A trip across the pond: Designing the ideal English cottage garden

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Updated May 24, 2024
Photo: Tony Hisgett/FlickrPhoto: Tony Hisgett/Flickr

Taking a romantic or relaxing stroll around the garden is not just a fantasy enjoyed on Downton Abbey or in homes around the United Kingdom.

Many of your customers are probably fans of English cottage gardens and the quaint atmosphere they produce, so why not give them a bit of that across-the-pond charm right in their own backyard?

How to get the look

Rumor has it that original English cottage gardens have been around since the 1400s, and they featured a mixture of flowering plants and edible plants since they were originally created to feed families.

One of the endearing attributes of these gardens is the organic and natural look they gain after the plants are in place and left to spread freely. Flowering shrubs mix and mingle with edibles and flowers alike, which helps give an aesthetically pleasing look and a good dose of variety.

The key to getting the picture-perfect English cottage garden is controlled chaos. This can be achieved by planting flowers at the edge of the garden beds. Allow them to spill over the boundaries and onto the pathways, then consider adding in some shrubs and trees around for a bit of structure.

Unlike traditional English gardens where there is, typically, a large amount of one particular plant present, do just the opposite. Find a lot of different plant varieties and plant small bits of them together to create a glorious hodgepodge of plant life.

This not only achieves the cottage look, but it also helps potentially cut down on pests and diseases that would attack one particular plant, which would in turn take out a large chunk of the garden if only one plant type were present.

What to plant?

There’s a variety of plants that can be present in English cottage gardens, and the ideal ones are annuals, perennials, edibles, and flowering shrubs.

Annuals offer all-season color and help cover bare spots left as shrubs and perennials fill in. Annuals come in a wide range of colors, looks, shapes, and textures, so brainstorm with your customers about any particular color scheme they like before choosing.

Perennials ensure an interesting sequence of blooms throughout the season, so check out some popular ones that will keep the garden looking fresh and exciting all season long.

Now comes the part many customers will jump at the chance to participate in: picking out edibles.

This really does depend on what your customers want in their garden since, well, they are going to be the ones eating what’s planted. But the possibilities can be endless when it comes to flowering edibles that taste and look great. For a few more tips on edible gardens, click here.

Rounding off the collection of plants is the flowering shrub. These plants not only add to the overall look and feel of a cottage garden, but they also add depth, volume, and height to a garden. Typically, they are planted in groups of three to help keep a bunched and thick look.

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