What Is Cottage Garden Design? | GroveGypsy

The cottage garden is one of the most classic layouts that you can have for your outdoor space, but what is the design of this traditional garden concept.

The first thing that comes to mind when you think of a cottage garden design is a yard space that has soft textures and a very inviting layout. However, there are certainly some dos and some don’ts when it comes to designing a cottage garden that truly feels authentic.

Cottage garden design is a traditional layout that features various patches of flowers with soft colors, summer-blooming bushes, and fruit trees. In addition, a cottage garden design should have quaint artifacts, inviting pathways, and a lightly enclosed barrier such as a picket fence.

If you are on the fence about choosing a design for your garden, a traditional cottage garden may just be the way to go. Although this garden design has been around for ages, it is still widely considered to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing options for a yard. The original idea behind a cottage garden comes from England - where it remains to be the most popular garden style to this day. However, that is not to say that many people in the United States do not opt for laying out their yards with the same cottage garden aesthetic, as it is lovely no matter where you live. With that being said, there are some very important characteristics that define a cottage garden, which you should be aware of if you want to achieve an authentic appearance in your garden. To help you understand this better, we are going to take a closer look at cottage garden design in more detail.

After years of working as a landscape architect, I have had an extensive amount of experience helping people design cottage gardens in their yards. My experience has taught me that in order to have a traditional cottage garden design, you need to plant the right plants in your yard and add some important defining features to the outdoor setting.

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Cottage Garden Design

There are some very distinct characteristics that define a cottage garden but the most important thing that you want to keep in mind is to keep things quaint and cute. Cottage gardens are not braggadocious or overly conceptual like a contemporary garden nor are they minimal or too specific like zen gardens.

An authentic cottage garden design has somewhat of a disorganized look to but it feels very cohesive nonetheless. Plants are not placed in an arrangement that gives the garden space a meticulous or a well thought out structure. Instead, things feel almost messy in some regards, as there will be plants scattered around all over the place, which will feel chaotic in the most pleasant way imaginable. This can make the planting process for a cottage garden rather easy, as you do not need to overthink what goes where - just get in the ground and enjoy the outcome.

However, it is very important that you plant the right things in your cottage garden if you want to have a traditional look and feel. If you plant something like a palm tree in the middle of your cottage garden, it is going to stick out like a sore thumb and ruin the entire image. Given that cottage gardens originated from the UK, you are going to want to select plants that are going to be appropriate for a similar climate. These would be things like deciduous trees with some evergreens, summer-blooming shrubs, and flowers that complement the scene with various soft colors.

In addition, there are some other features and artifacts that you need to incorporate into a cottage garden design, which will generally be the elements that tie the entire space together. You can consider this to be part of the structural layout of the cottage garden, which will feature traditional characteristics like a picket fence and an inviting walkway. Lastly, nothing completes the aesthetic of a cottage garden more than a cottage-style home - a cozy and cute home is the ultimate way to seal the deal on a cottage garden. Let’s take a closer look at the intimate details of a cottage garden design.

Cottage Garden Plants

The most fundamental characteristic of any cottage garden is the plants that you incorporate into the mix. The colors, in particular, of the plants that you choose, will be the signature feature of a cottage garden. With that being said, you should plan on having a considerable amount of flowers scattered around your yard.

The colors that you want to prioritize to achieve an authentic design are going to be those that are vibrant with soft textures. When looking at classic cottage garden designs, soft pink and purple tend to be the most iconic options that people choose to display. However, you can pretty much go crazy with what you decide on, as cottage gardens are all about letting things be a little wild and chaotic. You can choose from the following colors when picking out plants/flowers for your cottage garden:

  • Pink
  • Violet
  • Purple
  • Yellow
  • Red
  • Burgandy
  • White
  • Blue

Now, although flowers tend to be the plants that stick out the most in a cottage garden, you will find that there are other essential things that you need to plant to complete the design. Having a generous amount of shrubs and trees in the mix is going to do wonders for achieving a traditional cottage garden design. Let’s break down the best plants that will fit right into a cottage garden design.

Cottage Garden Flowers

If you take a look at any cottage garden, you will find that there is no shortage of flowers in the design.

These are the plants that create the enchanting aesthetic of a cottage garden and they are often the characteristic that makes people want to establish a cottage garden in their yards. There are certainly some key flowers that are quintessential for a cottage garden, but in all honesty, this garden style is all about being loose with the rules.

You can enjoy having a sense of freedom when selecting which specific flowers you want to plant, their planting location, and how many of them you put in the ground. Here are some examples of flowers that are perfect for a cottage garden design.

Delphiniums 

For so many people out there, no cottage garden is complete without at least some Delphiniums in it. These flowers tend to be one of the most defining plants in a cottage garden, as they so beautifully fit the aesthetic of this design.

These tower-shaped flowers will bloom in a soft blue and pink. They will add gracefulness to the image of your cottage garden and they look fantastic when you plant them in an array of other flowers.

What is great about these flowers is that once they are in full bloom, they are so easy to snip and then add into your home or patio area in a vase, which will only enhance the image of a cottage garden further.

Dianthus

When picking out flowers for your cottage garden design, be sure not to overlook adding a generous amount of Dianthus into your yard space.

You will find that these beautiful flowers are available in a variety of different colors, but there is just something magical about their pink variation. The soft pink of the Dianthus looks absolutely lovely. These are great cottage garden flowers to have in a mix of other contrasting colors or just in a pleasant little patch all by themselves - you really can’t go wrong with these.

One thing that the Dianthus does very well, in addition to its aesthetic, is that it has a very nice smell. When your flowers are in bloom, a characteristic that really adds to the experience of a cottage garden is walking out and being enticed by all of the incredible scents, which the Dianthus will certainly help you achieve.

Lupins

Some flowers in a cottage garden need a little bounce and flare. For this aspect of the cottage garden design, you can always count on Lupins to get the job done.

Lupins are stunning flowers that are known for their unique shape and vibrant purple and pink colors. The most important thing that you want to focus on when planting these cottage garden flowers, is to choose a location that gets plenty of sunlight.

You will find that these work beautifully when used as flowers to contrast other colors in your cottage garden.

Lavender

This flower is a favorite among cottage garden enthusiasts, as it is iconic for this type of garden design.

Lavender as a color already adds such a nice touch to a cottage garden, which is why, naturally, Lavender flowers are a no-brainer when picking out plants.

Much like with Lupins, you are going to want to plant your Lavender flowers in an area that is going to get a substantial amount of sun. The flowers look fantastic when combined with other contrasting colors or you can plant them on their own - completely up to you! They will look wonderful in a cottage garden design regardless.

Aquilegia

This is a cottage garden flower that really stands out, as it has a bolder color and a shape that catches the eye of everyone that enters the yard space.

Aquilegia flowers look great in a cottage garden design, as their bold red is a great color to use as a contrast to all of the soft textures in your outdoor area.

Roses

One flower that you can never leave out of a cottage garden is roses. These are perhaps the most defining flower of a cottage garden design and they compliment the aesthetic of the layout so well.

What makes roses such a fantastic plant for a cottage garden design is how graceful they look but also how dynamic they are. Roses come in a variety of colors such as red, pink, and yellow, which are all perfect options to consider for a cottage garden design.

However, this color variation can also be used very strategically when laying out a cottage garden design. You can fill the gaps of areas that need more color with any of the rose variations that you have available to you. With that being said, roses also look amazing all on their own. And the smell that they will add to your cottage garden is simply divine.

Cottage Garden Shrubs

Every cottage garden needs some shrubs to fill the gaps in between the flowers that you select. This is a plant that you can get quite creative with, as there are a lot of options to consider and you will find that some are great for offering a specific type of aesthetic to your cottage garden.

There are plenty of great evergreen shrubs that fit in so well into a cottage garden. These are amazing for adding contrast to the design to help enhance the colors and textures of your flowers.

However, if you are the kind of person that wants a cottage garden that is full of life and color, then you may want to utilize flowering shrubs to add even more vibrancy to your design. You can place your shrubs around your cottage garden in a way that is relatively organized or you can let things run wild - with plants growing everywhere!

Ultimately, it is going to be totally up to you how much vegetation you have in your cottage garden. Let’s take a look at a handful of shrubs that are going to fit perfectly into a cottage garden design.

Butterfly Shrub

A butterfly shrub is an amazing addition to any cottage garden design. These amazing plants are so versatile and are great for being planted virtually anywhere in your cottage garden.

They have stunning violet and lavender-colored flowers that add a very enchanting feel to the outdoor space, which are complemented by dark green foliage.

Butterfly shrubs are going to be great for giving your cottage garden an evergreen aesthetic throughout the entire year. However, when the summer season rolls in they are going to begin to bloom and help your cottage garden come to life, as their flowers will be just as beautiful as anything else that you plant in your yard.

Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas are a crowd favorite among so many people who have cottage garden designs in their outdoor space.

These lovely shrubs are one of the most defining plants for a cottage garden design, as their soft textured flowers, which bloom in pink and purple add a very pleasing characteristic to the color spectrum of the garden.

Hydrangeas are incredibly easy to grow and will hardly require any maintenance at all. They are quite resilient and independent plants, which makes having them in a cottage garden very intuitive.

Lilac

Another must-plant shrub for your cottage garden is going to be lilac. If you feel like your cottage garden is missing a soft blue aesthetic, then look no further, as Lilacs are going to be the perfect solution for you.

What is great about Lilac shrubs is that they begin to bloom so early. You will find that their beautiful blue flowers begin to pop in your cottage garden well before the rest of the flowers in your yard - with most starting in the middle-end of spring.

This will start the enchanting look of your cottage garden early on to remind you that the most beautiful time of the year is just around the corner.

Cottage Garden Trees

Planting some trees that fit the image of a cottage garden is a great way to compliment the rest of the plants in your yard space.

There are a lot of trees that you can consider for your cottage garden, but you should keep in mind that planting a tree takes a bit more commitment than planting a flower or even a shrub in your yard.

Unlike the rest of the plants in your cottage, trees will stick around for a lot longer, which is why they should be viewed as an investment. If you are unsatisfied with a flower bed or a shrub, you can always make changes on a seasonal basis.

With trees, on the other hand, once they are in the ground, they will be much more challenging to maneuver. Here are some examples of trees that fit in a cottage garden design.

  • Plum Tree
  • Apple Tree
  • Mulberry Tree
  • Pear Tree

Fruit trees tend to be the most appropriate options for cottage gardens and they not only compliment the aesthetic but give you seasonal fruits as well. If possible, try to find dwarf options for fruit trees when considering your options, as small trees fit the image the best.

Cottage Garden Features

Your plant selection is going to be the most important aspect of your cottage garden design. However, if you want truly complete the design of this traditional garden, you need to add certain features and characteristics.

Just about every cottage garden that you see will have a certain old-fashioned look. This comes from things lying around and being aged by time. That is why any features that you add that are overly modern or pretentious simply will not fit the image of this design.

Things should feel homey when creating a cottage garden. You should reflect on the aesthetic of a grandmother’s home out in the countryside. It may be organized in a disorganized kind of way - there may be hand-me-down artifacts that have been used for decades - and there will likely be traditional materials used such as wood quite often.

With that being said, these are all characteristics that only add to the traditional idea of a cottage garden design. If you have a more modern home and simply do not have an old-fashioned aesthetic on your property, that by no means implies that you cannot incorporate a hybrid cottage garden design. Sometimes you simply need to work with what you have! Let’s take a look at some defining features and characteristics of a cottage garden design.

Pathways

Having the right pathways in a cottage garden is an iconic characteristic of this design. The pathways should have an enchanting and inviting style that is pleasant to walk on. There are a couple of different ways that you can achieve this. First, you should try to use a stone material that is not modern or too flashy.

A great way to approach this would be to have cobblestone, brick, or tiles to create paths around the garden space. You can use these materials for the primary access points around your property, as well as to the very entrance of your front door. If you want to create additional paths around your cottage garden that are more low-key, you can always opt for a convenient path made out of small stones or pebbles.

Next, you should try to create a nice trail-like shape for the pathway. A great way to achieve this is to add curves where ever appropriate. Cottage gardens are all about imperfections - with straight lines and percise measurements being completely unnecessary.

Add pathways around your cottage garden that follow a rough pattern and are inviting to walk on, as this will create a wonderful design for your yard space.

Picket Fence

There is nothing more old-fashioned than a picket fence in a cottage garden design.

You want to avoid modern barriers and fence materials that are too bold such as metal, as this will not fit in a cottage garden. A nice modest barrier such as a picket fence is going to be a perfect feature to add to the design.

A picket fence can be used to create small barriers within your backyard cottage garden design - or, you can use a picket fence around your entire property, in case you happen to be going for an all-out cottage garden design that spans your entire home.

Picket fences are easy, affordable, and have an openness to them that makes a cottage garden design so much more inviting.

Additional Artifacts

There are a lot of additional artifacts that often add character to cottage garden designs. These can be pretty random at times, as they tend to be simple items that have been used over the years that add an old-fashioned aesthetic to the design.

With that being said, these artifacts can be a bit trickier to place given that they can vary from person to person. Some examples would be things like old gardening tools and things like:

  • Old pots
  • Aged flower beds
  • Rakes
  • Shovels
  • Hoes
  • Sheds

If you are starting a cottage garden from scratch, you may be reliant on new items that do not quite fit the aesthetic of the traditional design. If that is the case, you can always try to track down some hand-me-downs or go shopping for secondhand equipment at garage sales.

About THE AUTHOR

Elsie Moore

Elsie Moore

As an experienced gardener & landscaper on my own property over the last 20 years, I'm excited to share the things I've learned along the way, as I continue to learn.

Read More About Elsie Moore