Get the Look: English Cottage Garden (Zone: 3 – 7)

Invented by the English in the 1400s (or so the story goes), true English cottage gardens are a mad mix of flowering plants and edibles. These gardens were originally intended to feed a family—still a good thing—but the dense mix-and-match jumble makes them just so charming, too. The best of these gardens sort of look like they planted themselves with edible and ornamental plants mingling and tumbling over paths, against structures, and in deep beds and borders.

The key to achieving this look of controlled chaos is to plant flowers at the edge of garden beds and allow them to spill over onto paths and then add shrubs and trees for structure. Unlike classic English garden borders where you would plant a few things in mass, here it’s the opposite–plant a little of a lot. This helps to achieve the look, but also with many smaller clumps of many kinds of plants, you might limit loss to pests and diseases.

This is a fun kind of garden that while practical, is not to be taken too seriously. Here are some plants we recommend to get this look.

(For zones 8 – 11, click here.)

This enchanting English cottage garden is a mix of perennials, vines, and shrubs. Clematis climbs over the arch with beds filled with fuchsia, catmint, campanula, delphiniums, foxgloves, hardy geranium, herbs, and lavender below.

ANNUALS

The perfect antidote to spare spots as perennials and shrubs fill in, and to add all-season color during the times when the garden seems a bit quiet. Our best tip? Buy more than you think you’ll need and pack them in.
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Double Zahara™ Zinnia
Zone: 10 – 11

Big, fully double flowers on this carefree summer-long bloomer in high impact colors.

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Black & Bloom Salvia
Zone: 8 – 10

Dark blue flowers emerge from striking black stems amidst green foliage.

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Champion Blue Bellflower
Zone: 10 – 11

Heavy bloomer is an excellent and long lasting cut flower. Attracts hummingbirds.

PERENNIALS

Make sure to include varieties of perennials that bloom at different times to ensure a sequence of interest thoughout the season. This grouping includes something that comes on early, mid-season, and late.
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Lacey Blue Russian Sage
Zone: 4 – 10

Improved form that does not flop over in the landscape! Deer-resistant, too.

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Ice Cap Garden Phlox
Zone: 4 – 8

Fragrant flowers in domed-shaped clusters appear on tall stems in summer.

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Thriller Lady’s Mantle
Zone: 3 – 9

Vivid golden yellow flowers above the scalloped bright green leaves.

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Snowcap Shasta Daisy
Zone: 5 – 9

One of the most charming cottage flowers for cutting. Fuss-free and easy.

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Lady Orchid Peony
Zone: 4 – 8

Kick off the cottage garden season in late spring. Nice with flowering bulbs.

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Hidcote Blue English Lavender
Zone: 5 – 9

No cottage garden would be complete with a mass of this fragrant beauty.

NEXT, A FEW EDIBLES

Edibles are essential to a true English cottage garden which originally were backyard plots intended to feed a family. In fact, edibles came first–all those flowers were installed to lure in pollinators. Mix in food crops and herbs.
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Carmine Jewel™ Dwarf Cherry
Zone: 3 – 8

Dwarf and shrubby, self-fertile and provides loads of large, sweet purplish-red fruits.

Selective focus image of some green basil plants in an old terracotta pot.

Sweet Basil
Zone: 10 – 11

Plant one that’s pretty pricey at the market, but grows like crazy in the home garden!

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Raspberry Shortcake® Raspberry
Zone: 4 – 9

Compact plants provide abundant berries over a long season–no staking required.

FLOWERING SHRUBS

Groups of shrubs are critical to a blousy cottage garden. They add volume, height, and depth to a garden. These three bloom in sequence from early spring to early fall. Plant in groups of at least three.
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Dwarf Korean Lilac
Zone: 3 – 7

Even after spring bloom pretty foliage provides backdrop for flowering perennials.

Rosa Francis Meilland

Francis Meilland™ Hybrid Tea Rose
Zone: 4 – 9

Repeat blooming, fragrant flowers on classic long-stems. Disease resistant.

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Blue Enchantress® Hydrangea
Zone: 4 – 9

Shrubs help balance out the cottage garden blousy. Why not get flowers, too!

WE ADD STRUCTURE!

All of the color can be dizzying. Adding a few neutrals that are all about texture and foliage rather than flower and color tells the eye, “stop, look here”. These cool hues actually make the colors around them even more vivid.
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Powis Castle Artemisia
Zone: 4 – 9

Fine, feathery foliage adds contrasting color and texture to borders and beds.

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Chicagoland Green® Boxwood
Zone: 4 – 9

Just so English garden! Define corners of beds or use to edge a border.

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Big Ears Lamb’s Ear
Zone: 4 – 9

Dress-up the edges of a border with a dense groundcover of thick, soft, velvety rosettes.

A FEW MORE EXAMPLES SO YOU CAN GET YOUR DREAMY ON

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Does a garden have to front a cottage to be a “cottage garden?” Is it maybe more about a sensibility than location? This cottage border flanking a gravel path is simply waves of plants left to do their thing–grow tall, wild, and untamed. Merlot coneflower, veronica, catmint, Rozanne geranium, bee balm, and dill that’s gone to flower. Tell me you couldn’t do this?

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If you like your cottage with a side of formal including a few sheared boxwood balls to the mixed plantings helps to break up the deliciously chaotic by adding some structure. And, really, what’s more English than some sheared boxwoods!

Image Credits: (top) GAP Photos/Nicola Stocken; (2) Dove Cottage; (3) original source unknown.

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