The cottage garden is a much-loved planting style – a pretty, romantic jumble of bulbs, annuals, perennials and flowering shrubs and climbers.
In contrast to a more carefully manicured herbaceous border, a cottage garden is an informal affair – a mix of closely but informally planted brightly coloured flowers. Cottage gardens are made up of a mix of colours, as opposed to a strict colour scheme.
They are also likely to make use of self-seeders such as foxgloves and aquilegias, which pop up spontaneously around the garden or in cracks in paving, adding to the informal look. Discover plants that self-seed.
Traditionally, cottage gardens had an emphasis on practicality, mixing livestock, vegetables and fruit as well as flowers, which were mostly grown for their medicinal or edible properties. Cottage gardens today mostly focus on ornamental flowers, but it’s possible to mix them with edibles, too – discover ways to mix edible and ornamental plants.
Here are some key flowering plants for the cottage garden look.
Aquilegias, or granny’s bonnets, are old-fashioned cottage garden plants with bonnet-shaped flowers, often two-tone and with long graceful spurs. Flowering in early summer, they fill the seasonal gap between the last of the spring bulbs and the first of the summer roses. Discover 10 aquilegias to grow.
Hardy geraniums come in a range of colours, from dark purple to white, and grow brilliantly in sun or shade. They are perfect for the front of the border – chop them back after the first flush of flowers and they should reward you with a second flush. Discover 10 hardy geraniums to grow.
With their pretty flowers with a strong, clove scent, pinks (Dianthus) are essential cottage garden flowers, and come in a range of colours and forms; many have a clove scent. Short-lived perennials, they make good bedding plants – grow at the front of sunny borders and in containers.
Another cottage garden favourite, phlox have pretty, mostly pastel flowers with a sweet, honey-like fragrance. They’re the ideal choice for the middle of a border, and thrive in rich, moist soil in light shade. They’re loved by butterflies, moths and other pollinators.
Delphiniums are cottage garden stalwarts, towering at the back of the border in shades of blue, pink or white. Be sure to stake them before they get too tall, and protect them from slugs and snails early in the season. They make excellent cut flowers.
Lupins are another cottage garden favourite, with pretty spires of pea-like flowers in a wide range of shades; they contrast well with roses. As with delphiniums, be sure to protect them from slugs. Deadhead to encourage a second flush of flowers. Grow in full sun, in moist, well-drained soil.
Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) has a relaxed, spreading habit and fragrant, tubular from July to September. Grow it along a fence or up and arch or pergola for a romantic look – and enjoy the wildlife that it attracts, too.
Campanulas are loved for their bell-like, usually blue flowers and long flowering season. Traditionally used in cottage garden schemes, they look particularly lovely when grown under shrub roses. Campanula flowers are extremely attractive to bees and other pollinators.
Lavender (Lavandula) is a compact, evergreen shrub that looks good in all kinds of gardens, including cottage-style ones. Lavandula angustifolia is commonly known as English lavender. Most varieties have purple flowers, but some cultivars come in white or pink. Grow in a sunny spot.
Hollyhocks (Alcea) are classic English cottage garden plant, with tall spires of large flowers from summer to early autumn. They are perennial, but they’re often grown as biennials. Plant in groups at the back of a sunny border. Cut down after flowering to encourage fresh basal growth.
Peonies bring a sumptuous flowers and a range of colours to borders in late spring and early summer. They bear large, often double flowers in whites, pinks, reds and yellows. Grow in rich soil in a sunny spot. They also make excellent cut flowers.
There are so many roses to choose from, from ramblers to climbers and shrub roses. Their lax habit and sumptuous, scented flowers are ideal for a cottage garden. Rosa ‘Graham Thomas’ is a modern climbing rose, bearing deep yellow, old-fashioned rose blooms with a rich, lingering tea-scent.
Other cottage garden plants to try