Cottage garden ideas: 18 ways to design a romantic outdoor space

Try these inspiring cottage garden ideas and create a space that's packed with charm and character

cottage garden ideas with a thatched cottage front garden
(Image credit: Future / Kasia Fiszer)

The best cottage garden ideas conjure up thoughts of quintessential English country gardens, offering a timeless, whimsical and pretty garden style that's widely adopted by those young and old. From overflowing flowerbeds packed with cottage garden plants to stylish seating and accessories that encourage lazy afternoons outdoors with family and friends, there's plenty of ways to create a cottage-style scheme in your own space. 

The good news is you don't have to live in a thatched cottage in the countryside to try out some of these ideas. All of them can be adapted to any space, even smaller urban gardens. Whether you want to introduce a cottage-style planting scheme, create winding pathways through your garden or design a pretty seating area where you can relax and enjoy your outdoor space, there's plenty to inspire in this selection. Read on for the best ways to capture all the charm of a country cottage garden, then head to our garden design ideas gallery for even more inspiration. 

1. Fill a cottage garden with a mix of colourful planting

cottage garden planting


(Image credit: Future / Joe Wainwright)

If there's one thing that's essential for a country garden, it's flowers. Historically the quintessential cottage garden would have evolved slowly and planting would have had no strict plan. Self seeders were welcomed, plants were propagated from cuttings, gifted by neighbours and perhaps collected from the native countryside. 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 colour. 

For best results, choose a variety of colours and heights, and layer them up to create a wild meadow feel. It really is a case of the more the merrier, so plant in abundance and watch the texture and shape of your garden evolve in years to come. You can find our top planting suggestions in our guide to the best cottage garden plants

2. Create a relaxed feel with curved borders

thatched cottage front garden

(Image credit: Future / Kasia Fiszer)

While formal gardens were laid out with parterres and terraces, traditional cottage gardens would have had no predetermined layout. There would have been little space for lawn and no hard surfacing. To capture the romance of a country cottage garden, you should avoid straight lines and 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 flowerbeds.

3. Choose colourful cottage garden perennials

cottage garden flowers

Hollyhocks, everlasting sweet peas, evening primrose and poppies are beautifully framed by a classic picket fence

(Image credit: Future / Clive Nichols)

Cottage gardens are all about abundance, so don't hold back on the flowers even if you are restricted on space. Pack your borders with a mix of perennial favourites which will bring uplifting colour year after year, such as hollyhocks, everlasting sweetpeas, poppies, and hardy geraniums. 

Ensure interest all year round by planting for each season. In winter think about cylamen, hellebore and snowdrops and plant plenty of bulbs such as daffodils, muscari, bluebells and tulips for spring colour, as well as iconic primroses. In summer, no cottage garden should be without roses, lavender, ox-eye daisies, delphiniums and foxgloves. Plant dahlias, rudbeckia and echinacea to keep the garden blooming into late summer and consider michaelmas daisies and Japanese anemones for autumn interest.

4. Add in meandering pathways

cottage garden

(Image credit: Future / Clive Nicholls)

Unlike formal country gardens, cottage gardens have a relaxed, casual feel. One way to help achieve this is to embrace sinuous pathways. Avoid geometrical, rigid materials like square paving and instead try materials which are softer on the eye such as a gravel path lined with reclaimed bricks that have a worn patina. Find more inspiration in our garden path ideas gallery. 

5. Plant plenty of roses 

roses

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

No cottage garden should be without roses. Romantic, English garden favourites, they are loved for their fragrance and classic blooms, plus there are so many to choose from and they can be grown in all sorts of positions. 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 grown over an arch or obelisk. Alternatively choose shrub or bush roses for borders, or if space is tight you can grow them in pots, too. 

6. Paint gates in pretty colours

garden planting with green gate

(Image credit: Future / Kasia Fiszer)

Add extra charm to your cottage garden by painting gates, woodwork and even wooden furniture in soft, muted colours such as pale greens and blues. These types of shades work well with pretty cottage garden planting and will add another layer of interest to your garden scheme. Find the best exterior wood paint for your garden in our guide. 

7. Go for rustic furniture

country house and garden with a wooden dining table and pretty floral table settings

@setting_pretty

(Image credit: @setting_pretty)

Create a sociable space to gather friends and family for alfresco dinners. Choosing a large solid wooden dining table is a great way to create a social hub and focal point in your garden, and it's worth investing in a quality design that'll last. Classic wooden furniture is just the ticket for enjoying long balmy nights, while a comfy rattan bench seats let you budge up to squeeze everyone in. These pretty placemats and napkins are from Setting Pretty, and they're the perfect finishing touch. 

8. Frame your front door with flowers

Cottage garden with hollyhocks

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby)

Admittedly most of aren't lucky enough to live in a charming thatched cottage such as this, but you can still give your house similar instagrammable kerb appeal by growing hollyhocks along the front of your garden or by the front door. Creating colourful spires of colour in summer, Hollyhocks like light, well-drained soil which is why they are often found close to houses. It thought that before homes were built with damp proof courses, hollyhocks would often be grown close to cottages to help take up the water.

9. Make a feature of your garden boundaries

cottage garden

Chocolate box cottage facade lined with hollyhocks

(Image credit: Future / Clive Nichols)

Fixed features and boundaries like gates, hedges and fences all help lend themselves to the overall look and feel of a cottage garden. Traditionally they would have been made from local materials, so across Britain you will find variations in vernacular design from the dry-stone walls of the Cotswolds to wattled fences in Wiltshire and white-washed stone walls of Devon. There's nothing quite like a charming white picket fence to give your garden some instant cottage garden appeal though is there? Head to our garden fence ideas feature for more advice. 

10. Create a pretty seating area...

cottage garden seating

(Image credit: Future / Jody Stewart)

After all your hard work in the garden it's important to have somewhere that you can sit back and enjoy it. With its curved details, an ornate metal garden bench would work well in romantic cottage garden. For similar designs try Wayfair

11. ...and surround it with flowers

garden seating cottage gafrden

(Image credit: Future / Joe Wainwright)

Before you invest in garden seating think about where it will be positioned. It's a good idea to position seating areas at various points in the garden so that you can make the most of the sun as it travels throughout the day. Siting a bench close to a border billowing with plants, or even on small patio or clearing within a border, will create a magical, cocooning space to relax and will allow you to appreciate the medley of aromas. 

For a timeless bench with an elegant design that would complement a cottage garden consider this iconic Lutyens bench from Waitrose Garden, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, architect of many English country homes. 

12. Use obelisks to add height to your borders

cottage garden borders with obelisks

(Image credit: Future / Kasia Fiszer)

Factoring in obelisks to your garden borders is a brilliant way to add interest, structure and to grow cottage garden plants. Use them to support traditional cottage climbers like honeysuckle, clematis and roses. We think these wooden ones painted in a soft green make the perfect foil to weathered stone and the vibrant greens and colours of the cottage garden flowers. 

13. Install a country–style she shed

white country style she shed with a chair and coffee table in a country garden

(Image credit: Protek)

If, like many of us, your garden is your happy place, don't let the rain hold you back from enjoying it. She sheds are spaces created for relaxing, doing hobbies, and just escaping the rest of the world. A traditional design like this will make for a cute-as-a-button design feature in any country cottage garden. It's the perfect way to shelter from wind (or even the sun for that matter) whilst admiring your flowers when they're in full bloom. This shed was painted in Royal Exterior paint from Protek and we're loving the square windows and little porch. 

14. Create a kitchen garden area

kitchen garden

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

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 but also for medicinal purposes. For a true cottage garden feel, grow produce in amongst the flowers in whatever space you have. If you have the luxury of more space, dedicated raised beds could be created in a sunny south-facing area. 

15. Introduce quirky planting ideas 

alternative garden planter

An old farm cart used to display plant pots

(Image credit: Future / Jody Stewart)

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 of a cottage garden think outside the box and reuse unwanted containers as planters – 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.' 

16. Decorate a garden shed with vintage finds

garden shed cottage garden

(Image credit: Future / Jody Stewart)

What better way to make the most of your garden than a little hideaway tucked away that you can retreat to with a tea and 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, helping it to blend into its surroundings.

17. Embellish benches with floral cushions and throws 

bench with pretty floral throws and cushions in a traditional style

(Image credit: Iliv)

When it comes to accessories, 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. We love these beautiful fabrics from The Observatory collection at Iliv.

18: Encourage wildlife with bee-friendly plants

Lavender flowers to attract bees

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Attract bees and other pollinators to your cottage garden by choosing the best bee-friendly plants in your planting scheme. Popular choices include lavender, foxgloves, alliums, honeysuckle and dahlias. By including all of these plants you'll not only be encouraging more bees into your garden, you'll also be helping other insects such as  moths, hoverflies and butterflies. 

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