Cottage Garden Plants

Fill your yard with cottage garden plants for over-the-top color.

Flower Garden With Water Feature

Bright and Airy Flower Garden With White Fence

Purple coneflower, daisies, foxglove, black-eyed Susans, astilbe and hollyhocks fill this garden. "More than half the plants were split from perennials in other areas of my garden," says the homeowner, "and this turned out to be my favorite bed."

Photo by: HGTV fan jndesign

HGTV fan jndesign

Purple coneflower, daisies, foxglove, black-eyed Susans, astilbe and hollyhocks fill this garden. "More than half the plants were split from perennials in other areas of my garden," says the homeowner, "and this turned out to be my favorite bed."

Design a planting area with cottage garden plants, and you’re in for a season-long show. These old-fashioned favorites feature flowers in every color that bloom at various points throughout the growing season. Choose the right mix of cottage garden plants, and you’ll have non-stop color. 

If you like the look of picket fences and entry arches, you should explore cottage garden design style. Typically stuffed into a pocket-size patch, this garden boasts a lush, carefree abandon where plants jostle and lean in a tangle of bud and blossom. But cramped quarters aren’t a requirement to mimic the lively display and overstuffed plantings of a cottage garden. You can capture the magic and romance of cottage garden style in a sprawling border, a modest front yard or a cluster of containers. 

Cottage garden plants might be annuals, biennials or perennials. By planting a mix of all three plant types, it’s easier to ensure you’ll have the riot of color that typifies this garden style. Tuck annuals between perennials to stage a steady parade of blooms, especially when perennials may be between flowering windows.

Annual salvias make fabulous additions to the cottage garden plant roster with their spikey, colorful blooms. Consider including hummingbird sage (Salvia coccinea), Brazilian sage (Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’) and frost-tender Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) in your cottage garden design for a mix of flower colors all season long. 

Self-sowing annuals are must-have cottage garden plants. If you let these plants set and drop seed, you’ll have the serendipitous plant combinations that typify cottage garden chaos. Plants to consider include cleome (Cleome hassleriana), sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima), bachelor’s buttons (Centaurea cyanus), larkspur (Consolida ambigua) and calendula (Calendula officinalis).

Biennials also belong in the cottage garden. These are plants that require two growing seasons to complete their life cycle. In colder regions, that means one year you have a tuft of leaves, followed by flower spikes the following year. In warmer zones, biennials complete their life cycle from fall (planting and leaf sprouting) to spring (blooms). Some classic biennial cottage garden plants are sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis), sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica) and foxglove (Digitalis purpurea).

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Count on perennials to give a cottage garden design structure and seasonal color. Peony (Paeonia spp.), Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum), bee balm (Monarda didyma), bearded iris (Iris germanica), lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) and daylily (Hemerocallis spp.) are easy to find and even easier to grow. Perennials like phlox and campanula include species with varying heights and flower colors. Draw from these perennial groups to fill your garden with color and interest.

Work plants with an airy texture into your cottage garden. Position them to fill spaces between other plants and give that sense of floral fullness. Candidates include tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis), lavender, baby’s breath (Gysophila paniculata) and ornamental grasses or grass-like plants, such as hair sedge (Carex flagellifera), pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) or fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum).

Shrubs and roses should complete your cottage garden plant collection. Consider using butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) and summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) to add winter forms to your garden. Classic cottage gardens also include structures and ornaments, like a trellis, stepping stone path, armillary or tuteur. Work these items into your garden to enhance the off-season display.

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