Cottage Garden Designs

One of the sights that makes England so breathtakingly beautiful in summer is the traditional cottage garden. There is nothing lovelier in June and July. Usually a cottage garden has no formal structure and needs attention twelve months of the year. So a design for a ‘trouble-free’ cottage garden which still looks like a cottage garden is ingenious and unusual.

This design, which divides the garden into four, is based on an old Eastern concept representing the four rivers of life. This theme has been used in gardens since Biblical times.

The View

Looking out from the cottage and towards the end of the garden, its circular form is divided into four by the plants and paving slabs. The sundial in the centre makes a pleasant and interesting focus of this outlook. On the right honeysuckle and jasmine grow up the fence, flowering shrubs make a delightful sitting arbour in the far right hand corner, and on the left and at the end of the garden a mixed hedge encloses hawthorn trees growing in the far corner.

cottage gardenOne of the pleasures of this garden is that there is no grass to be cut each weekend in the summer. Therefore, it is a suitable garden for old and young alike and will not demand time once it is established.


Gravel is an attractive alternative to paving slabs. Not only is it in keeping with cottage tradition but it looks warm, welcoming and mellow from the day it is laid. But it is not suitable for wheelchairs or older people and weeds will grow in gravel unless it is in constant use.

The circular brick path draws your attention to the main ring which is also divided into four, enhanced by the sundial or bird bath in the middle. Inside the brick circle the design can be defined by selective colour planting, I.e. the cross through the circle can be in nepeta or lavender, a true old cottage garden plant, forming a good grey-green evergreen cross. (Nepeta is vulnerable to hard winters and cats! It is also called cat mint: cats love to roll in it if they get the chance.) Then you could choose, say, yellow sage or purple sage, or other coloured evergreen herbaceous perennials to punctuate the spaces between. If you choose nepeta rather than lavender, its silver-green foliage and blue flowers in summer and autumn can be underplanted with early and later flowering spring bulbs. Once this area has been planted, it is unlikely that it will need any attention except yearly cutting back and eventually the odd plant replacement.

Lavender should be replaced every six to eight years and needs to be cut back every spring to keep it bushy. But remember not to cut back all the old wood, as lavender flowers on its old wood rather than growing up again from the ground like many other plants.

Beyond the central ring, at the far end of the garden, the paving and plants lead to another delightful feature, a rustic arch with an old English rose climbing over it; beneath is a large wooden barrel or terracotta pot planted with summer bedding plants. This adds depth and interest to the garden. From every angle, no matter where you choose to stand or sit, the view before you is pleasing.

Hedges and Fences

The screen or fence between the garden and the outside world is a question not only of taste but also of budget. Brick and stone walls, alas, are very expensive. But in a small garden the boundary is as important as the garden itself, so the choice must be right and in keeping with the property.

A mixed hedge of rose, hawthorn, field maple, dogwood and guelder rose on two sides offers variety and seasonal colour, and encourages wildlife. A hedge of this kind is not expensive, but it is extremely attractive and eminently suitable for a cottage garden. Once established it is resilient and only needs to be cut once every other year. If you wish to be very secluded you can let it grow and be surrounded by a 20 ft (6 m) hedge (but this could make the garden a little dark and claustrophobic).

Dog rose, hawthorn and hazel mixed are also an excellent traditional choice for a hedge, and holly could be planted in between to add the interest of its shining dark evergreen leaves and pillar-box red winter berries. A few ivies planted in the hedge also helps give it substance in the winter.

On the side nearest the house a picket or plain timber fence are both reliable options. A fence treated with Saddolin (obtainable from building merchants) will save the maintenance needed on a white painted fence. Saddolin, like other wood stain manufacturers, provides a choice of shade of stain. Climbers are easily trained to a timber fence and it makes an attractive structure on which scented honeysuckle, jasmine or even clematis can grow.


Selecting a suitable seating area is dictated by the position of the sun and the possibility of seclusion and shelter. So if the opportunity presents itself it is wise to have two alternatives; one for having lunch outside not too far from the cottage, and an afternoon spot to catch the late sun ideal for tea or early evening contemplation.

The nearest site opposite the cottage is a perfect place to pave and use for table and chairs for lunch or coffee as it has full midday sun. Sweet-smelling flowers and shrubs or the June-flowering Buddleia alternifolia with its heady summer aroma can form part of the fence, and make this an enchanting place to sit. Surrounded by jasmine, roses and other aromatic plants, you can enjoy the view across the whole of the garden, from the corner where large flowering shrubs provide shelter and background for the afternoon sitting area, to the large hawthorn trees in the far corner.

The second choice – in the near left hand side corner which gets sun until late afternoon — is an ideal place for a bench. On either side of this sheltered and secluded corner, large tubs help to vary the height of the flowers and add definition.

I think there are few pastimes more enjoyable and relaxing than lying back and letting the soft cushions in a garden hammock swing envelop you. It is a great pleasure to rock to and fro in a garden that isn’t crying out to be tended. Should you not want a bench and low table in this evening corner, it would be ideal for a swing. (Cushions need to be brought inside from autumn to spring).

On the opposite side of the swing or bench corner is a camomile seat made with a trough planted with camomile, a delightful place for a short sit-down. On the right of the camomile seat is a partial-shade vegetable patch suitable for lettuces and spinach. This space could be used for old English rose bushes, roses that do not need full sun such as Maiden’s Blush, gallica officinalis, Felicite Parmentier and Louise Odier, if vegetables seem like too much work (which on the whole they are: but see Low Maintenance Vegetables). Should you not want roses, bergenias are trouble-free and shade-loving and would do well, and hostas would be ideal beneath the trees should you wish the shed to be in the alternative position near the cottage on the right of the front door. If this is the case, there is plenty of space for a large variety of hostas which die down in the winter, but are extremely attractive in spring and summer with charming lilac-coloured flowers in June and July.

Positions for the Shed

In days gone by when men did the garden and women were confined to the kitchen, the shed was a special place, deliberately placed well away from the house where it couldn’t be seen and where a man could enjoy a little privacy, odd jobbing and a smoke. But now with male and female roles less clearly defined, neither party wants to be rushing out in slippers or high heels to the far end of the garden to collect a trowel.

If you have to cross damp grass or soil to get to the shed, it will tend not to be used except as a store, and as a shed is easily camouflaged it can be built near the house without being an eyesore. In this garden there is a choice: the conventional spot at the far end under the hawthorn trees or on the right of the front door. Here there is room for a small, quickly reached shed, which can be covered in clematis or jasmine.


campanula latifoliaClose planting, indeed very, very close planting is the key to a successful trouble-free cottage garden.

With close planting, the weeds don’t get a chance, so if you plant from the choice provided, there should be plenty of colour and interest. In addition, the large paving slabs between the plants enclose the herbs and herbaceous perennials so they can’t get out of hand. If they do, prune the more vigorous plants to stop them taking over. The under-planting of bulbs ensures spring colour and interest.

Conventional cottage garden planting is a question of mixing plants together and close planting, but this is not so reliable as low maintenance planting. If your choice of plants does not work, be ruthless and change it.


Dust Bins and Barbecue

Dust bins need to be near the house, but unfortunately the cupboards they are placed in are easily identified and often unattractive. The fact that it is a cupboard is hard to disguise but it can be made into an interesting feature by putting a selection of terracotta pots or a large shallow terracotta dish planted with alpines or Sempervium tectorum (house leek) on the top. Should this cupboard be put next to the shed in the alternative position on the left of the gate as you walk up to the front door, the two eyesores can be married together and camouflaged by a single vigorous Clematis montana rubens.

A barbecue is something that should only be built if you really want to use it a lot, otherwise, for our climate, portable barbecues are quite adequate. It is best to live in a house before deciding on the permanent site for the barbecue. In this garden it could be situated near the lunch seating area against the side of the house sharp left from the front door.

Plants for cottage gardens

The majority of the flowers and shrubs for this section of the cottage garden have been chosen for their aromatic quality or sweet-smelling perfume, thus creating a ‘heady’ aroma in both the eating area and the afternoon seating area.


Rosa gallica ‘Versicolor’. This very bushy, old variety will look good on the right of the main sitting arbour in the Jar corner. Height and spread 3ft (90cm). Dark green leaves and semi-double fragrant, rose red flowers with white stripes in June, followed by red hips.

T Choisya ternata (Mexican Orange Blossom). Height 6-8ft (2-2.5m). An excellent evergreen shrub. Shiny dark aromatic leaves, especially when crushed. Clusters of sweetly scented white flowers in May and off and on until the autumn. Very easy plant but does not like soggy soil.

T Lavatera olbia ‘Rosea’. Height 6ft plus (2m). Vigorous sub-shrub, which has a fine grey down growing over the entire plant. Pink mallow-like flowers throughout summer. For best results cut back hard in spring.

Rosa ‘Old Blush China’. Another delightful fragrant rose which smells like a sweet pea. Dainty mid-pink flowers throughout summer and sometimes up to Christmas after a mild autumn. Mid-green leaves. Height and spread 3—4ft (90cm- 1.2m). An excellent garden shrub.

Philadelphus ‘Beauclerk’ (Mock Orange). Reliable deciduous shrub. Height 6-8ft (1.8-2.5m). Spread 5-6ft (1.5- 1.8m). Charming fragrant single white flowers in June-July. Mid-green leaves.

T Fuchsia magellanica ‘Versicolor’. Height 4-6ft (1.2- 1.8m). Spread 3-4ft (90cm-1.2m). A bushy fuchsia with narrow grey/green and white or yellow variegated leaves. Red/purple pink-tinged flowers from July to October. Fuchsias, with their unusual flowers, provide excellent mid-to-late summer colour.

Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Cardinalis’ (Quince). Deciduous, early-flowering shrub. Crimson saucer-shaped flowers with yellow stamens January to April. Fragrant green yellow fruits. Height 6 ft (1.8m). Spread 6ft (1.8m). Dark green glossy leaves. Excellent on banks or against walls.

T Santolina chamaecyparissus (Cotton lavender). A most useful evergreen, sun-loving shrub. Height and spread lft-18in (30-45cm). Mound-forming leaves and silver dissected felly branches covered in tiny leaves. Lemon pompom flowers July. Needs a trim in spring to keep it neat.

Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary). Another aromatic evergreen shrub. Height 4-6ft (1-2-1.8m), spread 4-5ft (1.2-1.5m). Narrow mid-green leaves, white underside. Mauve flowers in March and on and off until September. Excellent herb for cooking. Needs pruning to keep it in shape.

Lavandula spica (Lavender). Height and spread 18in-3ft (45-90cm). True cottage garden plant. Silver grey leaves, pale blue flowers on spikes from July to September. Needs pruning back to old wood once a year and replacing every 6 years or so.

Daphne burkwoodii. Height 3 ft (90cm), spread 4ft (1.2 m). Semi-evergreen, leaves light green. Delightful clusters of light pink fragrant flowers May to June and a few in later summer.

Rosa alba ‘Maiden’s Blush’. Charming rose with a delicate fragrance. Height and spread at least 5ft (1.5m). Grey /green foliage. Neat double blush pink flowers in June and a few red hips in autumn. An old rose that probably dates back to the sixteenth century.

T Rosa virginiana. Another old favourite and ideal for gardens in which it will not receive much attention. This rose (dating from 1807) can survive quite happily in any soil, even sandy, providing it has a good yearly feed. It has attractive foliage-fat orange hips – and will not grumble if left unpruned. It has fragrant, rich, clear pink flowers all through the summer. Grows to about 3 ft (90 cm), with pink flowers June to August.


Clematis armandii ‘Snow Drift’. Height 30ft (9 m). Vigorous evergreen climber with dark glossy green leaves, white fragrant flowers in April.

Trachelospermum jasminoides (’Touch-me-not’). Evergreen climbing shrub, height to 12 ft (3.5m). Leathery dark green leaves. Mute sweetly-scented flowers with wavy edges July to August.

T Jasminum X stephanense (Jasmine). Height 10 to 15ft (3-4.5m). Semi-evergreen, twining climber. Dull green leaves above with light green below and clusters of pale pink scented flowers in June.

T Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’ (Japanese honeysuckle). A strong camouflage climber which will soon take over and grow to the height of 25 ft (8 m) if you let it. Light green leaves. White sweetly-smelling flowers, changing to yellow from June to October.

T Rosa ‘Albertine’. Height 18ft (5.5m). Vigorous climber. Highly scented double coppery pink flowers. Good healthy leaves and splendid plant to help create a sheltered eating corner.

T Phlomis fruticosa (Jerusalem Sage). Evergreen bushy sub-shrub. Grey/green felted leaves, yellow flowers mid-summer. Height 3—4ft (90- 1.2m). Spread 2ft (60cm).


Malva moschata (Musk mallow). Easy, undemanding perennial. Height 2 ft (60 cm). Mid-green deeply cut leaves, rose-pink flowers June to September.

Althaea rosea (Hollyhock). Another traditional cottage garden plant. 6-9 ft (2-3m), biennial or may live a few years. Rough light green hairy leaves. Single or double flowers, pink shades July to September.

T Nepeta X faassenii (sometimes listed as mussiniij (Catmint). Wonderful perennial for the edge of a border. Height 12-18in (30-45cm). Rounded grey/green leaves. Lavender-blue flowers May to September. Providing you haven’t got cats (which will roll in the plant) it will give a splendid show all summer. Cut back in winter. ‘Six Hills Giant’ grows to 2ft (60cm) or more.

T Artemisia absinthium ‘Lambrook Silver’. (Wormwood) Height and spread 3- 4ft (90 cm-1.2 m). Sub-shrubby perennial, silvery finely cut leaves, dull yellow flowers July- August.

Heuchera sanguinea (Coral flower). Height 1ft-18in (30-45cm). Evergreen ground cover beneath deciduous trees. Dark green heart-shaped leaves. Bell-shaped bright red flowers in light airy plumes, June to September. Pleasing as cut flowers.

T Anthemis cupaniana. Height 6in-1ft (15-30 cm). Mat-forming plant. Finely dissected aromatic grey leaves. White daisy flowers June to August.

T Stachys lanata (Lambs’ tongue). Height 1ft-18 in (30-45cm). Soft silver/grey leaves, covered in silver hairs. Purple flowers July in woolly spikes. Good summer ground cover, easily divided and replanted perennial. Prefers sun.

Iris pallida dalmatica (Tall bearded iris). Height 3ft (90cm). Long, slim, blue/grey leaves, lavender-blue flowers May-June.

T Geranium renardii. Clump-forming perennial. Height 9 in (22.5cm). Spread 1ft (30cm). Handsome sage green rounded veined leaves. Lavender/white flowers with purple veins from May to July. Delightful easy plant, will grow anywhere.

T Dianthus ‘Mrs Silkins’. Old-fashioned pinks. Height 10-15in (25-37.5cm). White double flowers June. Grey/green evergreen leaves. Very strongly clove scented. Slugs and snails like the young shoots of pinks so if invaded by slugs surround the plant with gravel to protect it.

Thymus lanuginosus (Thyme). Height 3 in (7.5cm). Mat forming. Mauve flowers June-August. Grey/green hairy leaves. Good herb for cooking.

Ajuga reptans ‘Atropurpurea’. Excellent evergreen shade-loving ground cover. Oblong green/purple leaves. Height 4in-1ft (10-30cm).

Digitalis purpurea (Foxglove). Height 3-5feet (90cm-1.5 m). Felted green leaves in rosettes. 3ft (90cm) high spikes, purple/red or white spotted flowers June to July. Biennial but they seed themselves so once you have one you will have many!

T Paeonia officinalis ‘Rosea-plena’. This obliging hardy herbaceous perennial is good value and surprises one with its size 2ft (60 cm) ) and beauty as it grows up from nothing each spring. Deep pink flowers May and June. (Prefers not to have early morning sun.)

How to make a Camomile Seat

Should you possess an old stone sink or trough, it could be put to good use and made into a camomile seat. In order to turn the trough into a bench, it needs to be raised up on bricks or large stones, so that it stands about 2 ft 6 in (75 cm) from the ground.

planting a camomile seatIf you haven’t got a trough lying around, and not many people have, you can use a 2 ft (60 cm) wide and 3 ft (90 cm) long wooden plank. Take the plank and place the bricks on their side round the edge of it. Cement the bricks securely on to the wood, then fix the whole structure together with wire mesh. When the cement has set, mix up ‘fake’ stone (peat mixed with cement) and cover the whole surface inside, outside and round the edges, to give your ‘trough’ a ‘stone’ finish. This mixture will protect the trough and stop the wood from rotting.

When dry (leave at least twenty-four hours depending on the weather), drill two drainage holes. Next fill the trough with a layer of shingle, then moist sandy soil level with the top of the trough and plant non-flowering camomile. Keep well watered until it has established.

Once the camomile ‘lawn’ on the bench has established, it will start to grow over the sides of the trough and form a spongy surface on which to sit. Trim it every month or so in summer and water if it gets too dry.

A camomile seat will add an unusual and old world touch to a cottage garden – not forgetting the unique sensation and delightful aroma this comfortable seat will provide. It is well worth the trouble, if only for its novelty value.

Traditional Cottage Flowers

Acanthus spinosus (Bears’ breeches)


Apple Trees

Alchemilla mollis (Ladies’ Mantle)





Climbing Roses


Fox Gloves











Lily of the Valley



Michaelmas Daisies


Oxeye daisies






Quince (suitable behind bench or swing)


Roses – ‘Maiden’s Blush’, gailica ‘officinalis’ ‘Felicite Parmentier’




Solidago (Golden Rod)

Stachys lanata (Lambs’ Ears)


Sweet Peas

Sweet William

Tobacco Plants




For hedging:


Field Maple

Guelder Rose




16. June 2013 by admin
Categories: Flower Garden, Herb Garden, Retirement Gardens, Shrub and Tree Garden, Types of Gardens | Tags: , | Comments Off on Cottage Garden Designs


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: