9 ideas for creating a quintessential cottage garden

Be inspired to create a romantic and nostalgic cottage garden bursting with colour, fragrance and decorative interest at every turn

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While the resplendent formal gardens of palaces dazzle with their structured parterres, vast manicured lawns and classical architectural features, and the carefully crafted illusion of boundless archaic parkland of Capability Brown’s picturesque landscapes overwhelm with their romance and wonder, it’s important to remember small can still be beautiful.

Humble, compact and intrinsically bound with the of rural idyll of village life, what the cottage garden lacks in scale and splendor it makes up for in quirk, variety and charm. A relaxed medley of untamed flowers, homegrown produce and medicinal herbs, as well as an inevitable haven for wildlife, these understated plots offer a true riot of colour and fragrance which are a feast for the senses. From haphazard borders to outdoor rooms dotted with flea market finds, be inspired by these ideas for creating a quintessential cottage garden.

1. Organic curves

While the formal gardens of classical country houses favoured structured, geometric layouts, sinuous lines and curvaceous borders give a far more relaxed feel suited to smaller gardens and vernacular old houses which are anything but uniform.

17th century cottage garden


2. Haphazard planting

Cottage gardens originally began as neat and productive fruit and vegetable plots, but later developed to include sumptuous arrays of flowers in different shapes and sizes as the trend for floristry blossomed throughout the 19th century. Choose a mix of colours, shapes and heights to create a rich tapestry.

cottage garden planting

Although cottage gardens give the illusion of effortless charm, careful consideration must be taken with planting. Create height and structure at the backs of borders with busty shrubs like philadelphus, and the elegant, lofty spires of delphiniums, lupins, foxgloves and hollyhocks. At the fore choose pretty and fragrant perennials such as rose bushes, lavender and wild geraniums muddled in the invigorating and vibrant green of lady’s mantle.

cottage garden borders

Opting for perennial plants which flower year after year will save on maintenance. Of course no cottage garden should be without pretty spring bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and crocus, plant these in October and November for guaranteed spring colour.

cottage garden mixed borders

3. Pretty pergolas

While formal gardens use architectural elements to create structure, humble wooden pergolas, arbours and picket fences are a perfect framework for supporting whimsical rambling roses and marking boundaries in a small cottage garden.

cottage garden pergola

4. Secluded seating

Well positioned seating is essential for in a garden so that you can sit back and admire your handiwork and really enjoy the beautiful and peaceful surroundings. Avoid anything cumbersome, instead opt for decorative wrought iron furniture which looks romantic and inoffensive.

cottage garden bench

cottage garden seating area

5. Up the path

Walkways created from simple slabs and gravel paths snaking through flowerbeds are a perfect way to be immersed in the colours and scents of the garden, but they are also practical, allowing easy access for tending to plants and garden maintenance.

cottage garden path planting

thatched cottage garden design

6. Hidden corners

Cottage gardens are all about capturing a wild, romantic, playful and whimsical atmosphere, so what could be a better addition than a secret summerhouse hideaway? The perfect place to pen a novel or paint a masterpiece.

cottage garden summerhouse

cottage garden shed

7. Garden antiques

Old crates and vintage ceramics collected from flea markets add decorative interest to a forgotten corner and help bind outdoor spaces with quirky interiors of the cottage it encompasses.

cottage garden antiques

8.Traditional tools

Choose vintage garden ephemera and invest in garden equipment created using heritage techniques, such as old iron watering cans and classic handmade Sussex trugs. Not only do they guarantee quality, they also make for pretty displays.

cottage garden watering can

8. Kerb appeal

You can’t beat traditional climbing roses to inject a touch of English romanticism into a garden. The perfect foil to weathered brickwork and masonry, blousy pops of pink and green against a cottage facade are a guaranteed way to add quintessential chocolate box charm.

climbing roses by cottage doorway

9. Outdoor dining

There’s no better way to really make the most of your lovingly tended garden than dining alfresco on a balmy summers evening. Vintage, ornate wrought iron patio sets and curvaceous mellowed wood designs will best compliment the romantic ambiance.

cottage garden afternoon tea


Photographs: Leigh Clapp, Jo Sheldrake, Jody Stewart