Create a Charming Cottage Garden

Add a little romance to your garden with our favorite cottage garden flower and design ideas.
Classic English Country Cottage Garden

Classic English Country Cottage Garden

A classic English cottage garden is popular because of the natural feeling they evoke. They feature a colorful array of practical, easy to grow flowers, shrubs, and trees in a traditional setting.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Charming, romantic cottage gardens are believed to have originated during the Elizabethan era. According to historians, they began as informal plantings of vegetables, herbs and fruits around English homes and probably expanded to include flowers and shrubs as families became a little more prosperous and had more leisure time to garden for beauty as well as for food.

Violets, daises, hollyhocks and many other flowers were commonly found in these lovely gardens. Today this “old-fashioned” design is still popular with gardeners who want a natural, casual look.

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Accent Color on Garden Bench

Color can have more impact on the landscape than any other design element. A bench painted country blue fits in a cottage style garden.

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Cottage Chaos

Cottage gardens may look chaotic but to achieve this look, plantings have to be carefully planned to keep the show going throughout summer.

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Royal Turret

A graceful turret in the corner of garden wall supplies a shady spot to relax and take in the bountiful blooms in this English cottage garden.

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Romantic Daisies

Romantic style uses informal drifts of plantings, with simple white daisies a popular choice for borders and pots. Wild flowers are occasionally mixed with cultivated varieties.

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On the Moor's Edge

The garden of Sleighthomedale Lodge stands on the edge of England’s Yorkshire moors, and has been tended by the same family for three generations. The borders are overflowing with cottage garden favorites, such as poppies and foxgloves.

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Rustic Effect

Rustic features like an old wooden fence is a staple in the cottage garden style. This rustic fence is a beautiful boundary for a border of roses and poppies.

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Pond Elegance

Informal lawns, ponds and roses or wisteria climbing up house walls typify the Romantic style.

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Romantic Cottage Garden

Snow-white roses adorn and drape over this rustic arch creating instant romance. Like an illustration from a fairy-tale wedding, this cottage garden creates a peaceful scene where the scent of the lavender can almost be smelled wafting in the air.

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For a true cottage garden, choose plants with lush, many-petaled blooms; climbing vines, such as clematis, wisteria and honeysuckle; rambling roses; and a rich variety of fragrant flowers and herbs. Don’t forget lilacs, hydrangeas and other blooming shrubs.

Perennials make an excellent backbone for these gardens. Tuck daffodils, crocus and other bulbs or annuals in and around them, and add an apple, pear, or crabapple tree if you have room. Remember to let your plants mingle and blend together, and avoid putting them in straight lines. Part of the fun of a cottage style garden is letting your plants grow exuberantly.

Cottage Garden Flowers

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English Lavender

No cottage garden would feel complete without sweet-smelling lavender. While lavender can be difficult to grow in areas with high humidity, English lavender is less demanding. Give the plants full sun and soil that drains easily. This tall, perennial herb is a good companion for coneflowers (Echinacea) and black-eyed Susans, as well as shorter flowers and herbs.

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Sweet Pea

Fragrant sweet peas are the mainstay of many cottage gardens. These climbing flowers come in a wide variety of colors and many have intense perfumes. They’re annuals that prefer full sun, although they dislike hot weather and produce their best blooms in early spring. If you live in a hot climate, sow the seeds in fall. Sweet peas are usually trellised, but in a cottage garden, you can allow them to weave around shrubs and tall perennials or train them on a fence.

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Heliotropes, with their vanilla perfumes, can be found in shades of blue, lavender and white. Grow them alongside pink or pale yellow flowers for a soft color combination, or with hot pink or gold blooms for a bold palette. A navy-blue heliotrope variety, ‘Marine’ is especially striking. These spring-blooming annuals need full to part sun.

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Although their blooms last only one day, daylilies are beautiful additions to any cottage garden. These nearly indestructible plants crave sun, but grow even in less-than-ideal soils. Look for rainbow colors that vary from butter yellow to raspberry pink, maroon, cream, apricot, watermelon red and more. Plant varieties with staggered bloom times to keep the flowers coming until frost. A bonus: daylily clumps can be divided to help increase your cottage garden.

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Drought-resistant hollyhocks add stately charm and bright color to cottage gardens. Tall varieties that grow 8 feet or more can tower over other plants, but shorter varieties that top out around 30 inches are also available. Grown as biennials or short-lived perennials in zones 3 to 8, hollyhocks are beautiful when planted alongside daylilies, delphiniums and sage. Because most hollyhocks are so tall, protect them from strong winds and rain by growing them near a garden shed, gazebo or other structure.

English Daisy

Look closely, and you may spot tiny white flowers popping up through the grass in medieval paintings and old tapestries. English daisies were bred from these flowers, which were low-growing plants native to Europe. Today, English daises have large blooms in single or doubled varieties, and their colors range from white to rose pink or red with yellow centers. Combine these early bloomers with pansies, violas, and other spring flowers; they take full sun to part shade and tolerate average soil.

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Carefree larkspurs are easy to grow from seeds. These annuals are best sown in fall, since they don’t fare well once the summer heat arrives, but they self-seed readily to re-appear the next spring. Try them with roses and lavender for a soft color palette and a pleasing mix of flower forms and heights. You’ll find larkspurs in shades of blue and pink as well as white, but you may need to start with fresh seeds after a year or two. Self-sown flowers tend to become drab over time.

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Flowering Tobacco

A member of the nightshade family, flowering tobacco is also known as woodland tobacco and jasmine tobacco. The plants’ trumpet-shaped flowers come in pink, white, red and pale green, and are filled with nectar for hungry hummingbirds. Grow this annual with other plants that tolerate sun to partial shade, such as love-in-a-mist or cleome. For more impact, use the tall, airy plants in masses or clumps. Note: the plants are toxic, so avoid growing them near pets or children who might chew on them.

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Hardy pansies, with their cheerful faces, belong in any cottage garden. They prefer cool temperatures, so start them indoors 6 to 8 weeks before transplanting them, or sow them during the summer for early winter flowers. Pansies are available in more colors than almost any other garden flower. Some varieties have a delicate, light perfume.

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When the wind blooms, scabiosa’s lavender, pink or white blooms often nod on their slender stems. Despite their rather unattractive name—scabiosa may come from a Latin word that refers to scabies, a skin disease that the plants were used to treat—the pretty, delicate flowers are butterfly magnets. The plants prefer full sun and tolerate drought and blossom until frost.

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Signet Marigold

Less well-known than the classic French or African marigolds, signet marigolds are small yellow or orange flowers with fine-cut, lacy foliage. They grow 12 to 24 inches high and have a lemony fragrance. Give them a spot with full sun in beds or along paths and walkways. The light, airy foliage combines nicely with violas, nasturtiums and snapdragons. These deer and rabbit-resistant plants can tolerate periods of drought.

Beard Tongue

Sun-loving penstemons are pink, white, lavender, purple, red, or hot pink perennials with contrasting colors in their throats. There are over 200 species of these members of the snapdragon family, and their trumpet-shaped flowers are a valuable source of nectar for many bees. The blooms open in early spring. After the flowers are finished, the foliage makes a good backdrop for plants that bloom later in the season.

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Cardinal Flower

Hummingbirds and butterflies adore the red, tube-shaped blossoms of lobelia, also known as cardinal flowers. These native perennials thrive in sun to part shade and may need afternoon shade if grown in a hot climate. They prefer moist to wet soil, so try iris, ferns, hostas and astilbe as companion plants. Be cautious of using cardinal flowers around children and pets, since all parts of the plant are poisonous.

Photo By: Image courtesy of East Tennessee Wildflowers

Climbing Roses

Spreading across fences, trellises and pergolas, climbing roses make gorgeous additions to cottage gardens. 'Constance Spry' (pictured), a David Austin climbing rose, produces magnificent, clear pink blooms of true old rose form.

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Columbine, Aquilegia, is a real treat for gardeners: These spring-bloomers look like two flowers in one and come in an array of colors. The woodland perennial performs best in part shade and well-drained soil.

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Lobularia, commonly known as sweet alyssum, makes for perfect groundcovers and borders in cottage gardens. Typically grown as an annual in zones 4- 9, sweet alyssum produces an endless stream of fragrant, tiny white blooms throughout the summer.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

Fountain Grass

Looking for an ornamental grass for your cottage garden? Fountain grass, with tall sprays of foliage topped with fuzzy flowers, will bounce gracefully in gentle breezes and color beautifully throughout the year.

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Butterflies, birds and hummingbirds find phlox irresistible. Phlox bears spikes of fragrant flowers that come in pink, red, white, purple and more during the summer. Creeping varieties make great flowering groundcovers and border plants.

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Where would a cottage or woodland garden be without foxglove? The biennial produces delightful spires of vibrant flowers in early summer. Protect these charmers from the wind and give them light shade and moist, well-drained soil.

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Butterfly Bush

The nectar-rich, arching flowers of buddleja are the perfect landing pad for butterflies. Butterfly bushes are known for their fuchsia blooms, but also come in white, purple, red or yellow. Grow the shrub in mass for a striking effect, and don't forget to deadhead to keep the blooms coming until frost.

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With tall, striking leaves and even more dramatic flowers that come in a variety of colors, irises are a cottage garden staple. Plant them behind borders and beds, and remove spent flowers for a bright foliage display throughout the spring.

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Peonies are classics in the cottage garden. These hardy, low-maintenance shrubs keep producing big blooms in a bright range of colors year after year.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Burpee


Loved for their unique blossoms and bushy habit, hydrangeas are perfect for brightening a shady spot in the cottage garden. Bloom color depends on variety and soil pH: blue flowers appear when planted in more acid soil, and you can expect pink flowers in alkaline soils.

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Romantic forget-me-nots greet gardeners in the spring—their bright blue blooms are often one of the first flowers to pop up. Forget-me-nots prefer moist, well-drained soil with some afternoon shade. Try using them as a flowering groundcover or in front of borders and beds.

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Osteospermum produces an endless display of flowers from early summer to autumn and are great for sunny borders. 'White Pim' has pure white with a pink and grey striped reverse.

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Add heirloom plants, if you wish, but don’t hesitate to try modern varieties that have been bred to resist diseases and re-bloom vigorously.

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