How To Design An English Cottage Garden

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The appeal of an English cottage garden is one of natural beauty and tranquility. They encompass a bountiful variety of plantings from ornamental flowers and greens to edible herbs and other flora. The country feel, grace and charm of an English cottage garden can be created with bursts of colors and healthy greens with paths and benches in any unused spaces as an exquisite prominent outdoor feature or private hiding spot.

A traditional garden of English origin, which dates back many centuries, is considered a product of the working-class British. However, in the late 19th century the English cottage garden became more prominent as a reaction to the well-manicured and maintained English estate gardens, which boasted formal designs and mass plantings.

  • Planning a garden today means adding some of the traditional features of roses, fruit trees and windy gravel paths as well as rustic seating areas alongside any type of flowering plants and ornamental greens, especially native plants.
  • Choose an ideal space where plants can spread out and breathe when mature.
  • A feature to an English cottage garden is the sprawl of flowerbeds and plants, which can include traditional primrose and violets as well as calendula and a variety of herbs.
  • Fragrant roses, daisies and flowering herbs are also traditional plantings.
  • Even using thyme between path stones is an example of the creative space possibilities in an English cottage garden.
  • The garden may also include topiaries and climbing vines on fences, trellises, arbors, walls and pergolas.
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When deciding upon a space, consider physical attributes that will enhance or can be incorporated into the garden including pathways, walls, sitting areas and buildings. Other garden aspects that will need attention are the ability to maintain the garden space and growth with access to water, sunlight and good soil. Plants do spread out from seeding and overtime plants expand, needing adequate soil and sunlight too. The quality of soil is important and the ability to amend soil should also be a consideration.

When amending soil, knowing the attributes of plants and flowers in the garden is important so that everything continues to grow healthy. Most seeds and starter plants will have care and grow instructions. Even city dwellers with outdoor space can create an English cottage garden and enjoy all the benefits of a sprawling country space.

  • For paths and other structural elements for a garden, consider recycled objects such as earthenware, bottomless metal buckets and other odds and ends to give character to the garden.
  • A basic shape for the garden will allow for adding the plants that will give the garden personality and charm.
  • When deciding upon a type of path, it should be practical but it can also be winding to add to the attraction of being in a garden.
  • Paths can be dirt, gravel, cobbled stoned, bark or mulch, wood or slabs of steppingstones that sink into the ground.

Choosing what to plant in an English cottage garden can be daunting and climate challenges will determine what will grow best. However the more available plants the more beautiful array of colors and appeal to the garden. Options for planting include seeds and starters. In addition, garden rolls are also available. Pre-seeded rolls require little planting and only need placement in loose soil and water.

  • Some flowers to consider for an English cottage garden are baby's breath, bachelor buttons, candytufts, catchflies, corn poppies, evening primrose, foxgloves, godetia, jasmine tobacco, phlox, pincushion flowers, Sweet William, Black-eyed Susan, snapdragons and zinnias.
  • Many more flowers are available and checking with a garden store and researching online or at a library is an easy way to discover which flowers and plants work best for your climate.
  • Local flower guides are great sources for discovering what plants will work.

Do plant your English cottage garden in full sunlight and plan focal points in flowerbeds. Highlight colorful zinnias and give roses room to grow. In addition, texture greens such as herbs are also beautiful on their own such as lavender and rosemary. Edible and medicinal herbs and flowers give extra satisfaction and pride to a gardener because the garden is not just an attraction-it's functional.

Flowering shrubs, small trees and vines are great additions to the spray of growth but consider space for these plants to thrive. In addition, space will be a factor when creating structures such as paths, benches and water features. Maintenance will be required to keep structures useful and clean for recreation purposes. A goldfish pond, fountain or small watering hole will require extra mechanics and access to a water line and electricity. Consulting a landscaper or professional gardener is always a good idea when adding a water feature to a garden.

  • If living in a four-season environment, maintaining an English cottage garden will require more attention in flowering seasons such as spring and summer.
  • For fall and winter, flowerbeds will require less attention.
  • Weeding, soil amendment, watering and deadheading plants are maintenance items for spring and summer.
  • If using a mix of annuals, perennials and bulb plants, understand what will go dormant and what will die.
  • Also, clipping back roving plants and trees may be needed for healthy growth year after year.

Other considerations to know for planning are garden pests such as mites and beetles as well as controlling plant blights. Try to use organic pesticides and mixtures for controlling pest attacks because it's healthier for soil, plant and groundwater. Using cuttings and trimmings from the garden is another form of healthy maintenance especially with herbs. Maintaining a watering schedule in spring and summer will also produce a healthy and vibrant garden.

An English cottage garden should not be an immense and complicated garden space. It can be a quiet and low-key outside area to enjoy tranquility and beauty without the stress of constant maintenance because the garden is based on working in a natural state of existence.

Last Updated: September 25, 2011
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About Sabina Dana Plasse Sabina Dana Plasse holds a bachelor's degree in history from Bucknell University, a master's in liberal arts from Johns Hopkins University and a master's in film and video from American University. She is an award-winning writer and editor living in Sun Valley, Idaho. Besides writing on fine arts, lifestyle, home and garden, entertainment, philanthropy and business, she enjoys teaching film and writing screenplays. Sabina has served as the arts and events editor and living writer for the Idaho Mountain Express newspaper, a twice weekly national award-winning newspaper serving Idaho's Wood River Valley. Sabina adores mountain town living where she is an active snowboarding, skier, mountain biker, hiker, supporter of the arts and an avid seeker of practical living ideas.  

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