Plants for a cottage gardenFor those of us that love plants and want to get the most out of limited space, a cottage garden offers more than just a chocolate box backdrop to a quaint English cottage.

Such a quintessentially British theme could suit even the most modern of buildings and also offers a rich habitat for many species of insect and animal.

It could be argued that the source of the cottage garden is merely a fantasy; an illusion of a pre-industrial past, where everyone was happy and well fed. Such a scene would have been rare in rural Britain as poverty was the norm and gardening for pleasure would have been for the lucky few.

What plants to use in the perfect cottage garden?

Back on a romantic level again. At the heart of the cottage garden (in my opinion), is not necessarily the arrangement of fauna or flora. Nor is there any particular pattern, design, size or habit. There is a manifestation of a healthy, overactive plant-obsession. Commonly, in such a scheme, the lawn should be non-existent. The paths should be meandering and all manner of herbaceous perennial, annual, biennial are crammed together wherever they fit.

Although this idea seems chaotic and over-stated, a successful cottage garden needs to be tempered by a good appreciation of ‘what goes with what’. This sense will naturally bubble up as the seasoned gardener works. The selection of plants that should be used within an ‘authentic’ cottage garden is really up to the gardener’s personal choice. However, it’s a good idea to mix your perennials with your annuals. This will provide seasons of colour. Mix smaller plants with taller varieties and even throw in the odd cabbage, sweetcorn, onion or pumpkin plant! I’m not a believer in flower/veg segregation.

The common ingredients: Planting ideas

Still struggling to see a cottage garden in your minds-eye? Here are just a few plants which won’t look out of place in your cottage garden:

  • Irises
  • Centaurea (Knapweed)
  • Sweetpea
  • Verbascum
  • Primula Vialii
  • Dianthus
  • Asters
  • Auricula
  • Peony
  • Red Hot Poker Kniphofia
  • Lavatera – Mallow
  • Penstemon
  • Helenium
  • Hemerocallis – Day lily
  • Delphinium
  • Monarda Bergamot
  • Clematis montana
  • Gypsophila
  • Hollyhocks
  • Echinacea – Cone flower
  • Lupins
  • Climbing Roses
  • Buddleja – Buddleia, Butterfly bush
  • Oriental Poppy
  • Saponaria
  • Lavendula – Lavender
  • Pinks
  • Geraniums – Cranesbill
  • Stocks – Matthiola incana, Gillyflower
  • Evening Primrose
  • Carnations
  • Aquilegia – Columbine, Grannys Bonnet
  • Heuchera
  • Phlox – Fragrant
  • Honeysuckle
  • Pansies and Violas
  • Campanula – Bell flower
  • Helleborus

Remember, the success of your cottage garden is not the selection of plants you choose – it’s the level at which you are willing to express your love for plants that will get your plot noticed. Good plant combinations and harmonious colours will come naturally if you are willing to experiment a little and not take the whole task too seriously. Enjoy yourself!

James Middleton

An obsessive gardener since 1982. Day-time job - web designer and developer and University lecturer.

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