When I first read about the concept of cottage gardening, I came to the realization that I was already a cottage gardener and just didn’t know it. My gardens have always been happily cluttered with crowded mixed and matched flowers, herbs and other edibles, mainly because I tend to overlook (or deliberately ignore) the finely printed spacing guidelines and, also, because I had no strong sense of garden design – I just did whatever appealed to me. But that’s exactly what being a cottage gardener is about – not following the rules and doing whatever you please in an informal free-flowing style.
Here are our top 10 picks for plants that will give your cottage garden some old-fashioned grace and charm.
1. Peonies. Petal heavy flowers, such as peonies, are considered to be a signature element in cottage gardens. These long-lived spring-blooming perennials bring a dose of romance (ooh la la) with their fragrant fluffy white, pink or red flowers.
2. Sweet William. Sweet William has an old-fashioned appeal with its clusters of frilly edged blooms in single or multi-colored shades of white, pink, red and purple. I can guess that the “sweet” in this dianthus plant is due to its aesthetic allure, but its smell and taste (yes, the petals of this biennial flower are edible) are spicy, not sweet, in nature.
3. Violets. These dainty flowers, with edible and fragrant blooms, may be diminutive in size but they are definitely eye-catching along the border of an English cottage garden. In terms of color, there is more to violets than just ‘violet,’ as they are also available in yellows, whites and blues.
4. Roses. We would be remiss if roses, one of the most universally loved flowers, did not get a mention here, as they are an essential backbone of an English cottage garden in their climbing, bush and shrub forms. There are thousands of rose species and cultivars in existence, even a David Austin shrub rose named ‘Cottage Rose,’ which might be apropos in a cottage garden.
5. Lavender. Fragrant flowers make for an enticing cottage garden and, in this regard, lavender is an ideal choice. Lavender is a traditional cottage garden herb featuring spires of highly fragrant flowers in hues ranging from dark purple to white.
6. Hydrangeas. A cottage garden just wouldn’t be complete without some big beautiful bloomers, and hydrangeas fit the bill quite nicely. Their large spherical, flat or cone-shaped flower heads will surely add an element of interest. Hydrangeas are available in shrub or climbing varieties in a multitude of colors, including white, pink, red or blue.
7. Foxglove. Self-seeding plants are also ideal for a low-maintenance cottage garden that will remain lush and full. Foxgloves are considered a must-have in cottage gardens not only because these biennial plants reseed themselves but for the fact that they simply are statuesque beauties with their tall spires lined with bell-shaped flowers.
8. Bellflower. Many cottage garden plants are great cutting flowers. Bellflower is no exception with spikes adorned with nodding bell flowers, in early to mid-summer. While commonly found in blue, they are also, depending on the variety, available in hues of pink, white and purple.
9. Daisies. A cottage garden need not be all ruffles and frills. Simple elements also add to the ambiance of a cottage garden and bring a nice balance. This is where daisies come in. The English daisy, or common daisy, has white petals and a yellow center.
10. Borage. The early English gardens were more focused on growing food and medicine to sustain a family, so in keeping with tradition, it’s great to include a few plants that cater to those interests in an English garden as a throwback to history. The borage herb is an old-fashioned plant that likely graced the early gardens, as it was a popular culinary herb. Borage not only has value but also beauty, with its bright blue flowers.