The 10 best cottage garden plants, shrubs and flowers to include in a traditional cottage-style backyard

Professional gardeners share their pick of the best cottage garden plants for a charming country-style backyard

Lilac branch and hydrangeas chosen as best cottage garden plants
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Make cottage garden plants the backbone of your borders for lasting loveliness in a country-style plot. 

Experts, professionals and garden-lovers alike all agree, the starting point of almost all cottage garden ideas is planting. Choosing the right plants, shrubs and flowers is key to creating that quintessentially relaxed aesthetic and colorful final look that is so synonymous with traditional cottage garden design.

From perennial plants that add height and scent to your planting scheme, to hardy bushes that offer an element of evergreen foliage, there's an abundance of classic cottage garden plant options to help you establish this top garden trend style in your backyard.

Our expert guide to the best cottage garden plants will help you choose the right plants for your outdoor space, with tips on where to plant your flowers and shurbs for the best results year-round.

The best cottage garden plants as chosen by experts

Granny's bonnet favorite cottage garden plant

(Image credit: Jonathan Buckley / Sarah Raven)

1. Aquilegia

Best classic country garden flower

Reasons to buy

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Available in a variety of colors
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Suitable for sun or shade
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Tolerates any soil type
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Self-seeding

Reasons to avoid

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Only flowers seasonally

For a classic country-style flowering plant that adds shape and color to your planting, this is gardener, TV presenter, and author Sarah Raven's (opens in new tab) first choice of plant. "Aquilegia, the good old Granny’s bonnet is a classic cottage garden favorite which flowers through the spring to early summer, with its nodding flowers like an elaborate hooped skirt," she explains.

"They are fairly unfussy about soil type. A neutral, moist but well-drained soil will do well, happy in full sun or partial shade." This is a very low maintenance cottage garden plant and once established it only requires watering once a week, making it one of the best garden plants for those who are new to gardening. It's all these qualities that also make this plant thrive in meadows and woodlands, where it is most commonly found.

There are around 70 different species of this perennial plant, which means there's a wide choice of colors available to suit your planting scheme. This plant typically flowers from mid-spring to summer, so make sure to plant it in early spring for best results. 

Apricot Foxgloves growing in a cottage garden border

(Image credit: Jonathan Buckley / Sarah Raven)

2. Foxgloves

Best cottage garden plant for adding height to borders

Reasons to buy

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Self-sowing
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Ideal for adding height to borders
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Broad tolerance of all soil types
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Thrives in part shade

Reasons to avoid

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Fragile in high winds

"Foxgloves make some of the very best cottage garden 'early summer' garden plants and cut flowers," explains Sarah. "If you pick the king flower – the main spire, you create lots of prince flowers and the plants will then go on flowering for longer."

The tired bell-shaped flowers are synonymous with a meadow-like flower garden, one that welcomes a plethora of pollinators to take refuge inside the petals. The statuesque spire of this much-loved cottage garden plant is ideal for planting at the back of borders to give the planting height – growing up to 4ft tall.

"Digitalis purpurea ' Sutton's Apricot' is lovely soft pink foxglove and is one of my favorite plants," Sarah shares with woman&home. This delightful variety flowers from May to July and is best planted in April. 

See our guide to the best places to buy plants online to find an online retailer that will ship garden plants, like foxgloves, to you directly. 

Philadelphus best cottage garden plant


(Image credit: Getty Images/ Ventura Carmona)

3. Philadelphus

Best large cottage garden shrub

Reasons to buy

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Suits small and large spaces
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A beautiful, powerful scent
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A good backdrop for shorter plants
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Tolerates any soil type

Reasons to avoid

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Requires timely pruning

If you can only afford the space for one large shrub in your garden, make it mock orange (philadelphus). It truly is one of the stars of the early midsummer cottage garden, and there are varieties to suit large or small borders.

While the white blooms can be single or double, all varieties have a powerfully intoxicating orange blossom or jasmine-like fragrance and make great partners for old-fashioned roses, which flower at the same time.

Try a variegated type, which has green leaves with a creamy-white margin, and Philadelphus ‘Aureus’, which has glowing golden foliage, making it stand out in a border.

At just 1.2m tall, this variety is useful in small, cottage gardens as a backdrop for shorter plants with dark green leaves.

The foliage ultimately changes to green as summer begins, but as the shrub has strong branches, it can be used to support lightweight clematis, such as ‘Niobe’, to maintain interest long after the flowers and foliage fade.

Philadelphus thrives in sun or partial shade and will tolerate any soil type, including heavy clay soil. It’s best to prune as soon as the flowers fade to encourage new growth that will carry the blossoms next year.

Fuchsia pink flowers one of the best cottage garden plants and flowers

(Image credit: Getty Images / Jacky Parker Photography)

4. Fuchsias

Best hardy cottage garden plant

Reasons to buy

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Flowers all summer
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Adds uplifting color to planting
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Nostalgic fragrance
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Can be trained to climb walls, fences, and arches

Reasons to avoid

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Needs to be semi protected from wind

Create interest in late summer borders with hardy fuchsias; the variety ‘Tom West’ is particularly striking, having variegated cream and green foliage with cerise veins, which make a great foil for the red and purple blooms.

Find it a sheltered spot in full sun or semi-shade that’s protected from cold, drying winds.

The pale gold and cream flowers of ‘Graham Thomas’ are borne all summer, not just in one flush, so it’s a good choice for small gardens.

Train it on a wall or fence as a backdrop to borders or over an arch to create a fragrant gateway.

If fragrance is a priority for you, make sure you add the sweet, smoky perfume of lavender. Use it in abundance around sitting areas to create the perfect ambiance for a relaxing summer afternoon.

Lilac branch showing an example of one of the best cottage garden plants as chosen by Womanandhome

(Image credit: Getty Images / Kazue tanaka)

5. Lilac

Best fragrant cottage garden plant

Reasons to buy

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Pretty indestructible
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Good variety of colors 
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Able to withstand cold climates
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Can be trained to climb or trail 

Reasons to avoid

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 Requires shaping

Lilac bushes have an indestructible quality along with powerfully fragrant flowers, so it's a good option if your a gardening beginner

Syringa vulgaris is the common lilac and the variety ‘Sensation’ is outstanding, with rich purple-red flowers with a distinct white edge to each petal creating a beautiful bi-color effect.

‘Carpe Diem’ is a startling new introduction with semi-double flowers opening first a delicate light blue and then fading to pinkish-mauve.

‘Madame Lemoine’, which has double white flowers, is one of the toughest varieties and able to withstand temperatures down to -20ºC. Use them as feature plants, hedging, and cut the blooms for the vase.

Along with roses, fuchsias, and wisteria, lilac can also be cleverly trained as a mini tree. Staked and carefully pruned, it will arch down in a loose, trailing curtain of leaves and flowers, making a perfect focal point in a border or container.

Close-up image of the beautiful summer flowering Buddleja, or Buddleia best cottage garden plant


(Image credit: Getty Images / Jacky Parker Photography)

6. Buddleja

Best tree-like cottage garden plant

Reasons to buy

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Attracts butterflies
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Drought tolerant
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Emits a sweet-scented aroma
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Provides good coverage

Reasons to avoid

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Needs shelter from cold winds

Another shrub that works well as a mini tree is the Buddleja alternifolia, which produces slender, arching shoots clothed in silvery-grey leaves, and blooms fragrant lilac-colored flowers in early summer.

It’s often known as the butterfly bush because, throughout the summer, its blooms, typically dense flower spikes in shades of white, red, pink, blue, and maroon, attracting clouds of Fritillaries, Red Admirals, and Tortoiseshells that come to feed on its honey-sweet nectar.

While it grows best in fertile, well-drained soil, buddleja is also very drought tolerant and will survive in some pretty tough soil conditions.

It will reach 2.4m or so, but for patio pots, there’s also the dwarf and very compact buddleja ‘Buzz’, which grows to just 90cm tall.

If you’d like something a bit different, you could also consider the sweetly scented pompom blooms of the orange ball buddleja, Buddleja globosa. It grows well in limy soil and coastal gardens if sheltered from cold winds.

Left to its own devices, it will make a massive shrub but can be pruned after flowering and shaped like a small tree.

Blue hydrangeas in cottage garden plant display


(Image credit: Getty Images)

7. Hydrangeas

Best cottage garden shrub that comes in a variety of colors

Reasons to buy

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Huge blooms
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Long-lasting flowers
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Great for cutting
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Can be grown in patio pots or raised beds

Reasons to avoid

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Soil type changes the color of the flowers

As its name suggests, mophead hydrangeas produce huge dome-shaped clusters of flowers that can stretch up to 30cm across, in blue, pink, red or white and shades in between.

They are also a good choice for coastal cottage gardens and the long-lasting flowers, which have strong straight stems, are ideal for cutting.

Mopheads bloom in early summer and the old flowers add color to autumn displays, even in gardens that see a bit of afternoon shade.

Compact mophead hortensia varieties, such as Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Altona’ are great for patio pots or raised beds where you can control the acidity of the soil.

With a hint of lime in the soil, the flowers of this variety are bright pink, but when grown in acid or ericaceous soil it will turn shades of blue.

A late-flowering shrub that will revive flagging borders is the tree hollyhock, Hibiscus ‘Blue Bird’, that produces exotic-looking, trumpet-shaped blooms up to 7.5cm across with red markings around a cream center.

It’s a good choice for partnering with dahlias and cannas to create a tropical-looking scheme in a sheltered hotspot.

Close up of Bright coral pink phygelius flower chosen as one of the best cottage garden plants for color

(Image credit: Getty Images)

8. Potting Phygelius

Best cottage garden plant for growing in pots

Reasons to buy

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Blooms all summer long
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Drought hardy
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Grows well in pots
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Great for coastal gardens

Reasons to avoid

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Severe winters will kill this plant

Great for coastal cottage gardens and patio pots, Cape fuchsia (phygelius) is a medium-sized semi-evergreen shrub that will bloom all summer long, even in a drought.

A severe winter is likely to kill this South African native, so take precautions and raise new plants from cuttings and plant out after the risk of frost is past.

For good effect, grow Phygelius x rectus ‘Moonraker’, which has creamy yellow blooms, in a night garden alongside plants with white flowers and grey foliage, or, for when the sun shines, combine it with plants with flowers in mauve and lavender shades.

This shrub is a great gift for gardeners, as you can gift it in a pot and then they can decide whether or not to plant out in their garden or keep on the patio to enjoy year after year.

Pink and purple delphinium best cottage garden plants for borders and beds

(Image credit: Getty Images / Naomi Turner)

9. Delphiniums

Best cottage garden plant for a cutting garden

Reasons to buy

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Great for a cutting garden
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Available in a variety of colors
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Easy to grow in all soil types
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Ideal for adding height to planting

Reasons to avoid

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Won't grow well in shaded areas

"No summer border or perennial cut flower patch is complete without its fair share of delphiniums," says Sarah. She describes this adored cottage garden plant, also commonly known as Larkspur, as, "the most statuesque towering spires for any garden."

This tall perennial plant, ideal for beds and borders, features tall stems packed with single or double-headed flowers, that flower during the summer months.

"Delphiniums are one of the most spectacular cut flowers you can grow. Grown from seed, this is a cheap way of introducing delphiniums into your garden and vase."

Eurybia x herveyi 'Twilight' growing in country cottage garden in a flower bed next to an outdoor table

(Image credit: Lucy Conochie Design)

10. Eurybia x herveyi (Aster ‘Twilight’)

Best cottage garden plant for borders

Reasons to buy

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Grows freely among other plants
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Good pollinator to encourage wildlife
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Offers valuable late summer color
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Will thrive in sun or dappled shade

Reasons to avoid

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Will spread if not controlled

This hardy cottage garden plant is ideal to welcome a splash of color to borders. Professional gardener Lucy Conochi, at Lucy Conochie Designs (opens in new tab) explains to woman&home, "It's an absolute must-have plant which is well-loved by garden designers, growers, and pollinating insects."

"This easy mid-height border plant will add valuable late summer color to your garden and has beautiful fluffy seed heads which can be left standing all winter," explains Lucy.

"It is less invasive than other asters, this mildew-resistant beauty can be allowed to gently weave its way through other plants. It is very versatile and will grow in full sun to dappled shade, associating well with ferns, grasses, and flowering perennials."