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.

So I decided to add even 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.

Do you want to learn how to grow a cottage garden?

Follow these simple tips.

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close up of creme caramel coreopsis

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.

goldenrod in the cottage garden
Benary giant wine  zinnia - Zinnias grow failry tall and need staking. Zinnia in my gardening zone 6a summer flowers. This is Zinnia 'Benary's Giant Wine'

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.

We don’t want them hanging around if they aren’t going to do well and look pretty.

Dahlias in cottage garden -Planting for fall garden beauty with dahlias
Wood picket fence surrounding garden shed with my cut flower bed in my jersey garden

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.

After deadheading flowers

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.

Allium, salvia, nepeta, knockout roses and irises in my cottage garden in spring - My cottage garden flowers in spring - 5 Ways to Grow a Cottage Garden - alliums, roses and salvia and nepeta are blooming

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.

Close up of Dahlia 'Penhill Watermelon'
Dahlia ‘Penhill Watermelon’

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.

Siberian iris and allium flowers - spring cleaning in the garden
roses in my jersey garden

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.

Roses climbing up obelisk -The Complete Guide to Roses Care

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.

cafe au late Dahlia flowers close up
closeup of globemaster allium, siberian iris and bearded iris - 5 Ways to Grow a Cottage Garden
Cottage garden flowers in my cut flower garden in backyard garden in front of garden shed with wood picket fence - Staking flowers is important to do when growing a cut flower garden
My cottage garden in late summer. Look at those amazing hibiscus blooms!

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.
Garden shed with cut flower garden inside a wood picket fence with an arbor -How to Plant Flowers in a Window Box Planter
Cut flower garden in front of garden shed with Sunflower 'Panache' in the cut flower garden

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.

So I grow others from seed indoors.

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:

Allium, salvia, siberian iris and roses in Cottage garden flowers in zone 6a garden in June - happy gardening
Gardening for Hummingbirds – June Garden Tour

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.

Larkspur in my Jersey Garden
close up of foxglove digitalis flowers

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.

Echinops and echinacea in My gardening zone 6a summer flowers
Zinnia, rudbekia, roses and echinacea flowers in my garden Bricks 'n Blooms Weekly

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.

But my former gardens also grew from 1 bed to 10 just by dividing my plants and starting new gardens.

And while there is a traditional way to start a new garden, there’s also an easier way to start a garden.

roses in my jersey garden

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.

I recently did a complete makeover of my garden shed so I could start a cut-flower garden.

And wow did it look amazing by the end of the growing season!

The cut flower garden is starting to grow in front of the garden shed inside a wood picket fence with green garden stakes and tiny clay pots -Cutting Garden by the Shed

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!

close up of lilac blooms and a garden shed on the happy gardening tour in my backyard garden with wood picket fence

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.

Home and Garden Blogger Stacy Ling

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?

Gorgeous cottage garden in front of garden shed in backyard garden - My cut flower garden in front of the shed in the backyard with a wood picket fence and sedum autumn joy - How to Save Money at the Garden Nursery
Cut Flower Gardening for Beginners

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.

Backyard cottage garden in front of garden shed -cut flower garden in nj in late summer

Looking for More Cottage Garden Ideas?

Here are more cottage garden tips, tricks, and inspiration.

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!

Cottage Garden by Shiplap and Shells

Don’t Have a Garden That’s Read to Plant?

Learn how to start a new garden HERE.

And if you don’t want to break your back, you can try this easier method to starting a garden or try using raised beds like these.

Front yard gardens with two story center colonial -My Jersey Garden Tour

Looking for More Garden Inspiration?

close up of peony flower with wine and roses weigela flowers

Want to learn more about me? I’m a master gardener who’s been gardening and growing things for over 25 years and author of the best-selling book, The Bricks ‘n Blooms Guide to a Beautiful and Easy-Care Flower Garden. Get the inside scoop about my background as a master gardener, education, and experience, as well as why I started blogging here.

stacy ling cutting dahlias in her garden

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Enjoy your day! xoxo Stacy Ling bricksnblooms logo

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close up of cottage garden flowers
Close up of limelight hydrangea and tall phlox -5 Quick Ways to Grow a Cottage Garden
Close up of cafe au lait dahlia -5 Quick Ways to Grow a Cottage Garden

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14 Comments

  1. Great minds think alike. I love a cottage garden!I really enjoyed your thoughts on starting a cottage garden. And thank you for the shout out Stacy! It’s very much appreciated. Aren’t you excited to start gardening again? Can’t wait.

    1. I cannot wait for the 2021 season! I am planning out where I’m going to put the new blooms – I may add some raised beds in the backyard but my resident groundhog may be an issue. I am so excited to get started on this project! We will have fun with it. xoxo

  2. Stacy,
    I’m definitely saving this post because I’ll need it to kick start my flowers this spring. Thanks for your informative posts.
    Rachel.

  3. I love gardening and miss the ability to maintain one. In our old home I had beautiful gardens with many wildflowers.

    MS doesn’t give me the ability to have a garden in our new home. However, this fall I was able to visit our backyard physically since we’ve lived here.

    I’m blessed with a new drug. Why am I sharing this? I planted 175 Daffodil bulbs in front of our shed.

    It gave me hope and the ability to plant my favorite spring bulbs.

    Cindy

    1. That’s amazing! I can’t wait to see them come up this year! I planted a bunch too. I hope it keeps helping you feel well Cindy! xoxo

  4. What great photos you have there! And there’s also a surprise picture of the black dog, he’s so cute! Also, I love your garden; it already looks like a park. And the butterfly’s also pretty!

  5. You’re inspiring me to attempt planting some perinneals around my house. I haven’t had much luck laying out gardens successfully in the past. Pinned so I can reference your list of suggestions! Thanks for sharing.

  6. I live in Florida and find it very difficult to grow anything because of the heat I mean shrubs are all right but I’d love to grow a cottage garden I have a big backyard and I love to do that it’s just that the high humidity seems to rot everything any ideas????