Whether it’s roses tumbling over an arbor, a planter filled with heavenly scented lavender, rustic rattan chairs, or a quirky little bird house for our feathered friends, cottage garden ideas are one of the most popular design choices for outdoor spaces at the moment.
A fixture in the top garden trends for the last few years, the popularity of cottage gardens is yet to wane as the relaxed aesthetic, intriguing layouts and colorful planting choices intrinsic to cottage garden design continue to capture the imaginations of many and appeal to those who want a laid-back garden space with minimal maintenance required.
Here, garden designers, plant experts, landscapers and more share their top tips and cottage garden ideas that will help you achieve this sought-after aesthetic.
What is a cottage garden?
The cottage garden look is a mix of key elements including densely planted flower beds, weathered stone patios, winding brick paths, and rustic design elements such as wooden gates, fences and arbors.
Cottage gardens are designed to be jam-packed with a jumble of beautiful colorful flowers, that will bloom for as long as possible, plus are often highly scented and stacked with nectar to attract pollinators like butterflies and bees.
"A beautiful cottage garden is a nature-friendly, seasonal space filled with color and beauty. It's packed with scented flowers to pick, and delicious vegetables and salads to harvest," explains plant expert Sarah Raven (opens in new tab).
Inspiring cottage garden ideas to try in your own backyard
1. Incorporate curves into your cottage garden layout
"When considering how a cottage garden layout should be, aim to incorporate loose natural curves as opposed to strong geometric lines," says Penelope Walker of LLevelo Garden Design (opens in new tab). "Cottage gardens are innately romantic, so gently flowing pathways winding between the planting will contribute to a 'conceal and reveal' type layout and result in a garden that doesn’t give all its secrets away at once."
To get the look in your own garden, think about introducing a meandering path or curvy flower beds to break up rectangular shapes. Another idea is adding a curved bench to a seating area, while introducing stepping stone paths and rose archways will give the impression there is more garden to discover.
2. Get the cottage garden planting style right
A key step to creating an idyllic cottage garden is to choose a soft profusion of the best garden plants and flowers to form the heart of your cottage garden design, then layer up the look with furniture and accessories to create a delightful space packed with color and scent.
"Think sweet shop colors for the planting," adds Penelope. "When it comes to color in the cottage garden, more is more!"
An easy way to get the cottage garden look is to do repeat planting, so choose your favorites and plant them in groups, then continue the theme all around the garden. Get into the habit of buying several of each plant to fill out a space. Try planting in groups of threes, fives, and sevens.
The secret to having a cottage garden that looks great all year round is to create a naturalistic look that includes masses of perennials, which come back every year. Look for perennial plants at the garden center or for a budget-friendly option ask neighbors and friends to divide clumps of their own perennials for you.
You can also introduce fruit and vegetables to the mix. And don't forget a small apple or lilac tree to add to that country garden feel.
Discover the best places to buy plants online in our handy guide to find an online retailer that will deliver cottage garden flowers and shrubs near you.
3. Go for an iconic picket fence
Tap into traditional cottage garden ideas with a classic, white wooden picket fence. The design has long been a favorite as it offers an attractive option for marking a boundary without blocking the view. Add one to your backyard as an easy way to get the cottage garden look.
Also known as palisade fencing, the latest developments in modern materials mean that you can now achieve the wooden fence look without the upkeep. Look for vinyl (PVC resin) or wood-plastic composite picket fence panels in white that are durable and low maintenance as you don't have to paint them.
Once your fence is installed, all you need to do is plant a mass of blooms like hollyhocks and sweet peas that will peek over and through the slats to get the cottage garden look to perfection.
4. Frame your porch with pretty flowers
Extend your cottage garden ideas to the front of the house by incorporating elements of planting around your front porch. This will create a lovely welcome every time you return home.
Try framing doors and windows, both front and back, with pretty collections of flowers and foliage in colors that match the exterior of your house. Choose classics like lupins and cornflowers and plant them in loose drifts to get a look like this one.
You could also add a pair of planters with lavender to give your entrance the standout factor, or choose something rustic looking like reclaimed chimney pots to plant flowers in. Check out reclaim yards or eBay for vintage finds.
5. Add the dramatic spires of cottage garden favorites
If you want drama, opt for attention-seeking plants and flowers with striking vertical lines, as they will always command attention and help to create strong focal points in your planting.
"No cottage garden is complete without the statuesque towering spires you get from plants like lupins, delphiniums, and foxgloves, which also make spectacular cut flowers for the house," says Sarah. "When you think of cottage gardens, you also think of hollyhocks lining a path or next to a gate, and they're one of the best cottage garden favorites."
As well as coming back every year, the other brilliant thing about hollyhocks is that they're self-seeders so are a great choice if you're on a budget.
6. Soften paths with low growing flowers
Plants that spill over paths are key to creating a relaxed cottage garden feel, introducing softness and movement to blur boundaries. "Try lining paths with Alchemilla Mollis (Lady's Mantle)," suggests Sarah. "It's a pretty little plant with lacy lime-green summer flowers and fan-shaped leaves that's invaluable as part of your cottage garden planting."
Dainty daisies that self-seed into all the nooks and crannies along with herbs like creeping thyme are also traditionally found bordering paths in cottage gardens. It's an easy look to achieve as you buy one plant and then watch as it spreads around. Erignon 'Profusion' (Mexican fleabane) is perfect for this. "It has masses of daisy-like flowers with a hint of pink,' says Sarah. 'It's also perfect for softening steps with curtains of daisies."
7. Choose rattan for stylish outdoor dining
Create a sociable space, an outdoor living room idea of sorts, for alfresco lunches as part of your cottage garden ideas. Choosing a large, solid wood dining table is a great way to create a focal point in your garden. Invest in the best outdoor furniture with a quality design that will last for years and age well, rather than cheaper alternatives.
"For smaller spaces, it’s important to choose furniture that blends with the surroundings," says Tim Pennell of Bramblecrest (opens in new tab). "If you have a period property, the traditional look of outdoor rattan is a good choice. Alternatively, a teak garden bench will always lure you outside, whatever the season."
Take care of your rattan furniture by keeping the material clean, protecting it from the sun, and investing in a cover so it will last for years.
8. Pack your plot with scented flowers
Wafts of scent turn your garden into a magical place to spend time as well as attract butterflies and bees. The scent of plants like lavender is a timeless feature of cottage gardens. Plant lavender bushes near a path so you can brush your fingers over the scented flowers as you pass by..
The fragrance from roses scrambling over an arbor will envelop you as you sit underneath, while a twiggy wigwam of sweet peas drenching the air with their old-fashioned scent is a classic. Introducing sensory experiences like this will add to the feeling that you've created a country retreat. Other cottage garden favorites for packing scent into borders include frilly-petalled garden pinks.
9. Give your shed a cottage garden makeover
Fancy weekend paint project? Why not give an existing shed a makeover that works the cottage garden look. Create a standout shed that doesn’t take away from the natural beauty of its environment but does create a statement in the garden.
Just as sage green is taking over interior paint color trends this year, it seems shades of green are a key color for gardens right now too. "Greens, stony grays, and oak tones are all great color options for cottage gardens," explains Jimmy Englezos, a DIY expert at Ronseal (opens in new tab). "These shades fit naturally with their environment, so blend in well into any country garden setting."
It's a satisfyingly budget friendly option too, as it's amazing how a fresh coat of paint can transform a tired shed. Just remember to prep well first with plenty of sanding to make sure the wood is ready for its paint makeover.
10. Accessorize with vintage pieces
Introduce quirky planting ideas using vintage finds such as zinc or galvanized pails and milk churns, and pair them with rustic chairs and old watering cans for a distinctly 'Cottagecore' aesthetic.
"Cottagecore is seeing a surge in popularity, with the trend offering a stylish aesthetic and conveying feelings of lived-in homeliness, as well as a sense of rustic charm," says Sam Hood, co-founder, and chief creative officer at Amara (opens in new tab).
Explaining how to take this popular interior design trend outdoors, Sam says, "Introduce rustic style through careful use of accessories scattered around your outdoor space. When choosing the right styles to fit your aesthetic, it’s important to go for options that fit the rustic theme."
Any old pails or milk churns you find will need drainage holes in the bottom to prevent your plants becoming waterlogged.
11. Create a kitchen garden area to grow your own
Every traditional cottage garden has an area for growing vegetables. For a true cottage garden feel, try growing produce in amongst the flowers in whatever space you have. You can even grow them in pots.
If you're a keen gardener you might want to consider a greenhouse too. A cottage garden greenhouse provides the perfect opportunity to get a head start on growing your own edibles, now a big post-pandemic trend. "It's decades since we've seen such an interest in growing your own and becoming more self-sufficient," says Tom Barry, CEO of Hartley Botanic (opens in new tab).
Adding a greenhouse to your backyard will not only lend itself to cottage garden design ideas but it will also enable you to grow a greater variety of produce, as it lengthens your growing year.
12. Switch up your alfresco dining look
Tablescaping for special occasions and garden parties is a great opportunity to showcase the best of your cottage garden ideas. Work a rustic look with bold botanical designs that echo what's growing in your garden. Layer up your own floral display on your outdoor table with vintage floral motif designs.
Gather foliage and flowers during a foraging session to dress your outdoor table country-style for a traditional garden party theme. "For celebrating summer evenings in a cottage garden, adorn your table with the surroundings of the countryside. To decorate, pick some homegrown flowers and greenery and showcase them in a jug," suggests Portmeirion's (opens in new tab) Andrea Waters.
How do I start a cottage garden from scratch?
Cottage gardens are traditionally simple and regular in layout, with a path to the door bordered by rectangular beds packed with loose, naturalistic planting. Hedges are used to divide the garden into enclosed spaces with different planting themes.
Choose natural stone, reclaimed bricks, setts, and cobbles to add structure and encourage moss, lichen, and spreading plants like scented thyme to fill the gaps.
Gravel pathways and white picket fences also suit most cottage garden ideas, while romantic arbors or arches with roses or honeysuckle scrambling over them can be used to frame entrances and seating areas.
Do cottage garden flowers come back every year?
Many cottage garden flowers come back every year. The secret is to include lots of perennials, which grow year after year. Choose classic cottage garden plants like lupins, delphiniums, hollyhocks, roses, lavender, and honeysuckle to get the look.
"Good old Granny’s bonnet (Aquilegia) is a cottage garden favorite which flowers through the spring to early summer, with its nodding flowers like an elaborate hooped skirt," says Sarah. "Geranium 'Rozanne' is one of the very best perennial geraniums with large violet-blue flowers and handsome leaves that flower for months." Happily, both return year after year too.
What shrubs go in a cottage garden?
The best cottage garden plants will ensure long-lasting loveliness throughout the seasons. Use low, clipped box hedging and topiary to define borders and create an evergreen framework. Evergreens give year-round interest and structure, and provide interest when other plants die back.
How do you make a cottage garden look good in the winter?
Cottage gardens always look stunning in summer, but you can keep a cottage garden looking good during winter too with the right planting approach. Many of the flowers in your garden will have interesting seed heads, so don't be too quick snipping them off with the secateurs. Instead, leave them to lend an interesting sculptural element to your winter garden.
Choose evergreen shrubs and smartly clipped topiary to add structure, or small trees with interesting bark, brightly colored leaves, and clusters of berries, as these will look good all year round.
Sarah has been a lifestyle journalist for many years, specializing in writing about gardens since 2015. She has written for Gardeningetc, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, as well as Country Homes & Interiors and Modern Gardens magazines.
Having studied introductory garden and landscape design as well as a course in floristry, Sarah is currently putting the skills learned to good use in her own space where the dream is to establish a cutting garden.
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