Cottage to country - GARDEN GALLERY - Garden Design (2015)

Garden Design (2015)

Garden Gallery

Cottage to country


A riotous melee of annual and perennial cottage garden plants provides a colourful spectacle.


ONE OF THE BEST loved planting designs of the past 100 years, cottage gardens epitomise the romance of British country homesteads of yesteryear, the jewel-like flowers fusing into a confection of colour and form. Country-style planting has similar attributes but with a more formal structure injecting a semblance of order into the design.

Cottage themes

No floral styles historically characterise British gardens more than cottage and country styles. From the joyous jingle-jangle of work-a-day varieties found massed in domestic gardens to the blowsy ebullience of plants in the ample borders that surround many of our historic country houses, these planting styles continue to enthral people across the globe. Both have their roots in history and, over time, have evolved and been embellished to yield ever more sophisticated examples of the garden designers’ art.

A hallmark of the modern cottage garden is the mingling of long-flowering annuals and biennials, perennials and seasonal bulbs, naturalised with wild abandon. The approach is casual, with plants encouraged to encroach onto paving, rooting into gaps between slabs or brick paviors or seeding into gravel, and the unexpected effects produced can be enchanting. Depending on space, you can set these beds against a backdrop of small trees or shrubs, such as old-fashioned roses, lilac, flowering currant or crab-apple, with arches and supports swathed in climbers, including clematis and annual sweetpeas. In spring, try daffodils and tulips, together with primulas and aquilegias, and include perennial and annual poppies, foxgloves and Verbascum in summer, and asters for autumn interest.

Country planting style

To achieve the country style, you ideally need a generous space, with borders not less than 1.8m (6ft) deep to accommodate the massed plantings, although narrower borders that include tall, upright plants and more compact varieties beneath will still produce effective results.

Borders often fringe a central lawn or, if space allows, you can establish a traditional double herbaceous border with a central grass path that creates a feature in itself. While fencing or a wall can provide a backdrop, clipped yew or hornbeam hedges make a wonderful foil for the plantings, as well as providing colour and structure in winter. Borders are usually filled with colour-themed perennials, producing luxuriant symphonies of flower and foliage. But unlike cottage-style schemes where plants are loosely intermingled, those in country gardens are set out in groups or drifts, progressing from the tallest at the back to the smallest in front. However, some tall, slim plants may be used near the front to provide spire-like effects.

Perennial schemes can lack visual interest in winter, so include plants with stout dried stems and seedheads, as well as evergreens and ornamental grasses, which are beautiful at this time of year, particularly in frosty weather. Woody plants give more permanent structure, with species and wild roses, hydrangeas, Mahonia and Viburnum all providing colour and form throughout the year.

“Flowering plants typify the country style, but the blooms can be fleeting. Maintain interest throughout spring and late summer with plants that add structural or textural foliage, such as euphorbias, ferns, Phlomis russeliana, and Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’. Try to imagine your beds in black and white and check that they are still interesting.”


Key cottage-style plants

Alchemilla mollis; Apple or crab apple tree varieties, Alcea rosea varieties; Allium schoenoprasum; Anemone species; Antirrhinum; Aquilegia; Aster species; Leucanthemum x superbum; Delphinium elatum varieties; Digitalis purpurea; Galanthus nivalis; Gypsophila paniculata, Hesperis matronalis, Linaria purpurea; Geranium species; Leucanthemum species; Lupinus Russell hybrids; Nigella damascena; Papaver species, Primula vulgaris; Primula auricula border varieties; Old-fashioned roses; Salvia varieties, Tulip varieties, Verbascum blattaria

Digitalis pupurea

Key country-style plants

Achillea filipendulina ‘Gold Plate’; Allium species; Anemone hupehensis; Artemisia absinthium ‘Lambrook Silver’; Crambe cordifolia, Campanula lactiflora and C. persicifolia varieties; Delphinium elatum species, Echinacea purpurea varieties; Foeniculum vulgaris ‘Purpureum’; Galega x hartlandii ‘Lady Wilson’; Hydrangea paniculata; Macleaya microcarpa; Mahonia species; Miscanthus sinensis varieties; Herbaceous and tree peony varieties; Helianthus varieties; Phlomis russeliana, Phlox paniculata; roses, Salvia nemorosa and other species; Stipa gigantea; Verbascum species; Viburnum species


Although seemingly carefree, cottage gardens require careful management to maintain the look. Most of the plants grow best in full sun or semi-shade and in free-draining but moist soil. The soil also needs to be fairly rich; improve it by forking in well-rotted compost or manure in autumn or spring, which will encourage plants to fill out. Although annual and biennial plants are encouraged to self-seed into gaps, the resultant seedlings need to be thinned to allow those remaining to develop - thinned seedlings can be transplanted to fill other areas. To prevent rampant self-seeding remove some flowerheads as they fade. Exhausted perennials should be lifted and divided every few years or replaced to maintain the vigour of the plantings.

Country garden plants require similar care to cottage types. Also prune shrubs and woody plants to keep them in shape, and mulch beds annually with compost to help maintain moisture levels, improve soil fertility and minimise weed growth.


Fruit trees trained on a rustic stone wall echo the traditions of neighbouring farms.



Massed tulips provide a spring treat but the bulbs will need replacing every few years.



Cottage garden favourites, such as oriental poppies and salvias, announce the start of the summer season.



A broad sweep of lawn and generous flower-filled borders create the ambience of the country garden.



Bold plantings of Phlomis, blue-green Euphorbia and pinky-red Persicaria.



Autumnal plantings meld a red-leaved Cotinus with the flowerheads of grasses, such as Miscanthus and Molinia.



Pillows of catmint (Nepeta x faassenii) edge a double border of white roses.



Leave borders to die down naturally to provide visual interest in winter. Here, the skeletons of herbaceous plants, shrubs and clipped hedges are ethereally transformed by a dusting of frost.