How to Create a Dreamy English Cottage Garden

You don't need to move to the countryside to get a picture-perfect yard.


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Imagine walking into your yard and being surrounded by picturesque flowers, plants, bushes, herbs, and fruit trees. Butterflies flutter around, birds take a dip in a stone bath, and you sit and watch from a Victorian cast iron bench. If this sounds like your perfect scene, then let us introduce you to the English cottage garden.

An English cottage garden is unlike a traditional garden layout. These gardens are dense and overflowing with beautiful flowers, edible plants, and hedges to give the appearance of a naturally growing plot. As the Discover Britain magazine explains, cottage gardens originated in medieval times from poor cottage dwellers with minimal plots to maximize the space they had. During the Elizabeth era, prosperity increased, which enabled cottagers to grow more flowers and create bigger gardens.

These days, however, English cottage gardens are growing in popularity due to their useful edible plants and whimsical aesthetic. The overgrown look of cottage gardens give the appearance of abundance and ease, rather than the meticulous perfection of a more traditional plot. But, of course, any kind of garden still takes some careful attention and know-how to keep things growing. So, keep reading for tips on creating a dreamy English cottage garden in your own yard.

What to Plant in an English Cottage Garden

foxgloves in garden

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You can customize your garden to your heart's desire. However, there are some common flowers and plants that are used for English cottage gardens. Below, find suggestions for what to plant in your yard.

Various Flowers

"There are many types of flowers you can incorporate into the English cottage style garden," says expert gardener Laura Hooper of Foxhill Garden. "The first that come to mind for me are garden roses, soft cupped roses with many petals, growing as shrubs or climbing." She also recommends including peonies, if you live in a climate where they can thrive.

Keep in mind that you should use a mix of annuals and perennials when it comes to figuring out which flowers are going to make the cut for your garden. Annuals only bloom once, meaning you'll have to replace them the following year. These are good for experimenting and trying out new flowers. Perennials, on the other hand, are hearty flowers that regrow year after year. These are fantastic for anything that you want to be a staple in your garden.

You'll also want to include flowers with a mix of colors and heights so you can fill in empty space and let your garden overflow with beautiful blooms. Here are some of the best flowers to plant in an English cottage garden:

  • Foxgloves
  • Hollyhocks
  • Wisteria
  • Phlox
  • Roses
  • Peonies
  • Coneflowers
  • Hydrangeas
  • Dahlias
  • Gomphrena
  • Snapdragons
  • Cosmos
  • Celosia

Edible Herbs

"If you like herbs, you can dedicate space for these as well," Hooper says. "I keep mine in pots for ease of cutting and use, but I often have flowering types like basil and chives mixed into the garden beds for interest as well." Here are some common tasty herbs you can adorn your garden with:

  • Lavender
  • Lemon Balm
  • Spearmint 
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Clary Sage
  • Chamomile
  • Basil
  • Chives

Fruit Trees

"I love flowering trees, so we have a collection of decorative cherries and an apple tree that grows beautiful blossoms," Hooper says. Depending on where you live will determine the type of fruit trees you'll be able to grow. So look up the types of fruit trees that can grow in your area to ensure they will survive the climate. Here are some ideas for fruit trees to get you started:

  • Cherry 
  • Apple 
  • Peach 
  • Pear 
  • Plum 

Hedges, Bushes, and Ornamental Grasses

Hooper also suggests using flowering almond bushes and varieties of spirea in spring and summer because they also produce pretty blooms and are great for cutting. There are many different types of hedges, bushes, ferns, and ornamental grasses you can add to your garden. Here are some ideas: 

  • Boxwood Shrubs
  • Privet Hedges
  • Yaupon Holly
  • Juniper Bush
  • Ferns (Various types)
  • Spirea
  • Sweet Almond Bushes
  • Fountain Grass
  • Pampas Grass
  • Plumegrass

Now that you know what to plant in your English cottage garden, let's dive into how to create one that you love. 

How to Create an English Cottage Garden

garden with chair and stone pathway

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Map Out Your Garden

The first thing you should do is plot out your garden. The easiest way to do this is to go outside and envision how you want your garden to look. Think of where you want to place archways, decor, and pathways.

Make sure your pathways allow you to access different areas of the garden so you can maintain it as needed. You can leave your pathways natural with grass or use pebbles, stones, or rocks instead. (Adding stepping stones can give it even more of that charming cottage feel.)

You can even use a piece of sketch paper and a pencil and draw your plans to get a helpful visual aid for space and ideas.

Decide What Plants and Flowers to Use

Once you have a layout for your garden, the next step is to decide what you want to plant. Try to select a good mix of plants and flowers to achieve that dynamic and whimsical look.

"You really can't go wrong with the plants you choose," Hooper says. "I try to focus on varying the textures and heights as well as planting in droves of odd numbers of plants to fill in over time."

Make a List and Get Your Supplies

Now it's time to make a list of supplies, plants, and flowers to ensure you stick with your garden theme and don't forget anything. Make sure you have all the gardening tools you need for your project.

You may want to invest in topsoil if you have low spots in your yard that need to be filled in. If you plan on creating pathways with rocks or pebbles, then add those materials to the list. Making a list can also help you stick to your landscaping budget.

Plant Accordingly

Before you plant anything in the ground, you can place your flowers on top of the soil to see how they look and ensure you like the layout. Try to plant in abundance while still allowing enough space for the flowers and plants to grow. For example, filling in space around larger plants or trees with low-growing flowers such as phlox or succulents helps fill in visual gaps.

"I think the key for me is letting each flower, plant, and tree be a bit more on the wild side and less formal," Hooper says. "I believe it's fine to start small and increase over time as well; the garden is constantly evolving, and new plants are always coming and going. If you have the time and money, you can, of course, do it all at once, but you shouldn't feel pressured to do so."

Use Mulch to Retain Moisture and Reduce Weeds

There are many benefits to mulching your cottage garden. Mulch will give your plot a polished look and retain moisture for your flowers and plants. Mulch can also reduce weed growth, which can rob your garden of its nutrients, and reduce soil erosion, which is especially important to prevent if you live in a rainy climate.

English Cottage Garden Decor Ideas

english cottage garden with bird bath

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You can make your cottage garden even more magical by adding the right decor. Installing wood or lattice archways for roses and vines to climb is a great place to start.

Be sure to utilize functional decor that will attract wildlife, such as birdbaths and fountains. Hooper says, "Wildlife is also a big part of my garden, and we have several birdhouses, a bee house, a house for bats—they eat mosquitoes—and even an owl house to encourage our wild residents to find refuge in the garden," Hooper says. "I like to keep the garden feeling a touch whimsical, like a secret garden, where I can go to sit and wander, think, or enjoy a glass of wine at sunset."

Another fun idea is to place various sculptures and statues around the garden to add more dimension and personality to your space.

And don't forget a making a space for yourself, too. Find a place for a cast iron bench or table set where you can sit and relax in your garden.

The best thing about an English cottage garden is you don't need a huge backyard or large plot of land to create one. In fact, the more crowded and overflowing the garden is, the better.

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