Cottage garden ideas: 24 ways to create a character-filled outdoor space
Our stunning cottage garden ideas are perfect for designing a backyard that's full of flowers and romantic charm
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Our favorite cottage garden ideas are all about creating a beautiful space that’s packed with soft flowers and scent. From overflowing borders filled with cottage garden plants to pretty accessories and seating that adds instant charm, there are plenty of ways to create a cottage-style vibe in your own plot.
A cottage-style garden is basically a very informal and traditional type of plot, where flowers steal the show. We're talking voluptuous borders full of color and texture, amidst traditional materials such as stone walls and red brick edging.
Often thought of as the opposite of clean-cut, contemporary gardens, cottage gardens are romantic, whimsical, and have more of an 'anything goes' attitude. Traditional cottage gardens would have been full of edible plants and even livestock. You'll still find the odd ornamental vegetable in cottage-style borders nowadays, but less chance of cattle!
And, if you're the owner of a small, urban garden, don't be discouraged. You don’t have to live in a picture-postcard thatched cottage in the English countryside for this type of garden design. The look can work just as well on a smaller scale for a flower-filled city garden.
24 cottage garden ideas for charming plots
Whether you want to create winding pathways, design a pretty seating area, or introduce more cottage garden plants to your space, there's plenty to inspire you in our selection.
1. Introduce tall features to layer up the view
Whatever garden style you're going for, it's always wise to consider the vertical space. Using plants and features of different heights helps to create interest at all levels for a fuller, more impactful display.
Obelisks are a good climbing plant support idea that suit a cottage garden well – whether placed in a large container or amongst other blooms in a deep border. Sculptures can also provide height and character, as can a smart garden building or one of the best trees for small gardens, such as this birch.
We also like the use of Corten steel in this small plot – for both the edging and the central water feature. It brings warmth and contrast against the pale gravel, as well as structural appeal.
2. Create shapes with topiary
Topiary is tons of fun to play around with, and not too tricky with a bit of practice. In a cottage garden, try adding neatly-clipped evergreens to provide a sense of structure against all the lush blooms – whether they're framing a doorway, lining a pathway, or containing a bed.
There are all kinds of shapes to try, from cones to clouds. Here, a cottage garden patio is kept simple yet elegant with the white flowers – including lupins, a cottage-garden classic – contrasting against the shades of green.
3. Use natural landscaping materials
Cottage gardens take a relaxed feel in comparison to sleek, contemporary plots. A great way to enhance this vibe is to add handmade features, made from natural materials, into the mix.
For instance, garden edging made from woven hazel has an artisanal appeal and is perfect for putting alongside borders to subtly contain all the flowers within. We love the laid-back curves used here too, for that softer look.
4. Go for easy-grow perennials
There are tons of perennials that make perfect choices for cottage-style, low maintenance garden borders. Think hardy geraniums, for starters. They're ideal for pollinators and available in a wide range of stunning varieties from the prolific purple 'Rozanne' to the elegant 'Kashmir White'.
Other plants that will come back year after year include nepeta with its spikes of violet blooms and aromatic foliage, as well as Alchemilla mollis with its pleasingly-scalloped leaves and lime-yellow flowers. As demonstrated above, they make a delightful summer duo for the border, especially with a rambling rose as a backdrop.
Although you may be tempted to fill a cottage-style garden with every plant you can find, it might be wise to hold back ever so slightly. 'Make a list of the plants you want to include, then go back over the list and tick the ones you most want,' says garden designer Fi Boyle (opens in new tab). 'You may be a self-confessed "plantaholic" like me and simply want everything, but it is definitely best to limit the palette. Less is more, as the saying goes.
'By having groups of the same plant repeated through a border you create a rhythm which helps the border to hang together and feel less busy,' she adds.
5. Position a bird bath amongst the blooms
Cottage gardens are a celebration of vibrant colors and life, so why not encourage feathered friends to pay a visit to your plot?
One way to do so is by introducing bird bath ideas amongst your borders – old stone designs will fit right into the theme and provide a visual focal point. What's more, watching the birds flit to and fro as they take a drink or wash their wings will bring delight to any onlooker.
We love how this design has been surrounded by hot-hued blooms – including the likes of marigolds and geums.
6. Create an air of mystery with hidden gateways
Garden gate ideas come in all shapes and sizes, but more traditional-looking designs can make lovely additions to cottage-style plots. This wooden one is a good example with its classic metal detailing, but picket-style looks work well, too.
Punctuating an old stone wall and surrounded by plenty of climbing plants and luscious borders, it adds a real sense of intrigue to the scene. If you're looking to separate garden 'rooms' or simply provide a greater sense of security from the outside world, then this is definitely an idea to consider.
7. Make a kitchen garden area
Traditionally, the purpose of the cottage garden was to grow staple produce like peas, beans, cabbages, onions, leeks and carrots, but also a wide array of herbs used in cooking and for medicinal purposes.
So, for a true cottage-garden feel, grow produce amongst the flowers in whatever space you have. If you have the luxury of more space, dedicated raised garden beds could be created in a sunny south-facing area.
8. Embrace classic charm with a greenhouse
Grow-your-own zones don't have to be well-tamed in a cottage garden – wilder looks are all part of the charm. However, you can still opt for a smarter style if you prefer, while sticking to the theme. Just take a cue from this scene above.
Red brick walls, raised beds made from sleepers, and a jumble of vintage terracotta pots all offer a country-classic vibe that still feels laid-back. As well as all your favorite veggies and herbs, try training sweet peas up a home-made support of sticks for a shot of irresistible color and scent. Or, have a go at espaliering a fruit tree for a fall harvest – it's a great approach if you're a little short on space.
If you're a keen gardener, you may want to consider greenhouse ideas, too. This glorious build not only looks the part, but will also be hugely practical when colder weather comes around.
9. Create a tucked-away retreat in your cottage garden
Have our summer house ideas got you tempted for one of your own? Undoubtedly, a calm and quiet retreat amongst the flowers is a lovely addition for any garden, so why not introduce one to a cottage-style plot?
We love how this ornate design can be spotted through the generous flower beds in front, which only add to its sense of privacy. Add a comfy sofa or chair inside, a small table, and perhaps a vase of freshly-cut blooms as a finishing flourish – it'll be your new favorite spot before you know it.
10. Add a pretty arbor
Good cottage garden ideas need to include somewhere to sit, so that all those flowers can be appreciated fully.
A pretty bench – wooden or metal – will do the job just fine, especially when kitted out with a ditsy-patterned cushion or two. But, for a more sheltered approach, consider opting for garden arbor ideas.
This blue-hued design has got us head-over-heels, and of course, the climbing rose only elevates the look further. Tuck it to the side of your plot in a sunny spot for a real destination point.
11. Plant up hanging baskets
By now, you'll know the importance of flowers in a cottage garden. But, if space is at a premium, it can be tricky to create that sumptuous look whilst still being able to use the area for seating and entertaining.
Enter hanging basket ideas – a fabulous way to utilize the verticals in a garden – whether you have a small courtyard, patio, or even just a balcony.
Fill with colorful summer favorites such as petunias, pelargoniums and lobelia. Then, hang from a bracket, a hook, or even your fence railings for an instant pick-me-up for your plot. Don't forget that you can switch them up as the seasons change, too – heather and cyclamen make a lovely pairing for fall containers, for instance.
12. Opt for a relaxed feel with curved borders
While formal gardens were laid out with parterres and terraces, traditional cottage garden layouts would have been much less predetermined. There would have been little space for lawn and no hard surfacing.
To capture the romance of a classic cottage garden, try to avoid straight lines and instead, factor in plenty of deep, curved borders for planting. Curved landscaping always creates a more natural and relaxed feel that allows you to meander along pathways through the flower beds.
13. Set the scene with your front garden
Cottage garden ideas aren't just for backyards. Why not set the scene with your front garden, too? If you're lucky enough to live in a period property such as this, billowing borders of soft flowers will provide the perfect setting to complement the architecture.
But, even for modern houses, a cottage-style front garden will provide a wonderful welcome for you and your guests.
14. Create a meadow-like feel by layering plants
Historically, the quintessential cottage garden would have evolved slowly and planting would have had no strict plan.
Self-seeders were welcomed and plants propagated from cuttings (just like in our guide on how to take cuttings from plants). They would have also been gifted by neighbors and perhaps collected from the native countryside (although the latter may get you in a spot of trouble nowadays). All would have been planted in whatever space was available with little thought to hierarchy or height, which resulted in a magical jumble of shape and color.
Although color blocking is a great way to create cohesion and impact, if you're really after a wild meadow feel, layer up a variety of hues and heights. Or, split your garden into two zones – one more naturalistic and carefree than the other. Our guide on how to plant a wildflower meadow may come in handy.
15. Add in meandering pathways
Keep embracing that relaxed feel with it comes to planning your cottage garden paths.
Avoid geometrical, rigid materials like square paving, and instead, try materials that are softer on the eye. Think, for example, a gravel path lined with reclaimed bricks that have a worn patina, or a design like this, which combines bricks with bark chippings.
16. Add romance with roses
'Arguably, no cottage garden summer would be complete without roses and their perfume,' says the RHS (opens in new tab). We agree – a rose garden is perfect for that cottage-style look.
With their abundance of pretty floral sprays, climbing or rambling roses are brilliant for softening harsh walls or fences. And, they can be used to bring height and structure when grown over an arch or obelisk. The RHS suggests 'Madame Alfred Carriere' with its creamy-colored, repeat-flowering blooms.
Alternatively, choose shrub or bush roses for borders, or if space is tight you can grow them in pots, too.
17. Paint gates in pretty pastel colors
Add extra charm to your cottage garden by painting gates, woodwork and even wooden furniture in soft, muted colors such as pale greens and blues, or gentle pinks.
These types of shades work well with pretty cottage garden planting and will add another layer of interest to your garden scheme. To get started, take a look at the best exterior wood paint in our buying guide.
18. Frame your front door with flowers
Admittedly, most of us aren't lucky enough to live in a charming thatched cottage such as this. But you can still give your house similar curb appeal by growing hollyhocks along the front of your garden or by the front door.
Showcasing jolly spires of color in summer, hollyhocks like light, well-drained soil – which is why they are often found close to houses. It's thought that before homes were built with damp-proof courses, hollyhocks would often be grown close to cottages to help take up the water.
19. Choose traditional furniture to suit a cottage garden
After all your hard work in the garden, it's important to have somewhere that you can sit back and enjoy the view. An ornate metal garden bench would work well in a romantic setup – match it with a coffee table for somewhere to pop your cuppa.
Classic furniture such as the best bistro sets, or wooden benches or dining sets, are other go-to choices to suit cottage garden schemes. Nestle furniture in amongst the planting to soften the effect, and stick to natural finishes or colors such as pale greens, grays and blues to help them blend in with the background.
You want your planting to be the star of the show rather than a bright and bold item of furniture that could detract from your beautiful blooms.
20. Mix up your planters
Traditionally, the cottage garden was a humble space worked for necessity and crops would have been grown in anything that came to hand. To capture the quirky charm, think outside the box and reuse unwanted containers as garden planters – just ensure you drill holes in the bottom so that the soil can drain freely.
In his book Cider with Rosie, Laurie Lee describes his mother's cottage garden in the Cotswolds in great detail and observes how, 'she also grew plants in whatever would hold them – saucepans, tea-caddies and ash tins. Indeed she once grew a fine crop of geraniums in a cast-iron water-softener.' Use whatever you can find and line them up along a path for a characterful scene.
21. Get creative with color schemes
Garden designer Fi Boyle shares her expert advice when it comes to colors in cottage garden style planting: 'Think about the color scheme and decide what you want,' she says.
'Do you want a hot border filled with oranges, yellows and reds, or do you want softer colors such as blues through to purple, with hints of pinks and white?' Sticking to a specific range for your garden color scheme will add an enchanting yet cohesive feel to your plot, so give it a try.
22. Decorate a garden shed with vintage finds
What better way to make the most of your garden than a little she shed hideaway tucked away that you can retreat to with a good book?
Brighten up the interior with a lick of paint and furnish with a couple of comfy armchairs. In the make-do-and-mend spirit of a cottage garden, use the structure to support rambling plants which will also help soften the building.
23. Screen your space with a stone wall
Stone garden wall ideas make lovely additions to cottage gardens, for a timeless, countryside look. It also provides a useful divider between 'rooms' of your garden, or for added privacy and shelter.
You can plant it up with foliage, succulents, moss, and even tumbling flowers such as erigeron, for a softer, fairytale-like feel.
24. Embellish benches with floral cushions and throws
When it comes to accessories for cottage garden ideas, floral fabrics are your friend. From outdoor cushions to throws and rugs, choose designs in soft pastel shades and pretty patterns to add interest to your space.
Natural materials such as cotton, linen and bamboo will be soft to touch and in keeping with the natural country vibe. Don't forget about table linens, too, for your next vintage-style garden party.
How do I start a cottage garden?
Start with a plan – where are your borders going to go, what shape are they going to be?
'Think about the aspect of the border – in other words, which way does it face? You can assess how much sun it will get or if the border is in shade most of the day,' says garden designer Fi Boyle. This will help you choose which plants go where.
'Do you know what the pH of the soil is? If not, do a test as some plants are fussy about the type of soil they grow in,' she adds. Our guide to soil types has more advice should you need it.
Once you've got a plan, start sowing your seeds. Annuals such as poppies, cosmos or zinnias are lovely in a cottage garden. Perennials like scabious or penstemons are also beautiful additions and will get bigger and better every year. You can usually plant them from small pots bought from the garden center.
Pippa is Style Editor for Period Living magazine and spends many a weekend exploring the Cotswolds for decorating shoot ideas. When she's not writing about homes and gardens for Period Living and Homes & Gardens, you'll probably find her pottering on her Gloucestershire allotment, called Pippa's Plot, where she has cultivated a stunning cutting garden so she can grow flowers for styling her own home and interiors shoots.
- Holly CrossleyActing Deputy Editor
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