Is a cottage garden the right style for you? I’ll share with you the benefits of creating a cottage garden and how to grow one.
My garden was a blank slate when we first moved to our home almost 9 years ago. This would be my first REAL garden and at the time, I knew very little about growing and maintaining one.
What I did know, was that I didn’t want a formal garden. I just wanted a carefree and relaxed outdoor space to enjoy. And this is why I chose a cottage-style garden.
I am not a Master Gardener, but a self-taught gardener who shares my opinions and what has worked for me in the garden.
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When I was looking for the definition of a cottage garden, I stumbled across this post from Aggie Horticulture:
To begin to understand the concept of the cottage garden, it is best to start with a definition of what the term literally means. A “cottage” is defined as a “small, humble dwelling.” A “garden” is defined as “a place for the cultivation of flowers, vegetables, or small plants.” Therefore, by strict definition, a “cottage garden” is “a place for the cultivation of flowers, vegetables, or small plants at or around a small, humble dwelling.
Advantages to Creating a Cottage Garden
You Don’t Have to Play by the Rules
This may be my favorite reason for growing a cottage garden…you don’t have to follow the rules!
There are no worries about the spacing between plants. There’s no need to plan a certain gradual height the flowers should be planted at. And best of all, I can forget about the “planting odd numbers” rule.
Imperfection is Welcome
Organized chaos is how I would best describe my cottage garden. The beds don’t have to be perfectly maintained, much like in a formal garden. You don’t have to have well-defined spaces. My garden is full of color and whimsy, where anything goes!
A Cottage Garden is More Personal
No two cottage gardens are alike. You will never find another cottage garden like yours. And YOU will never have the same garden you had the year before.
Cottage Gardens Can Be More Cost Effective
A cottage garden can be less expensive than a more formal one. By starting your garden with seeds, and getting some perennial plants that have been divided from a friend’s yard, you can start your garden without a lot of expense.
You will most likely spend most of your money on big-ticket items, such as rose bushes, flowering shrubs and trees, and evergreen shrubs. These will make great anchors for your garden.
As your perennials get bigger and more established, you’ll be able to divide them into clumps and plant them in other areas of your garden. I don’t have to buy many plants at the nursery anymore unless it’s a fun spur-of-the-moment purchase. I basically shop my own yard. Any self-sowing plants will also quickly fill in.
How to Get Started
Start Small, Start Slow
Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to go big, right from the beginning. Start small, adding more plants each year. This will not only save you from a lot of work at the beginning, but will give you an opportunity to really get to know your garden, and add more plants as you learn what is working for you, or isn’t.
Quality of Soil
Do a soil test, and bring in rich, organic soil. I add fish mulch to my garden beds every year, but you can make your own compost as well. There are so many reasons to add mulch to your garden beds…
- As organic mulch (bark, compost or leaf mold) breaks down, it improves the quality of the soil.
- It helps maintain the soil moisture levels and prevents weeds from growing.
- Minimum watering is required.
- It gives the garden a clean and well kept look.
Use an automatic watering system if possible. Drip hoses put water exactly where you want it, and not on the flowers and foliage.
What Should you Plant in Your Cottage Garden?
Plant a good mix of flowers, with a variety of colors, fragrances, and heights. Repeating the varieties of plants and colors will create a sense of flow and harmony in your garden. Add tall plants for visual interest, but don’t feel like you have to limit tall plants to the back of the garden bed.
Here are some of my favorite cottage garden flowers:
- Cone flowers
- Black-eyed Susan’s
The list is endless. For an even greater impact, group border plants in masses rather than ones and twos. Choose color themes for each garden bed.
I grow a variety of annuals, perennials, small shrubs (deciduous and evergreen), vines, and small trees, throughout the garden. I also include herbs and vegetables.
Cottage Garden Tips
Maintaining a Cottage Garden
Never assume that a cottage garden will take care of itself. The fact is, a cottage garden can be quite a bit of work. Self-sowing plants can get out of control. If you don’t divide your more established perennials every few years, they will become unruly, crowding out other neighboring plants, and could eventually die.
Deadheading, which is the process of removing dead or spent flowers of a plant, must be done throughout the growing season. This practice is important for the following reasons…
- Cleans up the plant and makes it look neater
- Encourages an increase in flowering buds.
- Helps to increase the length of the blooming season.
- Allows the plant to direct its energy towards the overall health of the plant.
Add Visual Interest and Charm to Your Cottage Garden
Cottage Garden Backdrops
There are so many creative ways to create the perfect backdrop for your cottage garden. Rustic and picket fences, gates, and hedges are some great options.
Structures such as vine-covered arbors and trellises can be used to accent doorways, gates, seating areas, and other elements. Using these structures in combination with fencing will give a vertical aspect to the garden.
I use boxwoods and other evergreen shrubs for year-round interest. The ground cover adds detail and texture while suppressing weeds and reducing maintenance.
Create an intimate and special spot within the garden. A seating area tucked away under a tree, or under a wisteria arbor, creates a gorgeous setting. Pergolas make a beautiful statement, with a dining table or hammock placed underneath.
Finishing touches, such as birdbaths, vintage bikes, wagons, and wheelbarrows make a strong impact in a cottage garden.
Creating Cottage Garden Pathways
Informal paths are typical of a cottage garden. They can be made out of brick, gravel, flagstone, wood chips, or even grass. Create curves pathways, and allow your plants to spill onto these paths.
Creative Places for Your Flowers to Grow
Overflowing window boxes add instant charm to your garden. I place containers full of flowers mixed in with the garden beds for more variety and interest.
Creating a cottage garden will give you an inviting space full of vibrant colors, and an eclectic variety of flowers and decorative elements. It’s a style where anything goes! In a blog post from The Spruce, it says that “A cottage garden’s greatest appeal is that it seems to lack any conscious design”.