You don’t have to live in a cottage in order to enjoy all the benefits of a cottage garden design.
This type of garden is usually made on a small scale and is very suitable for today’s townhouse or other limited spaces. You can grow a variety of traditional and colourful plants in an informal way that pays little or no attention to achieving the unity of appearance that you will need in larger spaces. This is a great place to experiment with colour and you can use your colour wheel to ring the changes throughout your growing season.
Cottage gardens were born out of the necessity of having food growing near the house and gave rise to gardens that were both functional and decorative. Over time people have used more flowers and less food plants, which means that today’s cottage garden is mainly decorative. You can still of course grow food plants. A few well chosen traditional fruit bushes or small trees will look great while in flower. When they are in fruit they will provide a visual contrast with late summer and autumn flowering plants.
The emphasis throughout should be on achieving an ornamental result that is traditional in appearance.
It is common, or perhaps even necessary, to use very traditional plantings in this type of garden. Plants that are colourful, and some that are scented, such as Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), Agapanthus species, Anemone species, Phlox species, various Asters (Daisies), and of course any old fashioned, scented Roses that you can get your hands on.
Small and narrow pathways that allow access for maintenance to your planting areas are useful. Fill as much of the space as possible with plants and keep pathways narrow and lawns very small. In fact you need to have a good long think about whether you need a lawn at all in this garden. I wouldn’t bother with one, perhaps placing a nice small pear or apple tree into an area of ground-cover planting instead.
Traditional hedging, fences and rose arches should be used. Hedging can consist of Buxus (Box), Privet or Escallonia. Fruiting bushes such as Blueberries or Damson can be used depending on your location. Fences can be made from wood or other natural looking materials and these should generally not consist of timber that is very well finished. A rougher, more traditional look, based on local practice, is better for your cottage garden fences and enclosures. Wrought iron is always a good approach to creating your rose arches and gates, perhaps even your fences and enclosures, however do keep it traditional rather than formal.
It is of course always necessary to be aware of what will grow well in your location and the best way to learn is to observe other peoples gardens. While you don’t want to copy another persons garden you can learn an enormous amount simply by looking at what grows and looks well in your local area.
A good way to collect plants for your cottage garden is to trade and swap with other gardeners. You will find that gardeners are generally a friendly bunch of people who are willing to share knowledge and plants once you get to know them.
Creating a cottage garden is not unlike writing a letter to a friend; there is no need of formality and you deal only with enjoyable things that are of interest to you.