English cottage gardens date back
centuries. They were used to grow vegetables, herbs
for healing, fruit trees, perhaps a beehive, and common flowers. The informal
style went through a renaissance in the late 1800’s when they became somewhat
more nostalgic than practical. 

The informal aesthetic of dense planting and natural
materials is still en vogue today. In this video, Laura outlines 10 design
principles to help you design a cottage garden. Before you start, make sure you
have plenty of Espoma’s organic Bio-tone
Starter Plus
plant food to make sure your plants
get the best possible start.

Straight Lines

Cottage gardens are always informal and a touch whimsical.
Avoid straight lines. Gently curving edging looks more natural and playful. If
your site restricts you to a straight edge, let the plants spill over it to
create an unrestrained look.

Groups of the Same Plant

White cottage gardens are more relaxed in their design, it
is still best to use large sweeps of the same plant. Think of planting in
groups of three, five or seven. That is far more restful to the eye than a
jumble of onsies and twosies. 

Doesn’t Matter

This is one time you do not have to follow the advice on
the plant tag. Cottage gardens are always densely planted and generally grow
more densely packed with time. Annuals and biennials are often used in cottage
gardens and will self-sow in the border. Biennials are plants that take two
years to grow and flower from seed like the foxgloves shown. Another advantage
to planting things close together is that there is less room for weeds to grow.


It’s very important to pick a collection of plants that
have harmonious colors. Without that the border would look chaotic. Garden
Answer uses a collection of soft pinks and peaches with touches of blue and
lavender. It needn’t always be soft colors, but they do need to be unified in
some way.

Varied Heights and Textures

In any planting, it’s a good idea to think about texture,
height and foliage color as major design elements. Nothing blooms all the time.
Varied foliage forms and colors will create interest even when the flowers
aren’t in bloom. Laura uses Heuchera
specifically for the silvery foliage color.

Plants/Structural Elements

This is sometimes referred to as the “bones” of a garden.
It’s a structural element that all of the other plants get woven around. In
this case, it’s a beautiful shrub rose named Rose ‘The Lady Gardener’, a fragrant beauty with full, apricot
blossoms. The rose is repeated three times. Repetition is soothing to the eye.  It’s possible to use evergreens for a slightly
more formal feel, or whatever peaks your interest.


The first thing everyone does when they pick a flower is
to hold it up to their nose. Cottage gardens are known for their fragrance. Try
to select varieties that smell good at the garden center. Roses, lavender,
sweet peas, and sweet alyssum are all good choices.

Perfectly Maintained

Along with relaxed design principles, comes relaxed
maintenance. Planting tightly will discourage weeds. Annuals like poppies will
self-seed and move around the border, just like the biennial foxgloves. Weeding
everything that comes up might mean that you weed out these plants and inhibit
their spontaneous movements.

Look Will Change Over Time

This style of gardening is the exact opposite of a formal
border filled with geometric shaped boxwood. By its very nature this is meant
to be more random. People often sow cosmos, violas and other plants that have a
tendency to move around. Let them surprise you. If you really don’t like where
one popped up, it’s easy enough to remove.


Being patient is really what gardening is all about. A
garden is never really finished. Enjoy the journey!

Answers Plant List

‘Cat’s Pajamas’ – catmint

– pink yarrow

‘Serendipity’ – ornamental onion

‘The Lady Gardener’

Dolce ‘Spearmint’ – Coral Bells

‘Brother Stephan’

Foxy Hybrids –  foxglove

‘Blushing Princess’ – sweet alyssum

Here are more videos from Garden Answer we
hope you will enjoy.

Your Window Boxes Like Garden Answer

Pot in a Pot – Quick Version

to Re-pot Houseplants – Quick Cut

Where to Buy

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