Creating a Cottage Garden

by Seasonal Wisdom on July 9, 2012

Post image for Creating a Cottage Garden

A proper cottage garden, explains Oxford Dictionary, is defined as “an informal garden stocked typically with colourful flowering plants.” And that’s the type of garden I’ve created at my home (Zone 6B/7), as you can see above.

From self-seeding poppies and German chamomile to richly aromatic roses, lavenders and sages, you’ll find my gardening style tends towards informal planting arrangements with plenty of colors, textures, tastes and fragrances.  Come take a tour of Seasonal Wisdom’s cottage garden, and see what’s growing here.

charming cottage garden

Creating a cottage garden wasn’t my original intention when I first started this garden.  Over the last five years, it just seemed to evolve into this design style. I’ve always tended toward romantic and historic plants, from the climbing Rosa rugosa on the wall to the heirloom herbs and vegetables. So, many of my plants were selected because of their history, aroma, taste or some other unusual characteristic.

Although I like things neat in the garden, I prefer a more natural look — rather than everything lined up perfectly. Best of all, the butterflies, bees, birds and other critters really like this approach too. So, my slightly wild garden is a bit of a nature refuge, as well.

Above is a portion of my kitchen garden (see more photos), with broccoli, carrots, peas and onions in the foreground. The peas  have since been replaced with a bean tepee for the summer. Behind the raised beds are potatoes and herbs, which sit in front of a Rosa gallica ‘Apothecary Rose’ alongside red and pink Shirley poppies, English lavenders, variegated sages and more.

cottage garden

Here’s another view of the garden bed and the ‘Apothecary Rose,’ taken later in the afternoon light. If you look closely, you’ll see a green plastic container planted with purple potatoes, located between the roses and the fire pit.

I often tuck salad greens, pepper plants and other edibles in between my ornamental plants to save space and attract pollinators to my garden. Many edible flowers are scattered here too, providing ingredients for summer meals.

historic rose

The ‘Apothecary Rose’ is a historic variety that blooms only once a year, and is susceptible towards fungal diseases, unfortunately. But the stunning floral display makes it worth the effort. Mulch this one well, and try to keep the foliage dry when watering.

kitchen garden with flowers

Over the last few months, I’ve been creating more garden rooms in my suburban backyard. At the very top is my kitchen garden, with three raised beds, fine gravel and containers for vegetables, fruit and herbs.

Where the middle trellis is located, a ‘Black Lace’ elder is planted, which is already growing quickly to fill that space. The plant can be grown as a shrub or small tree. I’m growing mine as a single-stem tree.

Directly above is a drought-tolerant garden bed with snow in summer, sedums, succulents and ornamental grasses. An orange ‘Sorbet’ viola in a terra cotta pot sits between two hot pink geraniums.

drought tolerant plants

English lavender, yarrow, Shirley poppies, roses, Shasta daisies, oregano and lemon balm fill this garden scene. Many plants have self-seeded themselves, creating a lovely sort of controlled chaos in these beds. The lemon balm was planted by the previous owner into the ground. So, I spend a lot of time wedding out this invasive herb, which smells — at least — a lovely lemony fragrance.  Be careful with lemon balm and mints, which can spread rapidly. Plant them in containers. Believe me, I wish the previous owner had done that in my garden.

Despite my casual nature, my plants need to prove their worth to stay in my garden. For the best chances, plants should either look good, taste delicious, smell nice, have an interesting history or play well with others. Otherwise, “they’re outta here.”

'Going Bananas' daylilies by proven winners

Outside my kitchen window are these charming ‘Going Bananas’ daylilies, which I tested last year for Proven Winners. The daylilies are surrounded by cheerful orange calendula, ‘Beergarten’ sage and feverfew.

juniper and other plants

This year, I’m testing several Proven Winners plants again, including this delightful Colorblaze® Marooned Coleus. It lives happily here, next to a low-growing juniper and other plants.

 cool stone

Rocks, sticks and other simple accessories from Mother Nature adorn our garden, and bring back nice memories from the places they were found.

cottage garden style

Orange thyme burst into aromatic flowers, while salvia, chamomile and roses nestle nearby.

informal garden

Each summer, I’m continually amazed how Shirley poppies manage to pop up in crevices and tight spaces between my plants.  Here, they fill in spaces between the climbing roses, and above the English lavender.

'Shirley' poppies

One simple package of Shirley poppy seeds sowed years ago continues to bring back these red and pink flowers to my garden. If you look closely, you can see a white spider on one of the top flowers. During the day, lots of bees dance around the colorful petals. I like to think I’m helping to support the neighborhood’s fragile ecosystem.

red 'Shirley' poppies with bee

A bee hovers over red ‘Shirley’ poppies, ready to make a landing.

colorful flowers

Deadheading these poppies religiously will help poppy plants bloom more and keep a nice shape. Here are more tips about growing poppies in the garden.

Thanks for visiting my cottage garden. This type of gardening is not for everyone, especially if you prefer a more streamlined, contemporary look.  But my “work in progress” garden continues to surprise and delight me each year, by sending out rogue plants that often seem to grow in just the right spaces. If not, then at least I have fragrant, beautiful and often edible weeds to pull out. With luck like that, who am I to argue with Mother Nature?

Regardless of your garden style, always add several inches of organic matter — such as well aged manure, compost or worm castings — to your soil each year. This will ensure your garden performs at its highest level.

Also, pay attention to invasive plants in your area, and avoid their use.  Here is the USDA list of invasive and noxious weeds in regions across the United States.

So, what’s growing in your garden right now? Any good tips to share?

Disclosure: As a garden writer, I was provided with new Proven Winners plants to try before the public. These plants were provided to me at no charge. Others, such as the ‘Black Lace’ elder, I purchased myself.

All photos copyright Seasonal Wisdom.


Stacey July 9, 2012 at 11:24 am

Love the idea of “rooms”. It gives a creative alternative to going by someone else’s list of companion plants.

Victoria July 9, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Great photos, Teresa! Your garden really is looking great.

karenleigh July 9, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Beautiful! Love your cottage style! I am more and more enjoying growing vegetables among my flowers.

Seasonal Wisdom July 9, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Stacey, Victoria and Karenleigh: Thanks so much for your nice words. They mean a lot! Hope all is growing well in your gardens too. Teresa

Kerry July 9, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Absolutely stunning!

Betty July 11, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Just gorgeous! Controlled chaos, I completely understand. The neat and orderly side of my brain is always in conflict with the willy nilly side, controlled chaos is the result! Thanks for the nice stroll through your cottage garden.

Janell Patterson July 11, 2012 at 11:33 pm

Your garden looks fabulous. I love the cottage garden look, absolutely beautiful and fits into your space nicely.

Seasonal Wisdom July 13, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Kerry, Betty and Janell, Thanks so much for your nice words. As you know, a garden is a test of patience at times. But it’s good to know our hard work pays off. Hope to see you again at Seasonal Wisdom soon. Teresa

Rebecca Sweet July 19, 2012 at 6:34 pm

How absolutely LOVELY to see your garden, Teresa!! It’s beautiful, just like I knew it would be, and so full of happiness and color. Love the heart rock, too – very sweet. :)

Seasonal Wisdom July 20, 2012 at 10:30 am

Rebecca: thanks for making my day! You’ll note there are plenty of “show girls,” but that’s because I’m starved for color after a dreary winter. Still, we’ve added lots of structures and plants for four-season interest, so winter looks better out there too. Hope all is well with you this summer. Best to you all there, Teresa

For Seasonal Wisdom readers, who don’t know Rebecca — she’s the talented landscape designer from the San Francisco area, who co-authored Garden Up!.

You can also hear my podcast with Rebecca Sweet here – where we discuss “show girls” and other garden design issues.

emily June 29, 2015 at 2:06 pm

What a beautiful cottage garden! I’m looking to do something very similar on a raised stone bed in front of my house. I would love a planting how-to-guide for something like this as I’m such a newbie to gardening. Did you use a combination of nursery plants and seeds? I see that the poppies were planted from seed which appeals to me though I realize that not everything grows from seeds very well – nasturtiums are a favorite of mine for this reason.

Seasonal Wisdom June 29, 2015 at 2:26 pm

Thanks, Emily. I appreciate your kind words. I did use a combination of seeds and transplants. Some easy plants to grow from seeds are nasturtiums, salad greens, poppies, radishes, carrots and chamomile. The roses, broccoli, lavender and Shasta Daisies were started from transplants. Most important is to grow foods that do well in your area, and to focus on building healthy soil in the garden. Good luck and thanks for stopping by Seasonal Wisdom.

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