Want to grow a beautiful flower garden that’s easy to maintain? Here are 5 quick ways to grow a cottage garden.
When I started gardening over 25 years ago, I wanted a cottage garden that would continually bloom.
I started with a few annuals, then progressed to perennials, then tucked in a few bulbs, and eventually added some flowering shrubs and trees.
So my love for cottage-style gardening has been an evolution.
And it’s been a different experience every year because every season teaches me something new.
A few years ago, I closed out the season with a serious love for dahlias and gorgeous hibiscus flowers.
Which got me thinking about gardening and ways to add cottage style to the beds.
Do you want to learn how to grow a cottage garden?
Follow these simple tips.
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My Gardening Philosophy
When we are talking about gardening, no two cottage gardens are the same. Every hardiness zone, every town, every neighborhood, every home…has its own micro-climate.
So what grows well in one garden, may or may not grow well in another.
We don’t know what will work in our gardens until we try it. Because gardening is one big experiment, I subscribe to the motel theory of gardening.
Have you heard of that theory before?
Gardening is very similar to a motel.
If they love the environment, they’ll stay. Other plants will check in and not love the micro-climate, so they’ll check out and leave.
And that’s OK.
We don’t want them hanging around if they aren’t going to do well and look pretty.
That doesn’t make us bad plant parents.
Not all plants do well in our micro-climates.
That doesn’t make you a bad gardener.
So in order to learn, it’s important to try new things and stretch your knowledge.
So What is a Cottage Garden and How Do You Grow One?
Cottage gardens are really unique. And the prettiest cottage gardens blend lots of colors, textures, flowers, and fragrances really well.
They tend to lack formality because there is less focus on spacing or height graduations.
Cottage gardens typically start with a formal structure like an arbor, birdhouse, fencing, or some other type of hardscaping feature. But then that structure is softened and accented with amazingly beautiful blooms.
And that’s where the fun begins.
A cottage garden is characterized by a charming, informal design and a mix of a variety of plants, that include flowers, herbs, vegetables, and fruit trees.
It is often associated with the English countryside and evokes a sense of rustic, old-fashioned beauty.
It has a natural, relaxed look with plants growing in a seemingly haphazard manner that creates a sense of abundance together with a mix of colors and textures that are pleasing to the eye.
In a cottage garden, you will generally find a mix of annuals, perennials, herbs, and vegetables. Many cottage gardens also include fruit trees and bushes, like raspberry canes or apple trees.
The plants in a cottage garden are often chosen for their beauty and usefulness rather than just for their ability to conform to a specific design.
They are easy to maintain and can be enjoyed by gardeners of all skill levels.
It is a great way to bring a little bit of the countryside into your own backyard and create a beautiful, relaxing space that is perfect for spending time with friends and family.
The Advantages of a Cottage Garden
One of the things that I love about a cottage garden is the ability to express your personal garden style through flowers and foliage.
Grow what you love. And combine colors and textures that are pleasing to you.
Some of my best plant combinations happened just by playing around with different colors, textures, and blooms.
It brings me a lot of joy and gives me something to look forward to during the doldrums of winter when I pour over plant catalogs and gardening magazines.
No two gardens will ever be the same. And in fact, even the same garden will look different from year to year.
To me, the biggest advantage is that it does not need to be meticulously maintained. So it’s totally OK if plants aren’t pristinely manicured or a few weeds pop up.
The cottage garden disguises those imperfections, so it is imperfectly perfect. And for me, that’s the way I love to garden.
5 Quick Ways to Grow a Cottage Garden
- Start with a small garden and then expand the bed as you gain experience.
- Start with some structural plants like small evergreen and flowering shrubs and trees. I tend to buy these as young plants so they are easier to manage and plant. Plus if it doesn’t survive, I didn’t spend 10x the price. Yes it takes longer, but it has worked for me.
- Add a focal point, such as a birdbath, birdhouse, arbor, bench, chair, fence, paths, or some sort of hardscaping element to plant around.
- Plant flowers in clumps with lots of color, texture, dimension, and different bloom times. Read the tags so you know what to expect and how to care for them.
- Repeat plants and colors so the garden flows and your eye is drawn fluidly throughout the bed.
What Are Cottage Garden Plants?
I have many of these, but not all.
Some don’t grow easily in my hardiness zone or are not readily available at my local nursery in spring.
But did you know you can also sow seeds outdoors in winter?
Yes! It’s with a technique called winter sowing.
Whatever method you use to start seeds, check out these cottage garden flowers:
- black-eyed susans
- sweet peas
- butterfly bush
- bearded iris
- sedum autumn joy
About My Cottage Garden
My cottage garden is grown in New Jersey, gardening Zone 6a.
We have very cold winters here and have the last frost date in mid-May. So tender plants like dahlias must be dug up every fall if I want to plant them again the following spring.
And don’t think for one second that the last frost date isn’t something you should follow. Because last year, we had a really bad freeze just before Mother’s Day!
So be careful when you plant tender plants before that last frost date.
Luckily it didn’t affect my gardens too badly though. You can see how my gardens grew here.
What Are Cottage Garden Plants That I Grow Here in New Jersey
The annuals and perennials I grow in my cottage gardens were chosen because they are easy-care, but provide a succession of blooms from spring through fall.
And I just love how my garden continually blooms. Something is always happening in my gardens throughout the growing season.
To get my tips for designing a colorful garden that is always in bloom, read this post. Here is a short list of flowers that I grow in my cottage gardens.
- black-eyed susans
- butterfly bush
- dahlias (but they are tender and need to be dug up.)
- sedum autumn joy
- and so many others.
I typically plant my cottage garden with plants found at the nursery. But I also start flowers from seed that aren’t readily available too.
Tweaking the Garden to Add Cottage Charm
I spent some time this spring after writing this post to add more cottage charm to my backyard garden.
And wow did it look amazing by the end of the growing season!
To add some cottage charm, I added window boxes with flowers, a picket fence, and other garden accents.
Doesn’t my garden shed look like a cute cottage?
And I could not wait for my newly planted garden to grow!
As the season progressed, the plants I started from seed began filling in.
And my cut flower garden grew.
Click here to learn how to start a cut flower garden for beginners.
By July, I was cutting flowers and creating beautiful bouquets.
Learn what the clay pots on the green garden stakes are for here.
By August, more of the plants started filling in.
The zinnias that bloomed through the summer started dying back and the dahlias took over!
And by the way, those stone pathways were a necessity to move through the garden without crushing roots and compacting the soil.
Doesn’t the garden look so pretty?
By autumn, my cottage garden was still growing and changing.
It was beyond beautiful and so fun to cut the flowers.
Now that I moved, I’m hoping to replicate this garden by the pool and front porch gardens.
Looking for More Cottage Garden Ideas?
Here are more cottage garden tips, tricks, and inspiration.
- 5 Quick Ways to Grow a Cottage Garden
- How My Cottage Garden Grew in 2021
- Cut Flower Gardening for Beginners
- The Complete Guide to Roses Care
- The Basics of Hydrangea Care
- Everblooming Cottage Garden Design Ideas
- The Secret to Growing an Everblooming Cottage Garden
More Gardening Inspiration
This year, I am going to start different types of flowers from seed like my good friend Kim from Shiplap and Shells does in the pacific northwest.
If you want to see a really pretty cottage garden, check out hers.
It’s truly magical!
Don’t Have a Garden That’s Read to Plant?
Learn how to start a new garden HERE.
Looking for More Garden Inspiration?
- Cut Flower Gardening for Beginners
- Why Aren’t My Hydrangeas Blooming?
- The Ultimate Guide to Having an Everblooming Colorful Garden
- The Complete Guide To Roses Care
- My New Raised Garden Beds for Growing Vegetables and Herbs
- The 10 Best Garden Tools
- 7 Ways to Keep Deer From Eating Your Plants
- The Secret to Keeping Houseplants Alive
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