Have you been thinking about adding a cottage garden but don’t know where to start? Here are a few basic tips and ideas for a beautiful start. Plus 10 of my cottage garden plant favorites to try.
As a longtime self-taught gardener, I have always been drawn to the look of cottage gardens and love scrolling through English garden pics on Pinterest. The non-formal garden look has is my favorite and cottage gardens have an ease to them. But what really makes a cottage garden stand out are the colorful plants themselves.
Today I will share with you some of the best plants to get your cottage garden started along with a few tips that I have learned along the way.
When it comes to selecting plants for a cottage garden, there are a few key factors to keep in mind, especially your climate and plant hardiness zone (here is the USDA zone map to find yours). What does well in the northern half of the country will probably struggle in the hotter, dryer climates in the southern half of the country.
I am in New Hampshire on the 5b/6a growing zone line and that is the area that I am most familiar with when it comes to gardening. This New England gal knows nothing about gardening in the warmer parts of the U.S.
The second most important gardening factor is the sun. Choose a spot for your garden and then figure out if it’s full sun, partial shade, or shade. Tip: don’t do this in the dead of winter when the sun angles are different and the days are short because it’s not an accurate way to measure sunshine.
By carefully selecting the right mix of plants, you can create a garden that is not only beautiful but also easy to maintain.
Cottage Garden Tips To Get You Started
When planning a cottage garden there are a few things to figure out before you even plant your first flower. It’s important to choose the right plants that will thrive in your specific climate and more importantly the hours of sun your garden will get in the Summer.
Here are a few basic tips to help you get started:
- Consider the amount of sunlight your garden receives. Some plants require full sun, while others prefer partial or full shade. Make sure to choose plants matching the sunlight your garden receives. Take time to read the tags or descriptions. Most nurseries even have the plants divided by full-sun and shade plants to make it even easier!
- Think about the soil conditions in your garden. Consider testing your soil to determine its pH level and nutrient content. Check your local extension program for soil testing services (Here is the UNH soil testing site). In my gardens, I amend the soil with compost and organic fertilizer to create better growing conditions.
- Choose plants that complement each other. A cottage garden is typically a mix of different plants, so make sure to select plants that work well together in terms of color, texture, and height.
- Look for plants that are low-maintenance. Especially if you are new to gardening! There are lots of perennials that are very easy to grow (and hard to kill!).
Some popular choices that you might be familiar with are roses, lavender, peonies, hydrangeas, and delphiniums.
These plants are not only beautiful but will be easy for you to find at nurseries or home improvement stores.
10 Common Plants for a Cottage Garden
There are many plants that can be used in a cottage garden, but some of the best options to get you started (that will also be easy for you to find)
These classic flowers are a staple of cottage gardens and come in a wide variety of colors and sizes. Look for Knock Out Roses which are really easy to grow for beginners. They are sun lovers and are best suited for areas where they will get full sun (more than 6 hours a day).
These large, fragrant blooms are perfect for a cottage garden. They are one of the most beautiful flowers but only bloom for a couple of weeks a year. They do well in part-shade locations.
This fragrant herb is not only beautiful but also attracts pollinators like bees and butterflies. There are a few different varieties widely available now. I love to run my hand down the lavender leaves while I’m working in the garden…it’s an instant mood lifter!
These tall, tubular flowers add height and drama to a cottage garden. A garden favorite for hummingbirds. Foxgloves are biennials, which means they will flower in their second year of growth. After flowering, the plant will die back but are self-seeders.
A New England garden classic! Hydrangeas come in a few different types and colors. For my zone 5b/6a garden the Endless Summer variety of hydrangeas do well with our wacky climate and survive the wicked winters we can have.
Echinacea or more commonly known as coneflowers are perfect to add to a cottage garden. They flower from mid-Summer until frost. Coneflowers are available in lots of pretty colors now from light yellows to vivid reds.
They are also one of the best pollinator plants to add to your garden, both bees and butterflies love them.
07. Sweet Peas
Sweet peas are delicate flowers that are perfect for climbing up trellises or fences, adding a touch of whimsy to a garden in Spring. They have the prettiest scent too! You can plant the seeds directly in the garden in early Spring.
These bright, colorful flowers are perfect for adding a splash of color to a cottage garden. Not only are daylilies super easy to grow they are available in a wide variety of sizes and colors. Did I mention how easy they are to grow?
These cheerful flowers are perfect for adding a touch of simplicity to a garden. Daisies are very easy to grow and love a sunny spot in your cottage garden.
Designing Your Cottage Garden
When I started to focus on making my garden more of a cottage-style garden I learned a few tips & tricks that will help you design your own.
01. Start with a Plan
Before you start planting, it’s important to have a plan in place. Consider the overall layout of your garden, the types of plants you want to include, and any special features you want to incorporate like adding a seating area or pathway.
I am a visual person and like to use a pad of paper to actually draw out my plans…nothing fancy, I just like to sketch it out.
Go out with a measuring tape and a few wood stakes (or even big rocks) and figure out where you want to add a garden or expand one that you already have. Then it will be easier to figure out your plant layout afterward.
When I expanded my garden to run the entire length of my house to add more cottage plants I first measured it out, then rototilled the area. The heavy work was removing all the sod and rocks before amending the soil with organic compost and garden soil.
02. Choose the Right Plants
Cottage gardens are known for their informal, relaxed feel, so it’s important to choose plants that fit this aesthetic.
For sunny gardens, look for plants that have a natural, wildflower-like appearance, such as daisies, coneflowers, salvia, and lavender. Mix in more elegant-looking flowers like delphiniums, tall phlox, and lilies. Ornamental grasses or flowering shrubs like hardy hibiscus (Rose of Sharon), butterfly bush, or roses fill in larger spaces.
This new garden space filled right in during its second season!
For a partial shade cottage-style garden, I would suggest hydrangeas, hosta, astilbe, coral bells, foxgloves, lady’s mantle, columbine, pulmonaria, & bleeding hearts. All are pretty easy to grow and aren’t too fussy for beginners.
03. Mix & Match
One of the great things about cottage gardens is that they allow for a lot of creative freedom. Don’t be afraid to mix and match different types of plants, colors, and textures to create a unique and visually interesting garden. Cottage gardens are more casual looking and fun. Add plants that you love.
04. Consider the Seasons
When choosing plants for your cottage garden, think about how they will look throughout the year. Try to add plants that will bloom in different parts of the growing season, so that your garden always has something flowering. Think of planting daffodils and tulips to bloom first thing in the Spring, daisies & irises for late Spring/early Summer, and dahlias and sedum that will flower late Summer into the Fall.
05. Cottage Garden Structures
Add a trellis, arbor, bird bath, or garden obelisks to create a little cottage charm. If you have the space you could even make a small pathway through your garden.
Sprinkling garden decor throughout your plants helps create focal points plus they can be useful for adding climbing plants like clematis, climbing roses, sweet peas, & morning glories.
I’ve found some vintage pieces for my garden at flea markets and my local antique shops.
Overall, designing a cottage garden is all about creating a space that feels natural, relaxed, and welcoming.
Shop my gardening favorites! Raised beds, plant supports, & tools to make your garden grow.
Tips For Keeping That Cottage Garden Growing
Keep your garden looking beautiful and healthy. Here are a few tips!
- Watering: Watering is crucial for the growth of your plants. Make sure you water them regularly if you haven’t had much rain, especially during the hot summer months. New plantings need to be watered more frequently than established plants that have larger root systems. I recommend watering your plants in the early morning.
- Fertilizing: Fertilizing your plants can help them grow stronger and healthier. There are many organic fertilizers widely available now. Adding compost beforehand will also lead to happier plants!
- Weeding: Weeding is just part of being a gardener. I pull weeds by hand when I see them popping up (try to pull the root out too). There are small hand tools for weeding too if you have a larger area to weed.
- Mulching: Mulching your flower beds helps to retain moisture in your garden but it also helps to prevent weeds from growing. In my flower beds, I use bark mulch but shredded leaves are a free option.
- Pollinators: I’m mindful of choosing plants to attract pollinators to my garden. You can read more about starting a pollinator garden to see a list of favorite plants to add to your garden!
Gardening is such a fulfilling hobby to take up! There is nothing better than getting your hands dirty and watching something you planted grow and flower!