In 7 Steps to a Cottage Garden

Ginny de Jong started a small hobby nursery in Aadorp in Overijssel. Now things are going professionally. Ginny: “A real cottage garden is full of movement, is colorful and looks cozy, romantic and lush. That’s how I want to create my own garden.” Ginny tells you how to transform your garden into a cottage garden in 7 steps with richly planted borders and many more characteristic elements that make the cottage garden so romantic and colorful.

Create a cottage garden

The cottage garden is a garden-style that originated in England. Cottages were small houses where the farm workers lived. Usually, there was a nice piece of land. The residents often turned it into a utility garden with fruit, herbs and vegetables, beehives and some small livestock such as chickens and pigs, and some flowers here and there. The picture that prevails these days when you think of a cottage garden is that of the beautiful thatched houses in the English countryside, framed with well-stocked borders, roses, clematis, beautiful old walls, and idyllic chestnut trellises. But even if you don’t have a thatched house, you can create a lush cottage garden, even if your budget is small. 

Characteristic basic elements of the cottage garden

  • Richly planted borders with flowers in many different shades. Clematis and climbing roses on the wall 
  • Many and/or long-blooming roses
  • Informal accessories such as wicker chairs, wooden benches, old stone ornaments such as fountains and statues, wooden fences
  • Metal climbing supports and rose arches
  • Narrow, winding paths made of gravel or old stones
  • Edible plants
  • Possibly a lawn

Show your own for the cottage garden?

You can easily sew many plants for a cottage garden yourself. And once you have them in your garden, they sometimes appear spontaneously the following year. At Groei & Bloei you can order seeds from the real cottage garden plants: hollyhock, Nigella, poppy and Knautia .

The structure of the cottage garden

Start with the basics: the structure. Determine where the borders should be and plot the paths. If you want to make round shapes, use a garden hose and move it until you are satisfied with the shape. Sprinkle white sand along the hose to mark the edge. For example, you can make the paths with root cloth and wood chips or tree bark on top. Excess rainwater can then disappear well and it is relatively cheap. The root cloth should be slightly recessed so that once filled with wood chips, the path is level with the soil in the borders. Put an edge with clinkers along with it, so that the wood chips do not slide into the border.

Plant climbing roses and clematis

Choose one or more spots around the house where you can plant climbing roses and clematis. The plants must be able to be planted at least 50 centimeters from the house, otherwise, they will not get enough moisture. Clematis are fine in the sun, but their ‘feet’ must be cool. So put in some low planting that starts early in the spring, such as Nepeta x faassenii, Geum, Alchemilla mollis or low annuals such as miss-in-the-green (Nigella) and marigold (Calendula officials). Climbing roses prefer the

Sun, although there are also climbing roses that can be placed in partial shade (Rosa ‘Mme Alfred Carrière’, R. ‘Pink Cloud’, R. ‘New Dawn’). A wall on the east or the west is therefore fine, then you can grow a rose and clematis together.

A chair and fruit

Determine where you would like to be able to sit for a while to enjoy the garden to the fullest: take a break in the shade, your favorite coffee spot, or a chair to catch that last ray of sunshine. That does not necessarily have to be a terrace; a wooden bench, large stone, small stacking wall, or metal garden chair also gives the opportunity to sit among the plants. Then choose the places for the fruit: there are now many espaliers and narrow fruit trees available that remain reasonably low and are fine in

a small garden can. An apple, quince, fig, plum or cherry flower in spring, fruit in summer or autumn, and usually have a beautiful autumn color. Thornless blackberry, raspberry, and Japanese wineberry are also delicious and you can place them well in front of a wall or fence along an iron wire.

More cottage plants

Then it’s the turn of the borders. Start with some grasses. Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberfeder’, Molinia caerulea, Panicum virgatum and Calamagrostis give a beautiful structure to the garden all year round. For little money you can sow or buy Verbena bonariensis, various types of Agastache, Linaria purpurea (flax lion beak), Dianthus barbatus (sweet potato), Calendula (marigold), Knautia macedonica, Gaura, Papaver, and Alcea rosea (hollyhock). Once you have these plants in the garden, they will slowly multiply by sowing. The more you seed, the more plants you will get. I had once thrown overblown Verbena bonariensis onto the compost heap. Everywhere I used my compost I got verbenas. Not bothersome, you can remove them very easily. Real cottage plants are also Geum, Nepeta, Helenium, Aquilegia, Primula, and Penstemon: they give a lot of color with both warm and pastel shades and bloom for a long time. Larkspurs (Delphinium) are also great, but more challenging.

Herbs in the cottage garden

You can also reserve space for edible plants in the borders. Herbs are often excellent border plants, they can withstand drought and combine well with other plants. For example Origanum laevigatum ‘Herrenhausen’, Salvia officials, rosemary, thyme, and lavender. But parsley, celery, and chives also grow and bloom beautifully. Also, add the lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla). If you cut it in the autumn and dry the leaves, you can make delicious fresh tea all winter long. Unfortunately, it must winter frost-free. Beet, Swiss chard, and various types of lettuce give beautiful color effects. Alliums flower beautifully and are often edible, such as Allium senescence, A. ursinum (wild garlic), and A. sativum (garlic). Or the flowers of A. ‘Purple Sensation’, although it is of course a shame to pick them …

Stones along with lawn

If you would like a lawn, place an edge of a few rows of stones along the borders. Then you can let the plants hang over the edge and mowing the lawn is no problem. 

Full borders without weeds

If you plant the borders nicely, weeds will have less chance. If you remove the weeds very regularly in the spring, you will benefit from it throughout the summer. Pick a fresh bouquet in the morning, take a tour of the garden in the evening to remove the faded flowers, and enjoy the old bench in the middle of the plants.

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