by David Salman

Verbena, Salvia, Penstemon
Gravel paths meandering through colorful perennial garden beds in California courtyard with Verbena, Salvia, Penstemon.

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:

perennial garden in bloom
A full bed in bloom illustrates the whimsical and informal beauty of cottage gardens.
  • 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.

Butterfly Paradise Pre-planned Garden
Our Pre-planned gardens are professionally designed, with the perfect perennials already picked out for the garden of your dreams. All you have to do is follow our easy directions and garden map. This illustration is from our Butterfly Paradise Pre-planned garden.

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

Yarrow, Salvia, Red Hot Poker, Agastache Perennial Garden
Denver Colorado front yard cottage perennial garden with yellow Yarrow (Achillea), Salvia 'Blue Hill', Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia 'Alcazar'), Sidalcea 'Party Girl' and Agastache; design by Tom Peace (Weckbaugh)

Plants for Western Cottage Gardens (Arid conditions, alkaline soils, windy)

Annuals/Biennials

Spring Flowering Bulbs

  • Allium (Ornamental Onion) - 'Purple Sensation', 'Globemaster' and other tall selections
  • Daffodil (Narcisus) - taller varieties
  • Gladiolus (Gladiolas)
  • Muscari (Grape Hyacinths)
  • Tulipa (Tulip) - Darwin hybrids

Flowering Perennials (with selected species and cultivars)

  • Achillea (Yarrow) - 'Coronation Gold'
  • Agastache (Humingbird Mint) - 'Ava', Desert Sunrise®, 'Blue Boa', 'Blue Fortune'
  • Alcea (Hollyhock)
  • Allium (Ornamental Onion) - 'Millenium'
  • Aquilegia (Columbine) - A. chrysantha
  • Aster (Aster) - 'Lady in Black'
  • Callirhoe (Poppy Mallow)
  • Centranthus (Jupiter's Beard)
  • Coreopsis (Tickseed) - 'Zagreb', 'Moonbeam'
  • Diascia (Twinspur) - 'Coral Canyon'
  • Digitalis (Foxglove) - 'Polka Dot Princess', D. thapsi Spanish Peaks®, D. obscura Sunset®
  • Echinacea (Purple Coneflower) - E. paradoxa, 'Rocky Top Hybrid', E. purpurea
  • Echinops (Globe Thistle)
  • Eryngium (Seaholly)
  • Gaura (Appleblossom Grass)
  • Leucanthemum (Shasta Daisy)
  • Linum (Flax) - L. narbonense, L. perenne 'Appar'
  • Monarda (Beebalm) - M. fistulosa
  • Nepeta (Catmint) - 'Walker's Low', 'Select Blue'
  • Papaver (Oriental Poppy) - various cultivars
  • Penstemon (Beardtongue) - 'Dark Towers', P. palmeri
  • Phlomis (Jerusalem Sage) - P. russeliana, P. cashmeriana
  • Salvia (Sage) - S. reptans 'Autumn Sapphire', Raspberry Delight®, 'May Night', 'Caradonna'
  • Solidago (Goldenrod) - 'Fireworks', 'Wichita Mountains'
  • Zauschneria (Hummingbird Trumpet or Fire Challis) - 'Sky Island Orange', Orange Carpet®

Perennial Culinary Herbs (with selected species and cultivars)

  • Lavandula (Lavender) - French hybrid 'Gros Bleu', 'Grosso', English 'Sharon Roberts', 'Buena Vista', 'Miss Katherine', 'Vera'
  • Rosmarinus (Rosemary) - cold hardy 'Madeline Hill', 'Arp'
  • Salvia (Garden Sage) - Salvia officinalis cultivars
  • Thymus (Thyme) English thyme cultivars
  1. Agastache Blue Fortune Photo Courtesy of Walter's Gardens Inc.

    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 flow...

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    Blue Fortune Agastache Blue Fortune Hummingbird Mint (Hyssop) Agastache Blue Fortune
    As low as $10.99 Sale $8.79
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    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.
  2. Echinacea purpurea Pow Wow White Photo Courtesy of Walter's Gardens Inc.

    16-20" x 14-16" wide. Pow Wow® White Echinacea is an outstanding, seed grown cultivar that blooms all season with a profusion of white flowers over a compact plant....

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    PowWow® White Echinacea PowWow® White Coneflower Echinacea purpurea PowWow® White
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $9.99 Sale $7.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    16-20" x 14-16" wide. Pow Wow® White Echinacea is an outstanding, seed grown cultivar that blooms all season with a profusion of white flowers over a compact plant.
  3. Salvia greggii WWG003 FlowerKisser™ Coral-Pink Sage

    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 l...

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    FlowerKisser™ Coral-Pink Salvia FlowerKisser™ Coral-Pink Sage Salvia greggii 'WWG003'
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $11.99 Sale $9.59
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    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.
  4. Butterfly Paradise Pre-Planned Cottage Garden Design

    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 appea...

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    Butterfly Paradise Pre-Planned Cottage Garden Butterfly Paradise Pre-Planned Cottage Garden
    As low as $158.84
    Per Garden of 16 Plants
    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.
  5. Jumbo Waterwise Pre-Planned Garden

    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 combinat...

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    Jumbo Waterwise Pre-Planned Garden Jumbo Waterwise Pre-Planned Garden
    As low as $172.32
    Per Garden of 18 Plants
    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)
  6. Agastache Kudos™ Mandarin, Hummingbird Mint, Photo courtesy of TERRA NOVA® Nurseries, Inc.

    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 ...

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    Kudos™ Mandarin Agastache Kudos™ Mandarin Hummingbird Mint (Hyssop) Agastache Kudos™ Mandarin PP#25,381
    As low as $12.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    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.
  7. Redbirds In A Tree (Scrophularia)

    Red Birds in a Tree is a rare perennial from the southern mountains of New Mexico and Arizona. It blooms all summer with spires of small red, white-lipped flowers that resemble a flo...

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    Redbirds In A Tree (Scrophularia) Redbirds In A Tree Scrophularia macrantha
    As low as $11.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Red Birds in a Tree is a rare perennial from the southern mountains of New Mexico and Arizona. It blooms all summer with spires of small red, white-lipped flowers that resemble a flock of red birds perched on a tree branch.
  8. Purple Poppy Mallow Callirhoe, Callirhoe involucrata

    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 spraw...

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    Purple Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe) Poppy Mallow, Winecups Callirhoe involucrata
    Sale Price I Save 10%
    $8.99 Sale $8.09
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    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).
Text and Photos by Founder and Chief Horticulturist David Salman.

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