Cottage gardens – the charming beauty of English country gardens
Cottage gardens are different from the trimmed manicured gardens that we often see. They combine traditional materials and informal design. It gives a feeling of security, of family protection, of a welcoming home. This is a good choice for those who prefer traditions and traditional lifestyle and want to have a practical and aesthetically pleasing outdoor space. What is a cottage garden? How to design one? What are the most suitable plants for a spectacular design? We have selected some of the most fascinating cottage gardens and will give you some ideas and guidelines how to design your perfect retreat in the backyard.
Table of Contents
How cottage gardens originated – traditions, principles and development
Cottage gardens appeared centuries ago in Medieval times as a source of vegetables and herbs for the household of workers and farm workers who lived in the country. The design became popular and the credit for the great popularity of the English cottage garden belongs to William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll who are linked with the Art and Crafts movement in the 19th century. By definition a classic English cottage garden is nowadays we see this type of garden design can be seen around houses, manors or estates.
The principle of designing a traditional cottage garden does not follow strict rules. Typically country houses have a small garden area and the look of it is informal, casual with a mixture of herbs, vegetables and flowers. Despite the chaotic appearance the gardens have a design which includes all main elements – garden paths, garden fence, hedges, arbors, plants layout – and every element adds to the charming appearance and functionality. You will not see strict geometric lines or carefully planned curves, symmetrical flower beds, strict color schemes or trimmed edging. Plants are planted closely which helps avoiding weeds and watering is more efficient.
With the development of the cottage garden design decorative elements like pergolas, pavilions and towers with funny roofs, sundials, figures of mythological creatures, benches appeared in the garden and the materials and finishes are chosen in a way to create a visual impression of an old fashioned country garden.
As a style in gardening, it is considered as the – one of the youngest, most free and democratic styles in the landscape design despite that it dates back to Medieval times. It is unpretentious and uncomplicated and for those who prefer colorful flower beds, flowering fruit trees, beds with vegetables and natural materials, the cottage style garden is an ideal choice.
Modern cottage gardens are traditionally practical gardens, designed in the same modest way. Fruits and vegetables are combined with beautiful flowering plants and fragrant flowers. The decoration is more or less influenced by the contemporary landscaping decorating ideas that and you can see straw stuffed animals and decorative figurines which sometimes make the garden look cluttered and overcrowded. A limited number of garden decorations – for example – a beautiful bench at the entrance to the house, a small paved area or an elegant gazebo in a secluded corner would be much more appropriate and will have a bigger visual effect which adds to the charm of the garden.
Main elements of cottage gardens designs
Let’s look at the main elements of cottage gardens, how you can combine them, how they can work with each other to create the magnificent look of an authentic English cottage garden. The informal look of the garden is the leading guideline of the design. In order to achieve that informal look, you should avoid straight lined flower beds and strict geometry. We shall give you some ideas for suitable plants below, but in general, it will be better if you choose to grow some of the so called “old-fashioned” varieties – roses, peonies, foxglove, columbine, etc. They significantly add to the romantic country look and feel and if you opt for flowers blooming in soft pastel colors, like hydrangea, for example, you will have an all-summer blooming magnificence. Meandering garden paths instead of straight ones are to be chosen= When considering the garden path paving materials think of wood chips, stone, old bricks or flagstone.
Cottage garden furniture transforms the garden into an outdoor living space and adds tremendously to the atmosphere. Stay away from modern and contemporary garden furniture sets. Wrought iron chairs or weathered wooden outdoor furniture will be a better option to sit and enjoy your splendid garden with family members or friends. Garden gates, arbors, fences with a worn look add texture and charm as well. Antique or vintage accessories are the best garden decoration so plan a few visits to local flea markets. Old dented watering cans, clay flower pots – look for something with character and history. Remember that you do not have to follow strict looks, rules or garden design techniques. The goal is to create a garden pleasing to your eye, so plant the flowers that you like, the trees that you like and create your dream cottage garden.
How to choose the best cottage garden plants?
When it comes to choosing the plants for a cottage garden, the options are numerous and this is a great opportunity for creativity and a way to express your individuality. The garden has to create a feeling of naturalness and relaxing charm and all the details – from exterior wall color, surface texture, visual accents to the palette of plants have to work together for creating this impression. You can achieve that by combining shapes, textures and colors of the structural elements as they are the main factors for the look and mood of the garden.
Roses are an all-time classic choice. They are always fashionable for their incredible beauty. The variety in species is really big – rose bushes, climbing roses – whatever suits your taste. In terms of color options roses offer numerous choices – from pure white to deep burgundy red.
Peonies are as romantic as roses. The blooms are packed with petals and they have a tender fragrance. Peonies come in a variety of colors as well and thrive in sunny and well-drained soil.
Hydrangea is a fantastic choice for an English cottage garden. With large clusters of white, blue, pink or purple blooms, hydrangeas will be a magnificent decoration all summer long.
Columbine is exceptionally beautiful. It blooms in spring and summer and is relatively easy to care for. It grows best in partial shade and does not like too much water, so make sure you plant it on a well-drained place.
Bellflower (Campanula percisifolia )is a tall plant with beautiful white or blue blooms and is great for cutting. It can reach about one meter height and blooms from early summer.
Daisies (Leucanthemum) are a perfect choice for cottage gardens. They are simple, beautiful and add a bright mood to the garden. Daisies can grow up to one meter and are suitable for flower bed borders.
Lavender adds color and beautiful fragrance to the cottage garden. It can be invasive, though, so you need to find a suitable place. A great attraction for bees, lavender works well with other garden plants.
Delphinium has different varieties which bloom in of purple, blue, pink, and white. Tall, elegant and spectacularly beautiful Delphinium adds height and dynamic to the garden.
Foxglove (Digitalis) has fascinating bell-shaped flowers in purple, pink, and white shades. Depending on the variety they can reach one meter of height and very often the species are self-seed which means they can appear in your garden each year without being planted.
Coralbells (Heuchera) is a perennial with pink, red, or white flowers. Coralbells are great for color accents and texture accents and easy to grow.
Dianthus are tiny, beautiful and the different varieties bloom in pink, red or white. They have a delicate sweet scent which will add to the appeal of your cottage garden.
Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) is a traditional flower choice for a cottage garden. It grows high and blooms in a wide range of shades — from red, purple, pink, yellow to white.
Geraniums are also another great choice for cottage gardens. Blue-purple in color, they are not very tall and you can choose from the vast (more than 400) annual, biennial, and perennial species.
Phlox (Phlox paniculata) blooms in the late summer and provides a variety of color options – white, pink, lavender, and red blooms with an adorable fragrance. An excellent flower for a cottage garden.
The classic beauty of Iris and the graceful flowers are a good choice for cottage gardens. Iris comes in a variety of colors and many of the species are fragrant as well.
Violets (Viola)are fragrant romantic and… edible. They come in different colors and can be a fabulous addition not only to your garden but to your gourmet dishes.
Hesperis matronalis (Dame’s Rocket) is one of those old-fashioned flowers that we mentioned earlier. Clusters in lavender and white add a delightful fragrance to the garden.