Creating An English Cottage Garden

We're huge fans of the English Cottage Garden aesthetic, a timeless style popular since the 16th century.

The old English Cottage Garden style grew out of a necessity for self-succifiency including a delightful mix of vegetables, fruit trees, flowers and medical herbs offering vibrant color, fragrant scents and a relaxed atmosphere.

To this day, horticulturists across the country are toiling away in their backyards attempting to recreate a traditional cottage style garden. But what's the secret? How can you achieve and maintain the English Cottage Garden look?

english cottage garden

English Cottage Garden Layout

An Informal & Free-flowing Design

English cottage gardens are typically quite informal with a relaxed and free-flowing design using an abundant mix of planting and are often based around a few key structural features - a brick or gravel path, a generous arch or symmetrical raised beds. 

Achieving this naturally effortless look in modern cottage gardens does require some maintenance - otherwise it all becomes a bit TOO natural - but the rewards are well worth the effort. With the right combination of plants and some careful planning, you can create a stunning and productive cottage garden that will provide you with produce, cut flowers and hours of pleasure for years to come. 

cottage gardens

An Abundance of Flowers

Vibrant colored, self-sowing annuals and freely spreading perennials are key to creating a modern take on the old style - you need to choose various colors, sizes, and shapes of plants that look like they have been established for years (even if they are not) and that will thrive in your particular growing conditions.

Traditional English garden plants include peonies, delphiniums, lupins, lavender, poppy, iris, honeysuckle and foxglove - all classic perennials to include. Of course, no English style garden would be complete without roses - shrub roses, climbing roses or rambling varieties are all key to the planting scheme and will improve year after year as your garden establishes.


english cottage gardens

How To Create An English Cottage Garden 

Behind the random informality of a cottage garden there are a few guidelines to follow if you want to achieve an authentic look and feel:

  • The setting should feel rural and old - even if it is not!: Clever use of plants and screening can help disguise a modern house or garage and help maintain the illusion of a garden that has been there for centuries.
  • Aim for natural looking planting: Don’t plant in formal rows or too carefully along the edges of the border - aim for naturalistic and unself conscious shapes as if the plants had self seeded naturally.
  • Plant in groups and clumps: Avoid individual plants and aim for generous groups of the same planting to give a dramatic effect like an artists color palette.
  • Keep variety in your planting: Don’t use a single flower variety or color in a flower bed - mix things up as you would see in nature and use as much color as you can.
  • Aim for blooms from spring to fall and beyond: Plan your cottage garden so that there is always something to pick for a vase, whether that’s a flower, a seed head or even a branch in bud even in winter.
  • Choose temperate looking plants and flower: Exotic plants don’t look at home in a cottage garden so aim to recreate the planting schemes of England and the cooler US states, without sacrifcing the vibrancy of red, yellow and purple flowers.

english cottage garden 

English Cottage Garden Plants

Here are a wide range of must-haves cottage garden flowers that make perfect choices for a colorful and romantic English-style garden of your dreams

1. Roses

No traditional English Garden would be without roses - the classic romantic rose arch or homely roses around the door can play a central role in your garden scheme. Look out for rambling varieties that will cover a fence or boundary wall in no time at all or create a spectacular centerpiece with an arch or pergola swathed in colourful climbers.

Shrub roses were traditionally planted for perfume and medicinal use so are quite at home in a cottage garden particularly the Old English and Gallic styles which tend to have flatter rosette cup flowers than the heavy headed modern varieties.

Roses are hardy in USDA zone 4 / 5 or above - they enjoy full sun - and do best in a loam soil.

rose arches

2: Hollyhock

Tall Hollyhocks along a wall or path give a particularly old fashioned look to a garden and come in an array of colours from the palest pink to the darkest red and occasionally lemon yellow and pure white.  

They are synonymous with a country style and are a reliable drought resistant plant that will improve year on year with a long blooming season with towering showy flowers which will self seed wherever you will let them. Hardy to USDA zones 3 to 8 they can grow to over 7 feet tall and can cope with relatively poor and dry soil.


3. Peony

Peonies have a shrubby look with generous and attractive foliage surrounding spectacular upright blooms which have been a cottage garden favorite since the 17th century having originated in the mountains China and the Far East.

They naturalise well and the clump will increase over many years giving a generous show in colours from pure white through pinks and purples to deep glossy red. Some have contrast color centres to the flowers and you can choose delicate single, flamboyant double or elegant tree varieties.

Peonies tolerate full sun or part shade and are usually hardy to USDA zones 3 to 8. They will thrive in any well drained loam, clay, chalk or sandy soil and can form clumps up to 5 ft in diameter!


4. Antirrhinum

A childhood favourite of many, the Snapdragon has vibrant colored spikes of flowers that open and close (with a bit of encouragement) like the jaws of a friendly dragon and their blooms carry on for months on end making them a perfect cottage garden choice.

They look great interspersed amongst other planting in the border and can be used as a repeat theme throughout the garden. Equally the are spectacular planted as a block where the seemingly limitless colour permutations create a joyful technicolor picture.

As Perennials they are usually only hardy to USDA zones 10 to 11 but you can grow them as annuals successfully instead. Antirrhinum will flower happily from Spring to Fall in full sun and like a well drained site.



5. Delphinium

Also known as Siberian Larkspur, Delphinium is another cottage garden classic staple that is often grown for cut flowers or to enter into Village Flower Shows. 

Surprisingly easy to grow (so long as you protect them from slugs) there are Single and double varieties available in a vibrant range of blues from deep azure to pale violet - really useful to balance the hot pinks and oranges of other traditional flowers. 

It has a real woodland or wild meadow look when planted in clumps but can also provide a knock-out showstopping central feature to a smaller border - with some varieties growing up to 7 foot tall they may need some support from a plant stake or obelisk. Delphiniums will bloom all summer in full sun and are hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7 with best results in a slightly alkaline soil.


6. Acchiliea

A true meadow wildflower the Yarrow holds large flat umbels above the plating in a border to display a made up of myriad small flowers vivid yellow, pink or white.

With many cottage garden flowers taking a very upright form, Acchiliea or Tansy offers a good contrast with an impactful horizontal color block. They are available in many colors, yellow, pink, orange and red, mainly. The fern like foliage also provides a wonderful texture for borders and beds.

The plants are very resilient and in some areas, it can even be evergreen but in general hardy to USDA zones 3 to 8. Happiest in full sun, Tansy can tolerate an acidic soil.


7. Foxglove

A classic woodland plant you cannot miss in a cottage garden is foxglove. This biennial has very showy bell shaped flowers that hang from the very long stalk.

They look wonderful in herbaceous borders and flower beds, and are essential to cottage gardens - the more the better - and they will self seed freely, throwing a variety of color offspring from pure white to deep magenta.

Even in the smallest space the foxglove will evoke an old fashioned feel in any garden but be aware that they are extremely poisonous so be cautious if you have children or pets. As woodland plants they like a slightly acidic well drained soil, can manage full sun or partial shade and are hardy to USDA 4 to 8. 


8. Aquilegia

Known as Jester’s Cap or Granny’s Bonnet Aquilegia or Columbine adds a very original flower shape to the borders and beds of your cottage garden.

A favourite of pollinators the flowers just look perfect in a very informal and natural looking setting and will self seed to give you delicate nodding blooms throughout your borders in white, yellow, orange, pink, red, purple and blue and everything in between! A very hardy plant it is happy to USDA zones 3 to 8 and prefers a constantly moist soil.


9. Geum

Grown for their profusion of late spring flowers Geum is a great shade-loving plant for a traditional cottage garden looks - the flowers hover delicately around the edges of borders.

They are famous for the warmth of their colors, which can be in the yellow to red range, but they are especially loved for their orange tints with an extremely long blooming season. Hardy to USDA zones 5 to 9 the Geum will manage most conditions but like most cottage plants loves to be in the sun.


10. Monarda

Bee balm is a dramatic looking herbaceous Perennial that’s perfect for cottage garden. The flowers open on long stems that grow taller than the foliage making them stand proud with strong purple, magenta, pink and red, color. 

Although an American native Mondarna works well in an English style planting scheme with the benefit that - as the name suggests - they attract many pollinators and butterflies. Thrives in full sun or partial shade with flowers over a long season from late Spring through the whole of summer. Tolerant of most soils it is hardy to USDA zones 4 to 9.


11. Sweet Pea 

Fragrant sweet peas are all time favorite rural flowers and grown on an obelisk or traditional frame are synonymous with cottage gardens. They are easy to grow hardy annuals that you can get to climb over an arch or pergolas and fill them with literally all the colors of the rainbow.

They flower from spring all the way to the first frost and the more flowers you pick the more they will bloom! You can start Sweet Peas off early and they are hardy to USDA zones 2 to 11- supported on a frame or obelisk the vines will reach up to 8 feet.

sweet peas

We hope with these ideas and tips your English cottage garden will be a stunning and romantic space for you and your family to enjoy - no matter what size garden you have.