Traditionally cottage gardens were a random mixture of useful and ornamental plants, with more emphasis being given to the useful plants which could be eaten, used for medicinal purposes, or as animal forage. The ornamental plants were an afterthought, using colourful and easily grown annuals, herbaceous perennials and small shrubs to brighten the garden, space permitting.
These days the best cottage gardens are carefully designed to give a pleasing arrangement of ornamental plants, herbs, vegetables, garden ornaments and accessories. Cottage plants are generally chosen with more forethought, although colour and abundance are still the most important features. Anyone can throw down a handful of seeds and within a few weeks have a wildly profuse and colourful bed of poppies, hollyhocks, nasturtiums and the like, but it takes rather more planning to create a cottage garden that looks charming throughout the year.
Broad Guidelines for Using Plants in Cottage Gardens
Dense plantings - using fast-growing annuals and herbaceous perennials will help to create the effect quicker.
- Self-seeding plants – these are used to perpetuate the effect. Use plants such as Myosotis (Forget-me-nots), Escholtzia californica (Californian poppies), Alyssum, Lychnis coronaria (Rose Campion), Tropaeolum majus (Nasturtium) and Viola betonicifolia.
- Scented plants – bring fragrance into a garden and stimulates the senses.
- Contrasting foliage plants – provides an avenue to produce focal points and places of interest.
- Lawns are kept to a minimum – this allows maximum use of flowering plants and garden ornaments.
- Climbers – these are used to screen sheds, fences, other bad views, etc.
- The front garden is designed to showcase the plants right to the street.
Within these broad guidelines, gardening styles vary greatly. Some cottage gardeners like neatly mulched beds with colour-coordinated plantings; others like their garden to be functional, growing herbs and vegetables amongst the ornamental plants; and yet others prefer the romantic, slightly unkempt look which is easily attained with cottage plants.
Paths are an important structural component of cottage gardens. Paths leading to the front door tend to be straight, sometimes with an island garden bed in the middle. Other paths wind around the garden, separating and defining the beds.
The construction materials used for paths shouldn’t be visually intrusive - crushed gravel, old bricks or stepping stones are popular. Terracotta edging tiles or bricks are often used for edging paths and beds.
These are essential components of the cottage garden. They evoke the spirit of the traditional cottage gardens, and more importantly, when everything else in the garden looks bare and drab in winter, they give the garden a sense of structure and visual interest.
Popular cottage garden features
- Arches - either metal or wooden, placed over paths and covered with climbing plants.
- Arbours – usually covered with climbers, to cover garden seats.
- Lattice – for screening sheds and fences and for supporting climbers.
- Picket fences – low painted or plain pickets are popularly used as front fences.
- Rustic ornaments – usually old, although reproduction pieces are readily available. Ornaments include stone troughs, cast iron water pumps, wooden casks, farm implements.
- Garden furniture – Simple wooden or metal furniture including garden benches.
- Pots – terracotta is very popular and within every bodies price range. Other pots can be made of granite, sandstone, etc.
- Statuary – garden statues are very popular in cottage gardens. The placement of small figures (such as a concrete girl holding a basket) is important to generate a feeling of peacefulness and past times. There are hundreds of figurines and statues for garden owners to select from nurseries and garden centres.
- Ornaments – weathervanes and sundials are frequently used in cottage gardens. When it comes to sundials, select one that is appropriate for your district otherwise it may not tell the right time.
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Some Plants Commonly Used In Cottage Gardens
The possibilities are just about endless, but the following plants are commonly found in cottage gardens.
- Althaea rosea (Hollyhock)
- Antirrhinum majus (Snapdragon)
- Calendula officinalis (Marigold)
- Dianthus barbatus (Sweet William)
- Digitalis purpurea (Foxglove)
- Helichrysum bracteatum (annual forms) (Everlasting Daisy)
- Helianthus annuus (Sunflower)
- Lobularia maritima (Alyssum)
- Matthiola incana (Stock)
- Nigella damascena (Love-in-a-mist)
- Oenothera biennis (Evening Primrose)
- Papaver species & cultivars (Poppies)
- Petunia cultivars
- Primula malacoides, P x polyantha cultivars (Primulas)
- Tagetes cultivars (Mariogolds)
- Tropaeolum majus (Nasturtium)
- Viola x hybrida (Pansies)
- Alstroemeria cultivars (Peruvian Lily)
- Amarylllis belladonna (Belladonna Lily)
- Convallaria majalis (Lily of the Valley)
- Crocosmia species (Montbretia)
- Crocus sativa (Saffron Crocus)
- Cyrtanthus species (Ifafa Lily)
- Eucharis grandiflora (Amazon Lily)
- Freesia species & cultivars (Freesias)
- Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrops)
- Gladiolus species & cultivars
- Hyacinthus (Hyacinths)
- Iris species & cultivars
- Lachenalia species (Soldiers)
- Leucojum species (Snowflakes)
- Lilium species and cultivars (Lilies)
- Narcissus species & cultivars (Daffodils & Jonquils)
- Muscari (Grape Hyacinth)
- Proiphys cunninghamii (Brisbane Lily)
- Ranunculus hybrids & species (Buttercups)
- Scilla (Bluebells)
- Sprekelia formosissima (Jacobean Lily)
- Tritonia crocata (Blazing Star)
- Tulbaghia violacea (Garlic Flower)
- Watsonia cultivars (Watsonia)
- Zantedeschia cultivars (Arum/Calla Lily)
- Zephyranthes candida (Storm Lily)
- Acanthus mollis (Oyster Plant)
- Achillea millefolium (Yarrow)
- Agapanthus cultivars (Agapanthus)
- Anemone coronaria (Windflower)
- Aquilegia vulgaris (Columbine or Granny’s Bonnet)
- Begonia semperflorens (Bedding Begonia)
- Brachyscome multifida (Brachyscome Daisy)
- Canna indica (Canna Lillies)
- Clivia miniata (Kaffir Lily)
- Dianthus species & cultivars (Carnations & Pinks)
- Hedychium gardnerianum (Ginger Lily)
- Helleborus species (such as H. niger, H. orientalis)
- Hydrangea species & cultivars
- Hymenocallis species (Spider Lily)
- Iberis species & cultivars (Candytufts)
- Impatiens (Balsam)
- Phlox (perennial types)
- Salvia sclarea (Clary Sage)
- Allium sativum (Garlic)
- Allium schoenoprasum (Chives)
- Anethum graveolens (Dill)
- Angelica archangelica (Angelica)
- Borago officinalis (Borage)
- Carum carvi (Caraway)
- Cichorium intybus (Chicory)
- Coriandrum sativum (Coriander)
- Echinacea purpurea (Echanacea)
- Hyssopus officinalis (Hyssop)
- Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm)
- Mentha x piperita (Peppermint)
- Monarda didyma (Bergamot)
- Nepeta cataria (Catnip) & Nepeta mussinii (Catmint)
- Ocimum basilicum (Basil)
- Origanum majorana (Marjoram)
- Origanum vulgare (Oregano)
- Petroselinum crispum (Parsley)
- Ruta graveolens (Rue)
- Salvia officinalis (Common Sage)
- Satureja hortensis & S. Montana (Savories)
- Thymus (Thyme)
- Artemisia absinthium, A. abrotanum
- Azalea & Rhododendrons (all cultivars)
- Buddleia davidii (Butterfly Bush)
- Camellia (all cultivars)
- Cistis species & cultivars (Rock Roses)
- Convolvulus cneorum (Silver bush)
- Dendrathema frutescens (Marguerite Daisy)
- Echium fastuosum (Pride of Madeira)
- Erica cultivars (Heathers & Heaths)
- Erysimum chieri (Wallflower)
- Euryops pectinatus
- Fuchsia species & cultivars
- Hebe species & cultivars (Veronicas)
- Heliotropium arborescens (Cherry Pie)
- Lavandula angustifolia (English Lavender)
- Leptospermum ‘Aussie Blossom’
- Loreopetalum cultivars (Fringe Flower)
- Myrtus communis (Sweet Myrtle)
- Phlomis fruticosa (Jerusalem Sage)
- Raphiolepis species and cultivars (Indian Hawthorn)
- Rosa species & cultivars (Roses)
- Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary)
- Salvia leucantha (Mexican Sage) and other species and cutlivars
- Syringa vulgaris cultivars (Lilac)
- Viburnum tinus (Laurustinus)
- Actinidia deliciosa (Kiwifruit)
- Citrus limon (Lemon)
- Cydonia oblonga (Quince)
- Diospyros kaki (Persimmon)
- Eriobotrya japonica (Loquat)
- Eugenia brasiliensis (Grumichama)
- Feijoa sellowiana (Feijoa)
- Ficus carica (Fig)
- Fragaria x ananassa (Strawberries)
- Litchi chinensis (Litchi)
- Malus domestica (Apples)
- Mangifera indica (Mango)
- Mesipilus germanica (Medlar)
- Morus alba & M. nigra (White & Black Mulberries)
- Olea europae (Olive)
- Passiflora edulis (Passionfruit)
- Prunus amygdalus (Almonds)
- Prunus armeniaca (Apricots)
- Prunus avium (Cherries)
- Prunus domestica (European Plum)
- Prunus persica (Peach & Nectarine)
- Prunus salicina (Japanese plum)
- Punica granatum (Pomegranate)
- Psidium littorale (Guava)
- Pyrus communis (Pear)
- Pyrus pyrifolia (Nashi)
- Ribes species & cultivars (Black currant, White Currant , Red Currant, Gooseberry)
- Rubus species & cultivars (Raspberries, Blackberries, Brambleberries, Dewberries)
- Vitis vinifera (Grapes)
- Clematis vitalba & C. montana cultivars
- Jasminum species such as J. officinale, J. nudiflorum, J. polyanthum
- Lathyrus odoratus (Flowering Pea)
- Pandorea jasminoides & P. pandorana (Wonga Wongo Vine)
- Phaseolus vigna (Snail Vine)
- Pyrostegia venusta (Orange Creeper Vine)
- Pelargonium peltatum cultivars (Ivy-leaved Geraniums)
- Quisqualis indica (Rangoon Creeper)
- Rosa – climbing types (Climbing Roses)
- Tecomanthe hillii
- Thunbergia species
Warm Tropical Plants
It is sometimes difficult to image the creation of a ’cottage garden’ in the warm humid conditions of the topics and subtopics but with careful planning it is possible to produce a ‘tropical version of the cottage theme’.
Some of the plants listed above are suitable however many of the plants are not.
Ideally select plants that grow well in your area then arrange them in the fashion typical of a cottage garden. This may involve using ‘non-traditional’ cottage plants such as gardenias, gingers, ixora, hibiscus, poinsettias, climbers like Ipomea horsfalliae, etc.
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