When I think about the phrase, “cottage garden,” I envision a nostalgic, informal space, surrounded by a picket fence that is filled with a wild profusion of old-fashioned flowers, intermingled with vegetables and scented herbs. Vining roses spill from trellises, and bees and butterflies abound. A swing hangs from a large tree and a garden bench is close by. Romance is in the air!
The first cottage gardens started in England in Elizabethan times. They were not places of charm and romance but were practical and utilitarian. British yeomen, who owned or leased very small plots of land, planted what space they had with vegetables, fruit trees, and herbs to provide food for their tables and potions from herbs to treat illnesses. Each plot usually included a bee hive for honey and pollination, and livestock. Certain flowers were added only as a means to repel insects from their crops. Later in the late 1870s, English country life became idealized, and the cottage garden look was adapted by the wealthy gentry, tired of the formal, pruned estate look. The cottage garden became defined as informal, free flowing, a little wild and filled with flowers.
Enclose your cottage garden with a white picket fence, hedges, or a rustic stone wall. Further, define the garden by designing informal, curving pathways and garden beds, and add trellises and arbors for blooming vines.
Use informal, old-fashioned, pass-along plants like you would find in your grandmother’s garden. These tried-and-true favorites are easy to grow, with a casual, sprawling feel. Popular cottage plants include: angel’s trumpet, bee balm, climbing roses, crossvine, coral bells, coreopsis, daffodils, delphinium, fern, foxglove, geranium, hydrangea, hollyhock, iris, peony, Rose of Sharon, Shasta daisy, snapdragon, violet, and zinnia. Select a variety of plants that bloom in different seasons so you have flowers most of the year. Don’t forget to include some herbs and even a few vegetables. Lavender, sage, and rosemary will add a sweet scent to the garden, and vining tomatoes can be trained to wind around a trellis.
Select a few special focal points to add charm and nostalgia to your cottage garden, such as large containers filled with flowers, gazing balls, bird baths, or statues. Add comfortable, casual seating. Vintage metal or wooden chairs, swings, hammocks, benches, and tables are suitable to the oldfashioned cottage look. You can find many of these pieces at garage sales or junk stores. Paint them various pastel colors for a romantic vibe, and toss a few pillows on the seats.
Crowd the space. A cottage garden is usually small but crammed with a profusion of blooms. If you take the time to amend your soil (or plant in raised beds), your plants will be healthy and thrive. You are striving for a lush, informal, wild look. Use multiple color combinations instead of sticking to the more formal 2-3 colors.