Cottage gardens: 13 design tips for a picture perfect patch

These cottage gardens are bursting with colour, fragrance and decorative interest at every turn

Cottage gardens
(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

Humble and compact, cottage gardens symbolise idyllic village life. What the cottage garden lacks in scale, it makes up for in charm. A relaxed medley of untamed flowers, homegrown produce and medicinal herbs, a cottage garden is a true celebration of colour and fragrance. From luscious borders to outdoor rooms dotted with flea market finds, be inspired by these cottage garden ideas.

Then, browse our practical tips on how to create a cottage garden. Then view more beautiful real garden and home transformations.  

1. Cottage garden layout: round shapes and curved borders

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


2. Break up the lawn with a natural planting scheme

If you are opting for a lawn as part of your cottage garden, it's best to break it up with natural-looking borders or islands of plants, to maintain the free-flowing cottage look.

17th century cottage garden

3. Create an illusion of haphazard planting

Cottage gardens originally began as neat and productive kitchen gardens, 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.

Learn more about choosing plants for traditional gardens.

cottage garden planting

4. Cottage garden planting: layer and create structure

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

cottage garden borders

5. Cottage garden plants: focus on perennials

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. Go to our feature on how to create a cottage garden for the best cottage garden plants. And get comprehensive advice on how to choose plants for your garden in our guide. 

cottage garden mixed borders

6. Create interest with structural features

While formal gardens use architectural elements to create structure, simple wooden pergolas, arbours and picket fences are a perfect framework for supporting rambling plants such as rose and clematis and marking boundaries in a small cottage garden.

cottage garden pergola

7. Relax in a secluded seating spot

Well-positioned seating is essential in a garden so that you can sit back and admire your work and really enjoy the beautiful and peaceful surroundings. Avoid anything cumbersome; instead opt for wrought iron garden furniture for a romantic and traditioanl look. We have the best metal garden furniture in our buyer's guide. 

cottage garden seating area

8. Enjoy well-structured garden paths

Walkways – simple herringbone paths 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. Use our advice on how to plan a garden path for more design advice.

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp Photography)

9. Add a summerhouse to your cottage garden

Cottage gardens are all about capturing a wild, romantic, playful and whimsical atmosphere, so what could be a better addition than a secret summerhouse or garden room hideaway? The perfect place to pen a novel or paint a masterpiece. For inspiration, see our gallery of traditional garden room design ideas. And learn more about adding a garden room in our expert guide.

cottage garden summerhouse

10. Accessorise your cottage garden with 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.

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp Photography)

11. Accessorise your cottage garden shed with 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, and distract from the structure of the shed.

Then organise your beautiful tools with the helo of our garden shed storage ideas

cottage garden shed

12. Cottage garden classic: climbing roses

You can’t beat traditional climbing roses to inject a touch of English charm into a garden. The perfect foil to weathered brickwork and masonry, roses are essential for completing the chocolate box look.

Find out how to grow your own rose garden.

climbing roses by cottage doorway

13. Cottage garden furniture: pick a dainty bistro set

There’s no better way to really make the most of your lovingly tended garden than dining al fresco on a balmy summer's evening. Vintage, ornate wrought iron bistro sets and curvaceous mellowed wood designs will best complement the romantic ambience.

Take a look of our pick of the best bistro sets

Roses around an arch near a seating area

(Image credit: Photograph Leigh Clapp)

 Photographs: Leigh Clapp, Jo Sheldrake, Jody Stewart


Read more: