How to Choose Plants for a Picture-Perfect Cottage Garden

How to Choose Plants for a Picture-Perfect Cottage Garden

A cottage garden stands in stark contrast to a formal, manicured garden. Typically small and intimate, a cottage garden strikes a balance between having a casual, informal look without looking “messy.” Carefully crafted, your cottage garden can be a place of beauty where flowers beckon birds and butterflies as you enjoy your handiwork from a favorite sitting area.




Diversity is the order of the day in a cottage garden. Different types of plants, with varying sizes, textures and colors, offer an eclectic look that somehow pulls everything together harmoniously. A cottage garden packs a lot of punch in a small space — this is one example of being able to place plants closer than the recommended spacing!Redbud

  • Small Trees. The typically smaller size of a cottage garden lends itself to having smaller trees instead of towering giants. Flowering trees are particularly suitable to a cottage garden. Choose White Dogwood (Cornus florida) or Red Dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Chief’) as flowering accent trees in your cottage garden. Redbud trees also enliven the early spring cottage garden. The Oklahoma Redbud (Cercis canadensis texensis ‘Oklahoma’) bursts into flower with fuchsia-colored blossoms.
  • Plan your cottage garden so the flowering shrubs blossom in succession so you can enjoy the floral display over a long bloom season. A late-winter/early-spring cottage-garden favorite is Forsythia, also called yellow bells or golden bells (Forsythia x intermedia ‘Lynwood’). If you enjoy variegated plants, the green-and-cream leaves of Variegated Weigela (Weigela florida ‘Variegata’) will not disappoint. These cascading shrubs are covered in pink trumpet-shaped flowers in early summer, with a scattering of repeat blooms throughout the season. When spring gives way to summer, Butterfly Bushes (Buddlei spp.) begin flowering and may continue to blossom until autumn! These shrubs are true butterfly and hummingbird magnets, luring these delicate creatures to feast on the nectar within their panicle-shaped blossoms.
  • Cottage-garden perennial flower mainstays include dahlias, coneflowers, phlox and peonies. For vibrant color all summer long, choose Moonlight Sonata Dahlia (Dahlia ‘Moonlight Sonata’ – flowers of coral and peachy pink), Cheyenne Spirit Coneflowers (Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ – flowers in shades of red, yellow, pink and purple), Candy Stripe Phlox (Phlox subulata ‘Candy Stripe’ – variegated blush-pink and white flowers) and White Gardenia Peony (Paeonia lactiflora ‘Gardenia’ – huge, white flowers that resemble gardenias).
  • No cottage garden would be complete without the intoxicating fragrance and romantic look of roses (Rosa spp.). You can grow heirloom roses, tea roses, climbing roses or Tree Roses, which are not true trees but rose shrubs that have been trained to a tree-form shape. Colorful choices are Red Knock Out, Sunny Knock Out (yellow flowers) and Pink Knock Out tree roses.
  • Herbs are a staple in any cottage garden, particularly lavender. From the traditional look of Hidcote Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’) to the unconventional variegated foliage of Platinum Blonde Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia ‘Platinum Blonde’), you cannot go wrong with including lavender in your cottage garden design.
  • Whether climbing over an arbor or trained to a lattice, vines are an integral part of a cottage garden. Fireworks Clematis (Clematis ‘Fireworks’) has vibrant striped flower petals of violet and fuchsia, Peaches and Cream Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) features pink-and-white flowers and Amethyst Falls Wisteria (Wisteria frutescens ‘Amethyst Falls’) is a cottage-garden stunner with its pendulous grape-shaped purplish flower clusters.

The Finishing Touches

Structures and enclosures truly set a cottage garden apart from a conventionally landscaped garden…providing the finishing touches for a “true” cottage-garden look and feel.

•    Arbors, Trellises and LatticesiStock_000087347897_Large

These structures need not be freshly painted and brand-new; often, the most appealing cottage-garden structures are those that are well-worn and weather-beaten. Use these structures as backdrops for plants, or as supports to tie or train certain vines for upright growth.

•    Fences and Gates

A white-picket fence is a quintessential cottage-garden addition, but you can also use natural wood that’s unpainted and unstained to give a more rustic look. Typically, a cottage-garden fence is shorter than a typical backyard fence, and it has an open weave so passersby can glimpse the flowers contained inside. Place plants on the inside and the outside of your cottage-garden fence, with shorter plants on the outside so they do not block the view of the fence. Gates can mark the transition between your cottage garden and other areas of your yard, or they can be positioned at the street side of your garden to welcome visitors inside.

•    Paths and Sitting Areas

Use pavers, pea gravel or mulch to create paths that meander throughout your cottage garden so you and your guests can explore your collection of plants. Strategically place chairs or benches in a shaded sitting area so you can enjoy all the birds and butterflies that will inevitably be drawn to your cottage-garden as much as you are!


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