The comfort of cottage gardens

words by Kirtsy McLean

Cottage gardens conjure up a romantic vision of warm summers, heady scents wafting through a wild and wonderful mix of colourful blooms, arranged in a jumbled-up, random fashion. Traditionally, cottage gardens mixed flowers with herbs, fruits and vegetables – it was the original notion of companion planting, in many respects.  

Cottage gardens were originally created by workers, making the most of their space by growing vegetables, herbs and fruit in one border. With no A&E or local chemist, they would have also been knowledgeable as to what roots, herbs and flowers could be used for medicinal purposes and would have grown these too. It was common to propagate plants by nipping a bit off a neighbour’s plant, by taking cuttings or sharing seed – no garden centres back then!

So how does the cottage style fit into our gardens now? It seems it has never been more on trend! The pandemic has reconnected many of us with nature but it has also kindled a need for a style of gardening that is wholesome and comforting. There has been a movement toward a much more natural feel in our garden borders and a desire to use planting that addresses the specific needs of pollinating insects, such as bees and butterflies and is welcoming to wildlife. 

The delightful aspect of this style of gardening is, you can break all the rules… because there aren’t any! Whilst colours may tend to be more pastel than deep or hot shades, you can mix colours and heights as you please and be as laid back as you like regarding their arrangement. Long flowering perennials can also be mixed in with grasses and bulbs to prolong seasonal interest in the border and create a wider biodiversity in the garden.  

There are a number of plants that retain their foliage during the winter and others that have the most wonderful frame that remains evident even whilst they sleep, so whilst many do die back in the winter, the border does not have to be bare once summer has passed. By adding in some pots, or obelisks for climbers, you can extend the growing season and maintain interest all year round. Cottage style gardening is relatively low maintenance. Many of these plants will grow and bulk out quickly, covering most of the soil which means less weeding.  

Autumn is a perfect time to plant and this relaxed style of border can be created incredibly cheaply by growing the bulk of the plants from seed if this is what you want to do or perhaps you could trade cuttings with your neighbour? For the less patient however, the garden centre won’t disappoint!

A selection of perennials, trees, climbers, grasses and bulbs thatwork well in cottage style gardens:

Perennials: Aquilegias, Hardy geraniums, Dianthus, Phlox, Delphiniums, Lupins, Campanulas, Scented Roses, Hollyhocks, Peonies, Foxgloves, Poppies, Leucanthemum, Echinaceas, Lavender, Fennel, Salvias, Chives, Alchemilla Mollis, Penstemons, Nepeta, Scabious, Centaurea, Asters, Sedums

Bulbs: Anemones, Alium, Agapanthus, Convallaria Majalis, Dodecatheon, Hesperantha coccinea, Nerine bowdenii, Ornithogalum thyrsoides, Daffodils, Tulips

Trees: Apple trees, Pear trees, Plum trees.

Shrubs: Philadelphus Manteau d’Hermine (dwarf var.), Syringa Palibin (Dwarf Lilac), Rosa Rugosa, Dwarf Buddleja, Potentilla fruticose, Rosemary,
Dwarf Fuchsia, Daphnes

Climbers: Climbing/Rambling Scented Roses, Scented Honeysuckles, Jasmine, Clematis, Sweet Peas  

Grasses: Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, Carex pendula, Carex Testacea, Miscanthus sinensis

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