‘Quintessentially English’: A look at cottage gardens

If you’re heading back out into the garden this spring, and you are looking for a new project, why not create a beautiful, scent-filled, traditional cottage garden style planted border.

When most people think about cottage gardens, they imagine an idyllic, thatched cottage with a picket fence and a bountiful display of colourful blooms, or a scene from times past, such as the decadent gardens featured in the likes of Pride and Prejudice and Bridgerton.

Rather than a formal herbaceous border, with a slightly more structured approach to layout and colour, a cottage garden tends to take the form of a romantic mishmash of colourful plants, laid out more informally and planted closer together.

Most cottage garden – herbaceous – plants are easy to grow, and the good news is, that there are no hard and fast rules to follow. The choice of individual plants and colours is almost endless and the only thing that needs a little bit of thought is the eventual height and spread of each plant, so that smaller plants aren’t hidden or overshadowed by taller ones.

Most herbaceous plants are relatively inexpensive compared to some other garden plants, so planting a mixed border can be achieved at a modest cost. Most will also come back bigger and stronger the following year, making them very cost-effective.

We have complied a brief list below, suggesting just a few of our favourite plants for cottage gardens.
Hardy geraniums – perfect for the front edge of any border. They spread well to fill gaps, have a prolonged flowering season and are available in several colours.

Delphiniums – standing tall and proud at the back of your flower bed, these impressive columns of colour provide a real focal point. They also make great cut flowers.

Lupins – a real gardener’s favourite – lush, green, attractive foliage from which vibrant spires of pea-like flowers emerge in a wide range of striking colours.

Campanulas – admired for their attractive bell-shaped flowers and their long flowering season. These flowers are particularly attractive to bees and other pollinators.

Peonies – you’ll struggle to find a more attractive flower in the garden. Peonies have soared in popularity during recent years and it’s not difficult to understand why. With a huge selection of colours available, many with delightful scents, these garden beauties are a real show-stopper in any border.

Lavender – one of the most recognised plants in any traditional cottage garden. Loved by all pollinating insects, these plants produce an abundance of delicate flowers on tall stems. Plant along a path or doorway to fully appreciate their calming scent.

Aquilegia – also known as Granny’s Bonnet, these old-fashioned cottage garden plants produce bonnet-shaped flowers on tall, graceful spurs in early summer. Left to their own devices, these plants will self-seed, year after year.

Roses – no cottage garden is truly complete without roses. Grown as the centrepiece of a border, trained up the side of the house, or left to ramble along a hedge of fence, roses with their abundant blooms, vibrant colours and heavenly scents are true champions in all gardens they grace.

Happy gardening!

Sue Butterworth

Sue is in her 24th year at Goulds Garden Centre. She is the plant manager for this busy store and has been sourcing plants for award-winning gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show since 2018. She is an avid gardener, leading to numerous Britain in Bloom awards including a first.

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