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
Agastache 'Blue Fortune' is a European hybrid hyssop known for is vigor, cold hardiness, and adaptability to grow across much of the US. Blue Fortune Hybrid Hyssop's powder blue flower spikes are highly attractive to bees and butterflies.
Flower Kisser™ Coral-Pink Salvia (Sage) has eye-catching non-stop coral-pink flowers, starting in late spring and continuing into the fall. A medium sized woody shrublet that loves poor soils and hot, dry growing conditions.
8" tall x 15-18" wide. Helen von Stein makes a great foliar accent as it is grown for its large, fuzzy, silver leaves. This is a great edging plant with a uniform, mounding habit. Non-blooming so it doesn't reseed. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
The Butterfly Paradise Pre-Planned Cottage Garden will create a relaxed cottage style perennial garden. Planting masses of nectar-rich flowers magnifies their visual impact and appeal to pollinators, helping butterflies find your garden. Flowers will multiply and spread year after year, offering bold blooms from late spring to late summer. Large garden of 30 plants covers 40 sq ft, small garden of 16 plants covers 40 sq ft.
The August Afternoons Pre-Planned Garden brings together a wonderful assortment of our favorite perennials and ornamental grasses to keep things colorful through late summer and well into fall. Blooming in shades of blue, pink, and ivory, this gardens expertly blends color, texture, and fragrance for a waterwise garden. Hummingbirds and butterflies will be drawn to the beautiful nectar-rich plants. Garden of 17 plants covers 50 sq ft.
Plant our drought resistant Jumbo Waterwise Pre-Panned Garden to grow more flowers and foliage while using less water. Perfect for hot, dry, sunny gardens, this eye-catching combination of long-blooming perennials will light up the landscape with bright, clear colors. Easy-care plants feature inedible foliage that keep rabbits and deer away. Large garden of 27 plants covers 190 sq ft, small garden of 18 plants covers 100 sq ft. (For gardeners in coastal CA, OR, and WA, plant the Jumbo Waterwise Pre-Planned Garden For The West Coast)
Agastache Kudos Mandarin (Hummingbird Mint or Hyssop) has showy, bright-orange flowers on short flower spikes which are highly attractive to hummingbirds. Its compact size and bushy habit gives it a neat and tidy appearance, while it blooms from early summer through September.