Escape To The Country
The allure of cottage gardens brimming with scented roses, colourful flowers and a sprinkling of herbs is easy to understand – so it’s no wonder this style has remained popular for over 100 years. Romantic and nostalgic, they evoke warm summers in the country, indulging our senses in a sea of colour and fragrance. And it’s easy to create a flowery idyll in your back garden with just a few key plants and a little forward planning.
Start With Some Structure
Traditional cottage gardens of the late 19th and early 20th century featured quite formal designs. A central path led to the front or back door, and squared-up beds on either side were planted with a medley of flowers, fruit, herbs and vegetables. This is an easy style to copy and you can add elements such as a rose arch and a pretty wooden arbour seat to add vertical interest. You can adorn your structures with a range of vibrant clematis. New to us this year are the beautiful
Samaritan Jo, which is white with a delicate purple trim,
and clear white Chelsea (to celebrate The Chelsea Flower Show centenary), all of which make great partners for a scented honeysuckle and climbing rose. Also include a few shrubs around the edges of your garden to hide bare fences and walls. The stunning Exochorda ‘Niagara’, with its pretty white flowers that appear in May, is a great choice for a boundary, and looks a treat alongside a pink or red flowered weigela and scented mock orange (Philadelphus).
Seasons in the Sun
Key plants for cottage gardens include spring bulbs and perennial summer flowers, such as delphiniums, lupins, Shasta daisies and the stunning Alstroemeria Inticancha Series. These all thrive in sun and soil enriched with well-rotted manure or compost. Start your display in spring with some daffodils and tulips – buy them in bloom now or plant dry bulbs in the autumn –and add a few roses between them. Then pack perennials into any spaces you have left. Start at the back with towering delphiniums, such as the luscious Delphinium ‘Blue Nile’ with its clear blue flowers, or the moody blue and purple ‘Faust’. Team these with Verbascum ‘Clementine’, which produces spires of coppery-orange blooms, and Lupinus ‘Gallery Mixed’, a colourful confection of lupins that look great in bold groups.
Set the lupins in the middle of the border, alongside the perennial wallflower ‘Bowles’s Mauve’ which blooms from April.
Colours for Cool Spots
In shadier areas, choose a selection of hardy geraniums, foxgloves and astrantias – take a look at our article on Plants for Shade for more shade plant options. Also consider late flowering perennials such as asters, which will bloom in sun or partial shade and come in a range of gorgeous tones. You could also include the white blooms of Shasta daisies, such as Leucanthemum ‘Highland White Dream’. These plants flower in partial shade or full sun from July.
On the Edge
Traditional cottage garden flower beds are often outlined with low box hedges, which help to define their shape, while paths edged with lavender create the classic cottage look. If you have a sheltered sunny garden, try the French lavender, Lavandula stoechas ‘Coco Dark Pink’, with its large dark pink tufted flowers, or, in colder areas, grow it in a pot and bring it up close to your house for protection over winter. Alternatively, opt for an edge of flowery annuals. Try a frill of forget-me-nots to add a blue note in spring, when the flowers will spill over on to paths and patios. Replace these in summer with fragrant nemesias, such as the white ‘Wisley Vanilla’, which will bloom until the first frosts in autumn.
Bring Home a Meadow
Add some pretty wild flowers to your borders for a burst of natural beauty.
Wild flowers lend a natural beauty to designs, and combine particularly well with cottage plants. They also attract beneficial insects, including bees and butterflies. Try a mix of annuals, such as poppies, cornflowers and ox-eye daisies, in a sunny site. Or opt for red campion, foxgloves and cow parsley in shadier areas. The easiest way to grow wild flowers is to buy seed or plants from our centre and just pop them in the ground. Most need a free-draining soil that has not been fertilised, as wild flowers may not bloom if conditions are too rich.
Where to Plant
Plant them at the front of a border in small clumps with hardy annual poppies, such as the scarlet ‘Ladybird’, or hardy perennials such as scabious ‘Butterfly Blue’ and ‘Pink Mist’, lupins and verbascum, which enjoy similar conditions. Or plant shade-lovers around the edge of a tree canopy to create a natural woodland setting. We also offer wildflower seeds for different sites and soils from Suttons Seeds and Thompson & Morgan. For best results, prepare your soil by removing weeds and large stones, and break up clods to form an even surface. Water the soil and sow the seeds evenly using the back of a rake to press them in. Cover with bird-proof netting until they germinate.
If you want to create a cottage style garden, try including a few classic focal points that no cottage garden should be without.
Wooden seats - Timber seats, such as an Arbour, provide a comfortable vantage point from which to view your blooming borders. Choose a style in natural wood or paint it in a pastel shade to match your colour scheme. Dress it with coordinating cushions & a soft woollen throw for cool evenings.
Metal obelisks - Obelisks and tripods create focal points in beds and borders by adding height & interest, or choose a small one for a pot. Choose an Obelisk like this to support summer-flowering clematis, sweet peas, or even runner beans. You could also group three obelisks of different heights together to make a larger display.
Rustic containers - The fabulous new range of RHS terracotta pots perfectly complements the cottage style. Plant them with flowering shrubs, such as azaleas, or a mix of annuals and perennials, like marguerites and petunias. Change the planting with the seasons to get all year round colour & interest.