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How to Design a Cottage Garden

Is there anything more picturesque than an English cottage  garden? The flora typically found in these gardens are soft, romantic and bursting with life. These gardens encourage images and thoughts of charm and whimsy, making them a perfect retreat from our hectic everyday lives. The Cottage Garden style is free form, but there are certain consistent elements in every cottage garden. Take a long look at your yard, and then draw a sketch of the perimeters and put your thoughts on paper first. It is a lot easier to use an eraser than re-digging with a shovel. Try to incorporate some soft flowing curves so when you are walking each little turn should bring a surprise. Plan your Cottage Garden to meander with curves. A curving walkway delivers more photographic interest than a straight path and accentuates the garden around it. Construct curves around points of interest like a scented tree or bush, Boulder, and a lush floral container planter.

A Garden Cottage is whimsical and naturalistic, and it speaks to you, “Come, stroll, stay awhile”.

A good cottage garden design will incorporate many elements, including a butterfly garden, a small water feature, curved  paths, quiet sitting areas, seasonal plants and a herb garden. Cottage Garden’s tend to clutter plants and they have a burst of color from traditional cottage garden plants, hollyhocks, foxglove, four o’clock, delphiniums, daisies, coneflowers, Echinaceas and last but certainly not least is the lovely roses.

The first steps in planning your  cottage gardens is to make a list of the elements and ideas  you want in your cottage garden then draw your cottage garden on paper (it is easier to erase than transplant)

 Make a list of trees, plants and seasonal plants to buy. Plant the trees first as they take longer to mature and will give immediate interest and form to your Cottage Garden. 


If you have the room and can afford it, include a small Garden shed in your Cottage Garden. This one element will give you more joy and satisfaction than all the other elements put together. I do not have a large yard, as most yards in planned communities are rather small, but I found a spot in the corner for an 8x10 Garden shed that I call my “she shed”.


Plant rhizomes, bulbs and perennials next as they will take a year to grow and become lush and bloom.


Hanging baskets are always a nice touch as they bring your eyes up and they overflow and give color to the garden walkway. I order the fuchsias in the baskets from The Earthworks Fuchsia Nursery in Northern California. The catalog list hundreds and hundreds of varieties.

Plant a pot with a Specimen Plant maybe a tree rose.

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   Add lots of containers, this will fill in the voids as you    wait for the Cottage garden to mature and also allows you  plant interesting hard to grow perennials or annuals that  may have to be nurtured to obtain peak performance.  Citrus trees such as my lemon tree on the left,  and a pot of  squash adds distinct blooms and bears fruit for the table.    The Martha Washington geranium I ordered from  Geraniaceae Nursery in California.  They offer a tremendous catalog of different types and  varieties of geraniums, not you typical big box store plants.

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The reflective garden is an essential element, as it gives you a place to sit and  meditate or reflect on your inner most thoughts, a quiet place with only a trickle of water from the small water feature.  This area is often an a hidden private spot just for you. 


A spot where you have a good view of the rest of your garden

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A place to sit and a place to dine outdoors.

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Last but not least in importance, is making your cottage garden interesting to look at. Have many different plants, textures, heights, shapes, yard art, color combinations, scents, varieties and features, make your garden a pleasure not only for you to sit or stroll through but also for your guest to be delighted in visiting.

All pictures in the article are taken by Judy Kopittke (the author). This is my personal Cottage garden. If you copy any of the pictures please give credit or ask for permission.Thanks

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