A cottage garden is an informal planting where flowers take centre stage. Imagine masses of hollyhocks, daisies, phlox, catmint, and foxgloves mingling together and spilling out of garden beds. Cottage gardens invite wandering and evoke whimsy. Their designs often include curving pathways, rose-covered arbors, and white picket fences. When planning your informal flower garden, start with a list of cottage garden plants like foxgloves, Shasta daisies, catmint, and hollyhocks. Read on to learn more about creating a beautiful, long-blooming cottage garden.
Planning a Cottage Garden:
A traditional English cottage garden may look natural, but it’s really organized chaos and requires a little planning. Here are a few tips on planning and planting the perfect cottage garden.
- Start small – A cottage garden isn’t a no-maintenance space. Once planted, you’ll need to make sure plants are supported, beds are weeded, and spent blooms are deadheaded. Therefore, it pays to start small. Begin with a bed or two, expanding as you’re able.
- Grow UP! – Include vertical elements like an arbor or pergola, which can be used to mark the entrance to the garden or separate the space into different areas. Plant structures with climbing or rambling roses, or clematis vines.
- Offer support – Many perennials flop over without proper support. Be sure to place stakes or grow-through supports for tall growing plants like peonies early in the season.
- Sneak in more color – Easy-to-grow, cottage garden annuals like sunflowers, cosmos, zinnias, nasturtiums, and cornflowers can be tucked into garden beds for non-stop color from early summer through autumn.
- Plant in clumps and drifts – Achieve that cottage garden style by planting perennials in drifts of three to five plants. This helps create the casual look of a cottage garden and makes a bigger visual impact.
- Herbs and vegetables – Include ornamental edibles in your cottage garden to provide color and food. Favorite edibles that meld well with other cottage garden plants include Swiss chard, kale, sage, chives, dill, hyssop, and thyme.
- Mulch – After planting, mulch the soil with an organic mulch like bark or compost to reduce weed growth and hold soil moisture.
Related Post: The Longest Flowering Perennials
A List of Cottage Garden Plants
When making a list of cottage garden plants, keep these outstanding perennials in mind. Not only will they add vibrant color to your yard, but they’ll also attract bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators.
Catmint (Zones 3 to 9)
Catmint is one of my favorite perennials. It’s long-flowering, especially when sheared back after the initial late spring bloom. And, it’s pollinator-friendly, insect and disease-resistant, drought-tolerant, and has a relaxed habit that makes it a perfect cottage garden plant. Tuck clumps of catmint along pathways or at the front of the garden for masses of pretty purple-blue flowers.
Hollyhocks (Zones 2 to 9)
Hollyhocks are usually considered short-lived perennials as they only tend to persist in a garden for a few years. That said, they self-sow rambunctiously, so expect them to wander through your garden beds, popping up here and there. I like to place them at the back of a perennial border or along a fence where their tall flower spikes won’t block shorter plants. Hollyhocks can grow six to seven-feet tall with four-inch diameter single or double flowers that are produced along the top half of the stem. These beauties definitely belong on a list of cottage garden plants!
Phlox (Zones 4 to 8)
Garden phlox, often called border phlox to avoid confusion with the lower growing moss phlox, is the perfect mid-sized perennial for a cottage garden. The plants grow two to four-feet tall and bloom enthusiastically in July and August. Deadhead to further extend the blooming season. Enjoy the wide range of bright colors like pink, lavender, white, violet, red, peach, and so on. If powdery mildew affects your phlox, opt for resistant varieties like ‘David’, and be sure plants are spaced far enough apart to allow for good air circulation.
Related Post: Low-Maintenance Roses
Roses (Zones 2 to 9, depending on cultivar)
Fragrant, old-fashioned roses are a must when making a list of cottage garden plants. Be sure to do your research as certain types of roses are less hardy than others. For low-maintenance plants, look for those in the Easy Elegance or the Knock-Out family of roses, as well as other hardy shrub roses. Of course, climbing and rambling roses can also be used in a cottage garden and planted at the base of a fence, arbor, pergola or another type of vertical structure. When it comes to color, the sky is the limit! You’ll find roses with red, pink, purple, orange, yellow, peach, and white flowers, with every shade in between.
Peony (Zones 3 to 8)
Late spring is peak season for peonies, hardy perennials with huge, blowsy blooms that are a cutting garden favorite. Most are also fragrant, perfuming the garden for several weeks when the flowers bloom. Pick a spot in the garden with full sun and well-drained soil, digging in some compost or aged manure. When planting, don’t bury the peony tubers too deeply or you may never see any flowers. Instead, make sure the tuber is set no deeper than two inches into the ground.
Campanula (Zones 3 to 8, depending on species)
Also knowns as bellflowers, there are many wonderful species of campanula that are perfectly suited to cottage-style garden. Some types grow just a few inches tall, while others can grow over five-feet in height! Most bloom early to mid-summer in shades of purple, violet, pink, and white. Be warned that a little research can go a long way as many campanulas are rampant garden spreaders (including the lovely clustered bellflower in the photo below), and some, like creeping bellflower, are downright invasive. If you don’t want to pull wandering clumps every spring, stick to better behaved garden choices like the great bellflower ‘Brantford’, or the milky bellflower.
Foxgloves (Zones 3 to 9)
Foxgloves are perfect for the back of a cottage garden where their tall spires of bell-shaped blooms tower over other plants. Plant a mix of colors; pink, purple, yellow, white, and apricot, cutting the blooms for long-lasting arrangements. Foxgloves are biennial, which means they don’t flower until their second year. After flowering, they produce seeds and die. If you allow them, foxgloves will self-sow throughout your garden beds, mingling with other cottage garden plants. Keep in mind that all parts of foxglove are toxic, so keep away from children and pets.
Shasta Daisy (Zones 4 to 9)
Cheerful, long-flowering daisies are a foundation plant in a cottage garden. They’re easy to grow, resistant to pests and diseases, and make excellent cut flowers. Depending on the variety, expect masses of flowers from mid to late summer on plants that grow 18 to 36-inches tall – they’re the perfect fit for a list of cottage garden plants! Once the flowers begin to open, keep on top of deadheading by snipping spent flowers every few days.
Further Reading on Designing and Planting a Cottage Garden:
Of course, this is only a partial list of cottage garden plants. There are many, MANY more perennials that can be grown in an informal flower garden like dianthus, columbine, lavender, irises, delphiniums, bee balm, Joe pye weed, coreopsis, sweet William, and penstemon. Also consider spring bulbs like tulips, daffodils, snowdrops, and grape hyacinths, and annual flowering like mounding and climbing nasturtiums, sweet peas, cosmos, and zinnias.
For more information and plant suggestions on cottage gardens, check out the excellent book The Layered Garden by David Culp and the classic book, Tasha Tudor’s Garden.
To learn more about gardening with perennials, be sure to check out these articles:
- Discover the longest flowering perennials
- Aster purple dome: a fall blooming beauty
- Learn how to grow Shasta daisies
- Types of lilies: 8 beautiful choices
Do you love the informal chaos of a cottage garden?
Lita Warehime says
I wouldn’t recommend the bellflower! (Campanella). It will spread out of control to the point you can’t get rid of it. It grows right thru the daylilies. It may not all bloom, but leaves fill the garden. When you think you have it all removed, it comes back somehow. If it had it’s own dedicated space it is pretty when it blooms but I have grown to dispise the plant and don’t like to see it for sale.
Creeping bellflower–Campanula rapunculoides–is a monster! It will not listen to “No, you are not welcome here!” The flowers are lovely, but the plants are SO invasive, it’s best to stay far away from them. There’s a reason they are often called “zombie” bellflowers!
I do not recommend sedum either. I planted it in an area to cover a poor soil area. It looked nice until I discovered tiny little ones everywhere that spread into my gardens! It choked out flowers and is now travelling into my yard!
Peach leaf bellflower is one of my favorite flowers, it does spread a little but I don’t mind. I’ve had it in my garden for years and it hasn’t taken over or pushed anything out. I also love Columbine which also multiplies and ends up in odd places, sometimes I toss seeds out randomly on our acreage just to add some beauty.
With a large linear front yard, over 240 ft frontage, I am happy some of these plants have multiplied, every year I can grab a clump of campanulas and move them to a new area, same with some self seeding annuals. One person’s pest is another’s saviour, I could never have afforded to buy all the plants that now grace my expanding English garden. I also look for pollinator friendly plants, and my garden buzzes.