Designing The Cottage Garden

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This article provides information and tips for designing a cottage garden
by Brett · All Zones · Theme Gardens · 0 Comments · September 17, 2010 · 11,066 views

Cottage Garden DesignWhat do you envision when you hear the term cottage garden? If you're like most American gardeners, you probably conjure up images of thatched-roof stone cottages, hedgerows and quaint English village life. If you live in a suburban split-level bounded by chain-link fence, this fantasy may seem too remote to attempt.

It can be liberating to consider what really makes up a cottage garden. Actually, cottage gardens are mostly small, personal, individual, eccentric, spontaneous gardens created by amateurs.

Resourceful gardeners look first to native plants, which are hardy and appropriate to the region's style. Does this mean that a cottage garden in Georgia and other regions of the South can contain native azaleas (rhododendron canescens) and a pine tree or two? Sure, with the addition of foxgloves, liatris, gaillardias, butterfly weed, and a host of other cottage garden beauties suitable for the area.

If you've been growing flowers and vegetables among the fruit trees and vines, choosing plants because they're interesting to you, listen to this: You are already a cottage gardener! Following basic guidelines of seasonal bloom and size placement, you can fill your garden with colorful flowers and shrubs to please butterflies, bees, birds, and people. And remember, no garden is ever truly finished; experiment, learn from mistakes, and have fun all along the way.

Give your attention to some of the following major considerations:

Layout of a Cottage Garden

Start with the bones of the garden: the trees and shrubs. If you have a sprawling old apple tree or red bud, make it the focal point of your cottage garden, or plant one. Ring it with spring-flowering bulbs and place a comfortable bench under it.

To disguise an expanse of chain link, put in a boxwood hedge, flowering vines like honeysuckle or clematis, or a background planting of butterfly bush, Reeves spirea, Viburnum, holly - all perfect cottage garden choices. Indica azaleas and camellias work well, too, provided you use softer shades of flower color.

Avoid planting your shrubs in straight lines - there's nothing formal about cottage gardening. Stagger plants in the garden as if they blew in with the wind and just landed.

Topiary is great for the cottage garden. Plant your clipped pom-pom near an entryway. Run a climbing rose over an arbor at the back door or at the steps to a patio or deck.

Traditional cottage gardens do feature a straight path leading to the front door - or back door. This path, or a fence, may be the only straight lines in the garden. Along this path, the jumble of flowers and herbs progresses from low creepers along the path's edge to medium-sized plants in mid-range to tall shrubs and flowers along the sides. Truly spectacular flowers like ten-foot hollyhocks and Confederate Rose hibiscus are planted against the house or in recessed corners where they will have protection from strong wind.

To achieve this progression from short to tall, start with perennial plants that will give structure and interest year-round. You can't go wrong with herbs; they're tough, attractive and only need occasional trimming. Lavender is in keeping with cottage garden style and looks great spilling over the path. Spanish lavender is perhaps the hardiest and easiest to grow in the South U.S. or other warmer climates. Woody shrubs like rosemary can occupy the middle ground, next to blueberry bushes, and perennial flowers like Malva Zebrina. Foxglove, butterfly bush, lantanas and Joe-Pye weed are good background plants that are also attractive to butterflies.

Spiky plants like iris, red-hot poker and mid-sized ornamental grasses, such as Maiden grass, add interest and structure to the garden. The plumes and seed heads of grasses, herbs and flowers can look spectacular and offer a food source to our feathered friends.

Plant Bog Salvia to enjoy sky blue flowers all season long and to repel deer. Bee balms, pineapple sage, and Madame Galen trumpet vine will keep the hummingbirds buzzing around throught the Summer months. Just make sure that when planting a Trumpet Vine (Campsis) it has a substantial size structure to grow on.

Fill in with clumps of annuals like Spiderflower (cleome), zinnia and marigold. If you seed annuals directly in the ground, give them enough space and light to germinate. You may get some delightful surprises from self-seeders of last year's garden.

Structures In The Cottage Garden

An arbor entwined with a climbing rose is a classic cottage garden image. 'New Dawn' is a classic favorite with light pink flowers. Add a bench, a rustic gate, stone or brick path, birdbath and flower containers like window boxes, clay pots, stone troughs or tubs. Keep it simple, though. Oh, and don't forget our feathered friends - spot bird feeders and bird houses throughout the garden.

Soil Preparation

Since your plants, once established, won't be going anywhere, it's always important to start with healthy, rich soil. Compacted or heavy clay soils can be amended with organic compost materials such as mushroom compost, composted manures or, of course, your own homemade compost.


When you water do so by hand with a garden hose or lay out a soaker hose. Overhead sprinkling is ineffective and fosters diseases like mildew and leaf spot on roses and many other cottage garden plants


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