Cottage gardens are my favorite garden style, and the one that I feel most at home, and most like myself in. They are casual, laid back gardens with surprises around every corner, and hidden beauty throughout. They multi-task well, growing vegetable and herbs as well as flowers, and they are down to earth in the best possible way. They may appear to be chaotic, but they have a structure underneath that stands the test of time. They embrace the gifts of nature, and celebrate color, texture and abundance. They provide for our most basic needs for food, and yet also for our thirst for beauty. They are places you love to just “be”. A cottage garden is a space that just feels good, in a natural and charismatic way, touched with nostalgia and romance.
Cottage gardens have a history too. Originating in England, they grew out of the small cottagers’ need to provide food for their family and medicinal herbs, and yet still conjure beauty from the soil. They recognized that one was not enough without the other. And they often had to do this all in small space, sometimes in the front of the cottage, not tucked out of site. Colonists brought this garden style with them, along with many plants of heritage, and the American cottage garden was born.
Recently, cottage gardens have once again become pivotal in the way we live. With the trends towards sustainable living, organic food and simpler living, they once again provide us with everything we need in a garden. Simply, cottage gardens are cool… So here are the essentials guidelines for creating your own cottage garden, and of course, what are guidelines without inspiration?
Cottage Garden How-To
Cottage gardens rely on what lies beneath to give structure to the chaos. Install simple paths, fences or walls, edging and simple arbors and pergolas. This is what makes a cottage garden strong.
Use natural materials whenever possible. This is an example of when tradition required ‘using what you had’ in the garden. Creating garden gates from twigs and branches, logs used to build arbors, and stones dug out of garden beds lining the paths were expected. Crushed gravel made a friendly paving, and an old-fashioned cedar picket fence the perfect accessory.
Use your cottage garden to freely mix plants, veggies, and herbs, but it’s ok to keep in mind some of the basic design rules. Plant in groups of 3 or more, not single plants. Repeat at least one color throughout the garden for unity. Vary heights and texture. No straight lines in this garden though! That having been said, a cottage garden is very forgiving. Play. Experiment.
Use some of the heritage plants of days gone by. Cottage gardens are most effective with the element of nostalgia. Hollyhocks, lilacs, hydrangeas, English roses, climbing clematis, daffodils, poppies, herbs, foxglove, pinks, peonies, cosmos, coneflowers, cleome and alyssum are all traditional picks. (You don’t have to use them all!) If you live in a warmer climate like I do, you may want to check out my list that is more fitting for the warmer American cottage garden.
Consider investigating heritage gardening… this practice helps to enable varieties of long ago to continue to thrive in our gardens. You can find info on why and how to do it here at my post on heirloom gardening.
Remember, you can use edibles in this garden as well. Leafy greens grow well under the shade of larger flowering plants, and I find patio varieties of summer quash are a nice touch of texture. Runner beans can share the arbor with climbing roses. Have space for a dwarf fruit tree? Imagine it in bloom in the spring surrounded by bulbs, and then the taste of fresh apple pie later that year… These are the gifts a cottage garden brings.
Beauty. Peace. Food. Medicine. A connection with soil, nature and the most basic things on this earth. How could you not love a cottage garden? Now be inspired!
Roses over an arbor make the perfect spot for a little retreat…
Natural creations adorn a cottage garden…
Cottage gardens are not meant to impress you with grandeur… they charm with guile!
Gates, paths and walls provide structure…
Gravel paths are all these unpretentious spaces need…
Cottage decor is nostalgic, simple and charming…
Love the pale pink bench as the focal point!