The traditional, English cottage garden is a favorite with landscapers who prefer the beautiful, natural look in a small space. Cottage gardens are a traditional way to create an enjoyable outdoor space without a lot of maintenance work and planning. Most are based on a few stationary trees and shrubs followed by random scatterings of various flowering plants that often self-seed to change the look of the garden year after year.
Cottage Garden Designs
The only rule for cottage gardens is to stay informal. The idea is to have a lively thicket of color and scent. Most designs begin with a look at the space to be filled, considerations for logistical requirements (pathways, work areas, existing buildings), and the setting of the static objects such as trees, pathways, and so forth. Once the basic layout is done, with paths made to cut up large areas and to facilitate movement through the space, then the planting begins.
Setting Up a Cottage Garden
The cottage garden will begin with the paths and simple landscaping, such as ground elevations and waterways (if any). Trees and then shrubs are planted as the static objects that will decorate and set off specific areas of the garden.
Only after the static objects are in place will the flowers and other features be planted. Use the plants to cascade over paths and create softness against the hard surfaces and large foliage. Adding recycled objects like pottery, bottomless buckets, and simple (vintage-style) accents is a popular choice.
Flowers, small shrubs, and other plants should be put into the ground haphazardly, not in neat rows or organized platoons. Most often, cottage gardens use self-pollinating, self-seeding, or perennial plants that come back year after year. Self-seeders are especially popular because they add a random element to the garden that allows it to change year after year.
Using Companion Planting in a Cottage Garden
Companion planting is the use of plants that go well together. In the case of cottage gardens, there are two purposes to be served with matching plants for your garden: complementary planting and pest control.
Complementary planting is simply using plants that work together in some way. For cottage gardens, this is usually to create color arrays, to give natural landscaping, or that flower at different times to keep the colors of the garden vibrant all season.
Here are some examples:
- Straight trunked trees combined with climbing plants like sweet pea allow the space to house a beautiful over-canopy from a tree while covering the bare space underneath and of the trunk with a lively flowering plant.
- Offsetting biennial bloomers like Canterbury bells over two years means that every year, some of the plants will bloom while others do not. Throwing in lavender plants throughout the garden adds scent to the overall picture.
Managing and Care of a Cottage Garden
Care of the garden will mainly revolve around those plants that require upkeep. Delphiniums, a popular choice for bushy beauty, can be left to their own devices, blooming once in spring. Or, the spent blooms can be pinched/cut and another set of blooms will appear in the early fall.
Most plants in your garden will require some maintenance, such as fertilization, fall cleanup, and (of course) watering. The goal of most cottage gardens is to minimize maintenance and go for the controlled wild look. Most cottage gardeners prefer only to regularly maintain edibles, such as herbs, and showcase flowers, leaving the rest to their own devices.