charming ways to create a character-filled outdoor space

Our favourite 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 garden. 

a close up of a flower garden in front of a house: null

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And, if you’re the owner of an urban garden, don’t be discouraged. You don’t have to live in a picture-postcard thatched cottage in the English countryside to create a cottage garden scheme! All of these ideas will work just as well on a smaller scale for a romantic, flower-filled city garden as they would in a larger rural space.

Cottage gardens typically have an informal planting scheme featuring lots of different colours for a space that’s packed with interest. Flowerbeds are bigger than you might find in a more contemporary style garden, so keep in mind that you might need to sacrifice some of your lawn to create the most successful cottage garden planting scheme. 

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. 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 more garden inspiration. 

1. Get creative with colour schemes

Garden designer Fi Boyle MSGD of Fi Boyle Garden Design shares her expert advice when it comes to colours in cottage-garden style planting. ‘Think about the colour 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 colours such as blues through to purple, with hints of pinks and white?’

Sticking to a specific range of hues will add an enchanting yet cohesive feel to your plot.

2. Plant in bulk

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. ‘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.’

3. Set the scene with your front garden

Cottage gardens aren’t just for back gardens. 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.

4. Don’t forget bulbs

‘Don’t forget bulbs, they bring another level of interest,’ says garden designer Fi Boyle. ‘Be careful how you use them – the strappy leaves of daffodils in a border can inhibit the growth of your perennials. 

‘Alliums are very reliable and come in many sizes. Also, think about smaller bulbs such as crocus or cyclamen under shrubs for early season interest.’

If you need a hand getting started, check out our guide to planting bulbs.

5. Make sure there’s winter interest

A cottage-style garden will always look stunning in the summer, but there are ways to maintain its beauty over winter, too. 

‘Think about putting in some plants that will give you structure during the winter months when there is less going on,’ says garden designer Fi Boyle. ‘Perhaps add in some evergreen shrubs or a small multi-stem tree with an interesting bark, such as a silver birch.’

You can also leave interesting seed heads, or hydrangea flowers, for added structure. Our winter garden ideas offer plenty of inspiration for creating a cold-weather haven.

6. Include a stone wall for added character

A stone wall is a lovely addition to a cottage garden, 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. Just take a look at our small rock garden ideas to discover plants that will thrive.

7. Create a relaxed feel with curved borders

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.

8. Create a meadow-like feel by layering plants

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. 

Although colour blocking is a great way to create cohesion and impact, for a wild meadow feel, layer up a variety of colours and heights. You can find our top planting suggestions in our guide to the best cottage garden plants. 

9. Choose colourful cottage garden perennials

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 try 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.

10. Add in meandering pathways

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. 

11. Make roses the star of the show… 

If there’s one flower that should take centre stage in a cottage garden, it’s the classic rose. 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. 

Autumn is the perfect time to plant bare root roses so that they have time to settle in before the coldest temperatures of winter arrive. Head over to our guide on how to plant bare root roses for our expert tips.

12. …and grow them up your walls for added impact

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. Take a look at our stunning climbing plants for a cottage garden for more ways to add interest and character to your space. 

13. Paint gates in pretty colours

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. 

14. Go for deep flowerbeds and pack them with flowers

Bigger is definitely better when it comes to designing flowerbeds in a cottage garden. Go as deep as you can so that you can fill them with colourful planting and stunning blooms that will pack your garden with scent and colour during spring and summer. 

It’s also a good idea to plant flowers right up to the edge of the flowerbeds so that over time they’ll soften the hard lines of garden landscaping ideas such as pathways or patios. 

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.

15. Choose rustic furniture

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 designs such as the best wooden garden furniture are just the ticket for enjoying long balmy nights, while a comfy rattan bench seats let you budge up to squeeze everyone in. 

16. Frame your front door with flowers

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.

17. Make a feature of your garden boundaries

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. 

18. Create a pretty seating area…

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 a romantic cottage garden. 

19. …and surround it with flowers

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. 

Sitting 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.

20. Use obelisks to add height to your borders

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 addition to weathered stone and the vibrant greens and colours of the cottage garden flowers. 

21. Grow flowers to display indoors

The beauty of having a cottage garden that’s filled with stunning flowers means you’ll have a ready supply of cut flowers to display in your house too. Growing a range of annuals such as sweet peas, zinnias and dahlias will give you beautiful, scent-filled bouquets for your home. 

Cutting flowers from plants such as sweet peas can actually encourage growth and repeat flowering over the summer months, providing they are kept well fed and watered. 

To ensure you have a steady supply over the summer months, try successional planting, where seedlings are planted out every two or three weeks so that you have plants that come into bloom at regular intervals.

22. Install a country–style she shed

If, like many of us, your garden is your happy place, don’t let the rain hold you back from enjoying it. Our she shed ideas provide tons of inspiration to create a space 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.

23. Choose traditional furniture to suit a cottage garden

Classic furniture such as metal bistro sets, wooden benches or dining sets are your go-to choices to suit classic cottage garden schemes. Nestle furniture in amongst the planting to soften the effect, and stick to natural finishes or colours such as pale greens, greys 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.

24. Create 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. 

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. 

25. Introduce quirky planting ideas 

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.’ 

26. Decorate a garden shed with vintage finds

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.

27. Embellish benches with floral cushions and throws 

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.

28: Encourage wildlife with bee-friendly plants…

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. 

29. …and add some wildlife-friendly accessories

Attract birds into your garden by hanging the best bird feeders from your trees. Go for pretty designs, such as these apple hanging shapes that won’t dominate your garden scheme. 

Head over to our guide on how to make bird feeders for top tips on making your own bird feed to keep feathered friends well fed all year round.

What is a cottage style garden?

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 colour and texture, amidst traditional materials such as stone walls and red brick edging.

Often thought of as the opposite to 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!

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.

Once you’ve got a plan, start sowing your seeds! Annuals such as poppies, cosmos or zinnias are lovely in a cottage garden. Alan Titchmarsh offers expert advice on how to sow them (in spring, or autumn), in his video about ‘How to create a cottage garden‘, created for Waitrose

Alan shows viewers how to clear a patch of soil, rake it to a ‘crumb-like’ texture and then create small, shallow trenches. Then, you need to sprinkle in your seeds and lightly cover them with the soil. Give them a water, or let the rain do the job for you, Alan says.

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 centre.

More garden ideas:

  • Small garden ideas: make the most of your outdoor space
  • Discover the best shade-loving plants for your garden 
  • The best edging plants: blur the boundaries with these choices
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