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.
Last year, I closed out the season with a serious love for dahlias and gorgeous hibiscus flowers.
So I decided I want to add more flowers with cottage charm to the gardens this year.
Which got me thinking about gardening and ways to add cottage style to the beds.
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Gardening is an Experiment
When we are talking about gardening, no two cottage gardens are the same.
Every hardiness zone, every town, every neighborhood, every home…has it’s 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.
Plants check in. 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.
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.
This is what I’m doing this year.
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 fragrance 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.
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.
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 of plant catalagues 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
- Choose to start in one small area. Then expand your gardens 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 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 it.
- Repeat plants and colors so the garden flows and your eye is drawn fluidly throughout the bed.
Cottage Garden Flowers to Try
I have many of these, but not all. Some don’t grow easily in my hardiness zone, so I’m going to try growing them from seed this year.
- black-eyed susans
- sweet peas
- butterfly bush
- sedum autumn joy
About My Cottage Garden
My cottage garden is grown in New Jersey, Zone 6a. We have very cold winters here and have a last frost date in mid-May. What grows well for me here are:
- 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.
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 PNW. 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?
- Why Aren’t My Hydrangeas Blooming?
- The Ultimate Guide to Having an Everblooming Colorful Garden
- The 10 Best Garden Tools
- 7 Ways to Keep Deer From Eating Your Plants
- The Secret to Keeping Houseplants Alive
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