Cottage Gardens

By Susan Leigh Anthony

I often think, “thank goodness there is such a thing as a cottage garden,” because certainly that is what I have. Although I am a designer, my own yard is a melding of plants I have accumulated over many years. Therefore, I do my utmost to make some sort of sense of the arrangement, by color, height, bloom time and, ever so importantly, the plant’s specific needs. It is a good idea to give “some” thought to plant placement in order to avoid it looking like a “hot mess.”

Strictly speaking, the Oxford dictionary defines a cottage garden as, “An informal garden stocked typically with colorful flowering plants.” Well, I’d say that applies to quite a few of the gardens I see.

English in origin, the cottage garden relies on grace and charm rather than grandeur and formal structure.

shop cottage garden perennials

Here at my Scituate home I call Doveflower Cottage, I have always attempted to emulate the English country cottage style.  It suits me and the style of my home, an antique Cape built in 1787.

Early in the season, I am loaded with Hellebores and bulbs of many kinds, but as spring gives way to the onset of summer, the real flush and abundance begins. Just as the Lilacs are fading, the Irises, Poppies, Peonies begin their show.

Roses, of course, are a must, and I have at least 20 here. Some are climbers, scrambling up lattice and arbors, and a few have clematis weaving up through them. Many are fragrant ‘David Austin’ English types, which I adore for their scent and their voluptuous, full-petaled flowers. I have a few antique varieties, while the rest are landscape roses, which are reliable bloomers throughout the season. In general, Roses love full sun and good rich soil. I always add manure at the start of the season and feed with Espoma Rose Tone once a month in May, June, July, and maybe a little in August. they do not feed any later in the season.

Below is a list of what are considered some of the classic cottage garden perennials, followed by a list of plants I think also work well in such a setting. Deadheading on a regular basis, as needed, can extend the bloom time of many of these perennials.

Most are full sun lovers.

Traditional English Cottage Garden Perennials

various colors, and varieties

Ornamental Onion (Allium)
great companion to roses, deer-proof

Yarrow (Achillea)
does not love rich soil

Columbine (Aquilegia)
unfussy, will self- sow

roots need to be kept cool and they like a little lime

Carnation (Dianthus)
some are very fragrant, they like a little lime and good drainage

Coral Bells (Heuchera)
especially those with the actual “coral” bells, takes part shade

Larkspur (Delphinium)
sometimes iffy over the winter, loves a protected spot with excellent drainage, heavy feeder and some need staking, add a little lime to the soil, too

Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)

Bell Flower (Campanulas)
Peach leaved and other cultivars, low ones are good edging plants

German types do not like manure

Lavender (Lavandula)
needs excellent drainage and full, full sun

Foxglove (Digitalis)
most are biennial and can take part shade

Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla)
great edging plant

Lupine (Lupinus)
let self -sow, I find them unsightly after they have bloomed so cut back after the seeds ripen and scatter, disguise with other plants that bloom later

Poppy (Papaver)
I put Aster around mine to hide foliage as it goes through its dormant stage, tall annuals also work nicely.

Peony (Paeonia)
most need a hoop to support them, especially doubles, do not plant too deeply

Tall garden types, deadhead to keep blooms coming

perennial type- fuchsia, white, soft pink, violet, even one that is aubergine!

Great fall color, called Michaelmas daisies in the UK, very tall varieties can benefit from a shear in mid-June, take off about 1/3 to keep them from getting floppy

Luily (Lilium)
put toward back of border, foliage is a bit un-pretty as it dies back

Others to consider

Perennial Sage (Salvia)
all are wonderful and loved by pollinators (there are some wonderful annual types, as well)

Lamb’s Ears or Betony (Stachys)
‘Helene Von Stein’ is a great edger, Betony types are lovely garden plants and so underused

Russian Sage (Perovskia)
nice late blooming, airy sprays of blue, great with bolder flowered plants like roses and dahlias

Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum superbum)
classic and fresh

Bee Balm (Monarda)
tall ones and dwarf ones, great scent, color range is great

Catmint (Nepeta)
various heights, plus there is a white variety

long blooming, can be deadheaded to maintain bloom

Balloon Flower (Platycodon)
short varieties great for front of border, pink, blue, and white

Coneflower (Echinacea)
just about every color and size you can think of, useful color during  mid- to late-summer

Windflower (Anemone japonica)
late bloomer, my favorite Fall  perennial

Blue Beard (Caryopteris)
late summer, very blue, somewhat shrubby

Wild Indigo (Baptisia)
blooms with the peonies, nice for some height and bulk, blue green foliage, there are a number of cultivars in various colors

Jupiter’s Beard (Centranthus ruber)
hummingbird plant, very English, needs good drainage, a white variety is available

Globe Thistle (Echinops)
globe-like, spiny, steel-blue flowers

Sea Holly (Eryngiuam)
spiny flowers, steel-blue with a bract collar

Mullein (Verbascum)
very underused and long blooming, will sometime self-sow, lovely plant, interesting colors!

Daylily (Hemerocallis)
many varieties and colors

Cottage Gardens

3 responses to “Cottage Gardens”

  1. Belaine says:

    Great article!

  2. harry klebanoff says:

    Looks wonderful!! I’ve been thinking of visiting a few local gardens to learn more.
    Happy to speak w Susan or anyone on my regular trips to Kennedy’s.

  3. Tom Reardon says:

    Do you consult, plant and maintain small cottage gardens for others?


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