Cottage gardening is a very popular both in England and the US. The mix of low-care perennials, culinary herbs and annuals combined a natural, informal style, is for many, nostalgic of their grandmother or mother's gardens. Not only is the cottage garden a paradise for songbirds and pollinators (hummingbirds, bees and butterflies) with its diverse mix of flowers, but it's also an excellent source for cut flower bouquets for the house and spices for cooking.
I feel It's important to design an informal layout of curving paths around which the garden is created. Some design ideas to make the cottage garden more livable include:
A bench - Provides a welcome retreat among the flowers for the gardener.
A birdbath - Nothing is better than water for attracting birds.
Small growing flowering trees for light shade and fragrant spring flowers.
Crushed gravel paths - gravel keeps down the mud and creates an excellent environment for planting the edges of the path with colorful perennial groundcovers.
A not-too-tall fence or wall that encloses the cottage garden - this helps to create a more intimate setting and provide support for flowering vines and climbing roses.
Enrich the Soil and Use Regionally Suitable Plants
As with any garden, a healthy living soil is the garden's foundation in which a wide variety of plant species will thrive. Prepare the soil with a mix of high-quality compost and Yum Yum Mix fertilizer at recommended rates to ensure that the drainage is adequate and that the soil is fertile. The right mix of regionally suitable plants is the other crucial part of the equation. Chose plants that are adapted to your region's climate, soil and precipitation. This is an essential consideration, as for example, the cottage garden plant palette used in England or New England will be different from what grows best in the Great Plains or the Intermountain West. There is some overlap, but a "one size fits all" approach to plant selection doesn't apply to such a huge continent like North America.
Go Tall, Medium and Short
Planting too many tight, low mounding growers is counter to the look we try to achieve. Using flowers that re-seed themselves are also a plus in the cottage garden. Over time, this will give the garden a more natural, spontaneous look and help to populate the garden with more plants. It's the gardener's job to do some "editing" as the re-seeders spread so to maintain space for the other long-lived plants that stay put.
As for plant placement, the cottage garden needs a good mix of small, medium and tall plants to be scattered throughout the garden. Tall growers should be scattered in the middle and back of the beds. These tall growers help to emphasize a more informal feel and help create the look of barely controlled abundance.
A Short List of Basic Cottage Garden Plants for East of the Mississippi
'Blut' is one of the very best cold hardy Ice Plants. With its vigorous growth habit, durable evergreen foliage and summer-long display of deep magenta-red flowers, it is an invaluable groundcover. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
Commonly known as Poppy Mallow or Wine Cups, Callirhoe involucrata is a native wildflower that decorates the garden with a summer-long display of bright magenta-pink flowers. A sprawling grower, Callirhoe involucrata's long branches spread out across the ground to create a colorful mat of flowers and foliage. Drought resistant perennial plant (xeric).
Yellow Flowering Texas Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora 'Yellow') is a beautiful, uncommon yellow-flowered form of Texas Red Yucca, a low-water garden favorite. Plant it with other Hesperaloes to create superb bi-colored combinations that are sure to draw hummingbirds to your garden.
Powis Castle is a superb foliage plant with finely textured silver-gray foliage and an attractive mounding habit. Use this plant to accentuate ornamental grasses and other perennials with differently colored foliage. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
Perovskia atriplicifolia Blue Spires (Blue Spires Russian Sage) is the best large growing Russian Sage selection blooming with dark blue flower spikes appearing in mid-summer. Thought to be a hybrid of two species, this plant has amazing vigor and blooms for many months.
Salvia sylvestris ‘May Night’ (May Night Sage) blooms prolifically with deep purple-blue flowers. It is an outstanding perennial with excellent cold hardiness, vigor, and tolerance of heavy clay soils. Blooming in late spring with a profusion of flower spikes, it reblooms later in the summer when deadheaded.
Moonshine Yarrow (Achillea Moonshine) is an outstanding perennial plant with silver-gray foliage and lemon-yellow flat-topped flowers that cover the plant all summer. This is a well-behaved variety, meaning it won't reseed and spread.