Garden makeover: an uninspiring plot transformed into a modern cottage garden

With its beautiful cottage garden planting scheme and split-level layout, this rectangular plot is now a stunning space. Come and take a tour

modern cottage garden
(Image credit: Future)

Dreaming of a modern cottage garden, the owners of this Dorset property turned their attention to the outside space after six years spent renovating the interior. As part of the renovation work, they had added a kitchen extension with bi-fold doors that opened out to a spacious patio area. But they were unsure what to do with the rest of the garden. 

After some expert design advice, they decided to create a split-level design with steps from the patio up to a separate area for relaxing. The garden now combines the best of modern design with a nod here and there to the traditional. Keep reading to see how this once unpromising rectangle of lawn was transformed into a stunning modern cottage garden, then head over to our garden design ideas for more brilliant ways to transform your own outdoor space. 

The plan for the redesign

modern cottage garden

The garden was made more user friendly by dividing it into split-level spaces, each with its own look, feel and purpose

(Image credit: Future)

The original garden was a dull rectangle that was dominated by a large apple tree, which took up lots of space and cast shade over everything so little grew. It had a sloping incline that went up towards the back of the garden and was mainly laid to lawn. Mike Reeves of Greenman Services, advised the couple to introduce the new  split-level design. 

The owners knew they wanted to introduce lots of cottage garden ideas, but they also wanted the garden to be low-maintenance and to create the feel of a private space. They favoured a predominantly white planting scheme as they loved the simplicity this look offers. By cleverly splitting the garden into different areas this creates the impression that the plot is much larger than it is. This layout gives the garden character and divides it naturally into areas for eating, sitting and relaxing. The middle part of the garden is laid to lawn, with steamer chairs for lounging in the sun. 

Redesigning the patio dining area 

cottage garden with a patio and garden furniture

The patio creates an extra room that blends seamlessly with the interior

(Image credit: Future)

The patio feels enclosed and sheltered, thanks to the retaining walls surrounding the next level of the garden. To connect the two spaces and add a seamless indoor-outdoor moment, one of the best paving ideas is to use the same flooring inside and outside, so the owners opted for a smart flagstone tile. The patio feels like a natural extension of the home and the owners use it as an extra room. The smart furniture and oversized planters adds to the contemporary cottage garden ideas

Opting for cottage garden plants

modern cottage garden

Dreamy cottage garden planting framed against the backdrop of a rendered wall painted in Farrow & Ball 'Bone' 

(Image credit: Future)

Borders packed with the best cottage garden plants make the garden look lush and established. Fully planted beds also stop weeds taking hold. Ferns, evergreens and annuals like sweetpeas, cosmos daisies and snapdragons fill the garden with structure and form to create a real cottage garden look. Sweetpeas look particularly good scrambling up an obelisk as well as drenching the air with scent. The owners stuck to a cool all-white palette as far as possible. You'll find lots more planting ideas in our guide to garden borders.

Making the cottage garden planting work

modern cottage garden

Fast growing clematis are a great choice for scrambling over walls and trellises so they blend in with the planting quickly

(Image credit: Future)

The garden is zoned into distinct areas. Climber-clad trellis fencing screens the garage and is covered with dainty clematis flowers, which are a hardy climber that's great for softening fences and other structures. Adding a rendered wall as part of the garden redesign provides privacy as well as a modern feel. Eventually it will be mostly covered by clematis and jasmine. It’s painted in Farrow & Ball’s Bone, a good match to coordinate with the patio paving that doesn’t compete with the greenery. Head over to our garden wall ideas for more inspiration for your garden boundaries. 

Creating a curved pathway 

modern cottage garden

This path fits with the garden's neutral colour palette well and blends into the garden effortlessly

(Image credit: Future)

Stepping-stone slabs in a cool neutral tone interspersed with gravel chippings is a great garden path idea for creating an informal and low-maintenance route through the garden, while the lush planting spills over to soften the lines. Stylish agapanthus add height and structure and are a great choice if you're looking for bee friendly plants in a cottage garden.

Mixing new and old

modern cottage garden

Modern planters in metal and concrete add a cool sculptural touch to contrast with the more traditional planting in the borders

(Image credit: Future)

The garden includes some very individual touches to add personality. Eye-catching modern planters are dotted around throughout the space, filled with white powder puffs of agapanthus or clipped domes of evergreen foliage for a smart and modern look. An old stepladder, bought for a few pounds at a local market, has been turned into an eye-catching vertical plant stand. But what makes this garden so special is the mix of modern and traditional ideas. 

modern cottage garden

A modern trellis and a vertical plant stand made from an upcycled stepladder adds personality to the garden

(Image credit: Future)

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Sarah Wilson
Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson has been a lifestyle journalist for many years, writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for Gardeningetc.com, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, as well as Country Homes & Interiors and Modern Gardens magazines. 


Her own (small urban) garden is a work in progress  - so many ideas, not enough space to cram them in. Hero plants include her ever growing collection of ornamental grasses, black bamboo and ferns, and the perennials like salvias and penstemons that come back reliably year after year. All very restrained though when in fact she'd love to pack her garden with gaudy dahlias and giant cannas, so these are top of her wish list for what to grow next.