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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A FEW MORE EXAMPLES SO YOU CAN GET YOUR DREAMY ON
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?
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!