creating an attractive garden in a small area, that won't quickly takeover most of the available space, can be a real challenge. Here are a few ideas:

  • Choose your plants carefully: - Use plants with fine textured foliage, rather than large leaves. This helps make the garden appear larger. Avoid the use of vigorous or invasive plants. They can quickly takeover closing in the garden, and creating maintenance problems. Use dwarf varieties of plants (see the following examples):
  • A winding path, rather than one that goes straight from Point A to Point B makes a  garden seem larger.
  • Create the optical illusion of distance by having a path with the furthest point from your house or entertainment area slightly narrower than the closer parts of the path.
  • The feeling of space can be enhanced by having your garden merge into the house. Glassed entry areas, and the use of indoor plants can help achieve this.
  • Small to medium shade trees (deciduous) can be used to provide summer shade and winter light. It is important to choose species that will not have too invasive a root system, or will grow to big for the size of the garden.
  • Do not over plant your garden. Remember that plants can grow very quickly once established, and you may find you have no space left to move in yourself.
  • Avoid active colours (eg. red, yellow and orange) as these make small spaces seem smaller. Use colours such as blues, whites, greens and purples to make small spaces seem larger
  • For small gardens that receive limited sunlight use shade-loving plants, such as ferns, begonias, fuchsias, impatiens and balsam. Camellias, dwarf rhododendrons and azaleas make excellent tub plants for cooler sites, while palms, dracaenas and crotons, are good for warmer areas.
  • Espaliered trees or shrubs require very little ground space, and are good for small gardens. They can be used to cover walls helping to merge them into the garden, and reducing glare and heat build up. Espaliered fruit trees can be both an attractive addition to the garden as well as providing fruit.
  • Dwarf trees can create the image of a much larger garden. There is a huge range of dwarf conifers that would be suitable. Dwarf fruits, such as some of the citrus or dwarf apples, such as the 'Ballerina' range, are not only attractive, but make excellent plants for containers or small beds, as well as providing excellent tasting fruit.
  • For long, narrow gardens, such as entry areas, ground cover and low growing plants can be grown to spill over paved walkways to soften the long straight lines of the pathway, to reduce the visual effect of distance. Statues or other features can also be placed at either end of the garden to create a focal point which also reduces the visual effect of distance.
  • Tall, narrow, bushy plants can be used to create 'walls' around a garden instead of solid fences or walls. This can help improve ventilation, and can be a lot cheaper than solid fences.
  • Design your garden so that it appears that any plants, or attractive features in a neighbours garden appear to be part of yours.
  • Painted images and scenes (ie. Tromp l’0liel) on walls around the garden can create a feeling of a much larger space. Plants can be positioned to frame these scenes, and help merge them into the living garden so that they appear as one.
  • A similar approach is to position a large mirror on a wall in a well lit, but protected position so that get back reflected images creating the feel of a much larger garden. The difference between the mirror and painted image is that the reflected images change as you change position.
  • Make as much use of the available space as possible, for example, build planting boxes below windows looking out onto the garden, create a raised wall garden or have lots of hanging baskets.
  • Place small statues or similar objects at the far end of the garden to give the appearance of distance.

Small or Dwarf Plants To Use
There are countless numbers of smaller versions of normally larger plants that can be used in a small garden. The ones listed below are just a few examples.

Fortunella japonica (Cumquat) is a glossy, evergreen citrus, with small, attractive, edible fruit. If you want a citrus but have limited space, this makes an excellent plant for a small bed or large container.

Miniature Roses
There are a huge variety of miniature roses available, in a stunning array of colours. These mostly prefer full sun to plight shade in a protected position. Like the larger rose types they have varying resistance (depending on variety) to the common rose pests and diseases. They make excellent container plants.

Syzygium australe "Bush Christmas' is a compact form of one of the native Lilli Pillys. It reaches 2- 3m tall, and about 1.5m wide. It can be readily pruned to keep it more compact, or into a hedge, or topiaried. The new growth is an attractive orange, and it has attractive, edible red berries which can be used for making jam. It makes an excellent container plant. There are several other attractive compact Lilli Pilly varieties that have become available, such as 'Lillyput'.

Hebe 'Rosie' is a compact, rounded, plant with bright, evergreen foliage, and masses of small pink to white flowers in the warmer months. It grows to about 30cm tall and 60cm wide. It enjoys full sun to partial shade, and is ideal for containers, window boxes, or massed displays.


Dwarf Deciduous Feature Trees For A Small Garden

The following are a short selection of deciduous trees that could be used as feature in a small garden. Being deciduous they provide some shade in the warmer months, and lose their leaves allowing better light penetration into the garden in the cooler months.

The 'Ballerina' Apple Varieties:
These are an upright, narrow, plant to about 3m tall, after about 8 - 10 years, with attractive blossoms in spring. They only reach about 30 - 40cm wide, but still bear reasonable crops of very tasty apples. They can be readily grown in containers, or in a narrow bed against a wall, or can be used like a living column to frame a scene, such as down a pathway. Varieties include: Bolero, Maypole, Polka & Waltz.

The 'Trixie' Range:
These are compact peach and nectarine varieties reaching about 1.5m x 1.5m after about 5 or 6 years. They have attractive spring blossom, and bear good crops of tasty fruit.
'Pixie' is a dwarf peach variety, while 'Nectazee' is a dwarf nectarine.

Prunus Varieties
There are a wide variety of attractive foliaged, and/or flowering, weeping prunus varieties that are available as standards of varying heights (e.g. 1m tall). There are also dwarf upright varieties such as Prunus glandulosa 'Alboplena' which has attractive white flowers, and P. glandulosa 'Sinensis' which has attractive pink flowers.

Indian Summer Trees
These are a range of dwarf Lagerstroemia indica (Crepe Myrtle) varieties with a range of different coloured, attractive flowers during the summer months. For example the variety 'Victor' has bright red flowers, and reaches a height and width of 1 - 2m.

Birch Varieties
A wide range of weeping, standard birches are available, including Betula pendula 'Youngii' the weeping silver birch.

Acer Palmatum Varieties (Maples)
There are a large variety of both upright and weeping (grown as standards), compact  Acer Palmatum varieties, including 'Red Pygmy' which has attractive red, weeping foliage, and reaches around 2m x 2m at around 20 years, or 'Villa Taranto' which is an upright variety reaching 2m x 2m at about 20 years.

You can also have a full and rewarding hobby by choosing some form of intensive gardening, including bonsai, hydroponics, and topiary. Bonsai, in particular, can create the impact of a much larger garden.


Using Containers

Growing your plants in containers allows you to readily change your garden as you desire, moving plants around to create new vistas; to alter the height of an otherwise flat surface; to make greater use of available space through the use of hanging baskets, wall boxes, or window boxes; or to control the spread of invasive plants. You can also hide plants when they are dormant or in poor condition, or move the containers to a prominent position when they are at their most attractive, such as in full bloom, or when the leaves of deciduous plants are changing colour in autumn.

Don't limit yourself in the types of containers you use. Plants have been successfully grown in such things as half wine barrels, wheeled plastic rubbish collection bins, in appropriately painted galvanised rubbish bins, in old wooden or polystyrene fruit boxes, and in plastic hobby boxes.



How Will You Benefit?

  • Indulge a passion for cottage gardens - know and understand more about this fascinating subject
  • Fast track business or employment opportunities in landscape gardening
  • Save money and time -no traveling to classes
  • Determine when, where and how long your study sessions are, for yourself
  • More support than most colleges - we have a whole team of horticulturists spread across Australia, England and beyond; accessed whenever you need them, via email, phone or online chat.
  • Develop a deeper understanding of designing and building cottage gardens appropriate to any site
  • Make better decisions about the building, management and care of cottage garden landscapes
  • Start networking with others who have involvement or interest in cottage style gardening
  • Become increasingly aware of opportunities to use what you learn about cottage gardens

Employment Opportunities

  • Start your own business as a landscaper and/or gardener
  • Specialise in cottage style gardens
  • Renovate historic gardens in sympathy with the architecture
  • Broaden your knowledge and skills for work in garden design and property renovation
  • Work in a plant nursery or garden centre as an in house expert
  • Research, write or lecture on historic gardens
  • Broaden your knowledge as a horticulturist or gardener

Member of the International Herb Association since 1988

UK Register of Learning Providers, UK PRN10000112

Our principal John Mason is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture

Accredited ACS Global Partner

ACS Distance Education is a member of the Australian Garden Council, Our Principal John Mason is a board member of the Australian Garden Council

Member of the Nursery and Garden Industry Association since 1993

ACS is a silver sponsor of the AIH. The principal, John Mason, is a fellow. ACS certificate students are offered a free membership for this leading professional body.Provider.

Member of Study Gold Coast

Institute of Training and Occupational Learning (UK)

Principal John Mason is a member of Parks and Leisure Australia since 1974 and a fellow since 1998

Recognised since 1999 by IARC

Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Adriana Fraser (Horticulturist)

Adriana has worked in horticulture since the 1980's. She has lived what she preaches - developing large gardens and growing her own fruit, vegetables and herbs and making her own preserves.
In 1992 she formalised her training by graduating with a certif

Gavin Cole (Horticulturist)

Gavin started his career studying building and construction in the early 80's. Those experiences have provided a very solid foundation for his later work in landscaping. In 1988 he completed a B.Sc. and a few years later a Certificate in Garden Design. I

John Mason (Horticulturist)

Parks Manager, Nurseryman, Landscape Designer, Garden Writer and Consultant.
Over 40 years experience; working in Victoria, Queensland and the UK.
He is one of the most widely published garden writers in the world; author of more than 70 books and edito

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