Summer night in a garden

Cottage Gardening
a country garden anywhere

Besides abundance of blooms, and heritage plants, what constitutes a cottage garden style? A sense of enclosure, within a fence or hedged by shrubs, is part of most of these gardens. And while there is profusion of plants, they are highly cultivated and it is not a wild garden.

You will often find structures: arches or small fences within the garden, containers of plants and vines over the doorways, and no-nonsense pathways.

A small chicken coop or rabbit hutch wouldn’t be out of place, either!

What if you like the look, but don’t want to devote yourself or your entire yard to intensive gardening? There are several possibilities: lining a driveway with the old fashioned choices of carnations, lilies, lavender, and mignonette, daisies, columbines, and daylilies. Creating an entry with an exuberant dooryard garden within a small picket fence. Tired of weed whacking under the post fences? consider the cottage flowers underneath (easy to mow around,too).

This is a garden style for those who love plants and are willing to invest a little time.

Is A Quaint Cottage Garden for You?

Traditional Choices Of Old Fashioned Herbs and Vegetables

When you look through this list of plants you are probably thinking, “That would look like a regular old vegetable garden or herb plot.” And you would be right, these were the types of plants which originally would have found a place tucked in among fruits trees, shrubs and -occasionally- brightly colored flowers. It was later, when the Victorians re-imagined them, that Cottage gardens began to look like flower borders on steroids.


List of Cottage Plants

Common Name:Botanical Name:Plant Use:
AngelicaAngelica archangelicaUsed for food and medicine. Grows 3- to 6-feet with interesting yellow-green flowers and seeds
BeetBeta vulgarisUsed for its greens, as well as root.
BorageBorago officinalisA beautiful plant with blue star-shaped edible flowers, tastes like cucumber
BurnetPoterium sanguisorbaMedicinal and culinary herb. Good in salads
CabbageBrassica oleracea var. capitataA healthy vegetable.
CalendulaCalendula officinalisEdible yellow, gold, and orange flowers. Also called pot marigold, was used to flavor stew
CarrotDaucus carota sativaMany forms, eaten fresh and cooked.
ElecampaneInula eleniumRoot used to treat deep cough and phlegm.A huge plant with daisy form flowers.
FennelFoeniculum vulgareCulinary and medicinal plant with edible seed, leaf and flower. Has an anise taste, has a purple form.
FeverfewParthenium chrysanthemumUsed as a tea, or tisane for its ability to aid digestion and ease migraines.
GillyflowerDianthus caryophyllusFragrant edible and medicinal flower known as pinks or clove gillyflower.
HouseleekSempervivum tectorumUsed to patch holes in roofs. Known now as Hens and Chicks or Houseleeks.
HyssopHyssopus officinalisMedicinal and culinary herb used for its properties as an expectorant and for flavoring. Good with Chicken dishes.
LeekAllium porrumSometimes planted as a companion border around a bed of tender salad greens to keep out garden pests
LettuceLactuca sativaThe Cos and Romaine varieties are common salad ingredients.
Mustard or Garden CressBrassica junceaAn addition to salads, sometimes used as cooked greens.
OnionAllium cepaCommon kitchen vegetable; also companion planted to keep out flea beetles and aphids from salad plants.
ParsleyPetroselinum crispumA kitchen flavoring known for its diuretic properties.
RosemaryRosmarinus officinalisMedicinal and culinary herb. Reputed to be good for memory.
RueRuta graveolensSilver-blue foliage and yellow flowers, extremely bitter. Once used medicinally, not recommended now.
SageSalvia officinalisEdible leaf and flower. Used in cooking, has many reputed values
SorrelRumex acetosaCulinary and medicinal; sour-flavored leaf used in salads, soups and sauces.
Southern WoodArtemisia abrotanumFragrant plant used to keep away moths, and for worming (poisonous).
TansyTanacetum vulgareMedicinal and culinary herb in former times. Small amounts used to flavor baked goods.
ThymeThymus vulgarisCreeping plant with edible flowers and leaves has numerous forms. Used for culinary and medicinal purposes.
VioletViola odorataFlowers used in salads, fragrant oils and medicines.
Winter SavorySatureja montanaSavory pot herb with edible leaf and flower, especially good with bean dishes.
WormwoodArtemisia absinthiumTall, silver-gray medicinal plant. Used for insecticidal purposes and as strewing herb, don’t eat it

Cottagers were practical people. Used as food or medicine, this is list of garden plants traditionally found in old cottage gardens.

Plants for the Traditional Cottage Garden

Lady in the garden

These were homely gardens with space given over to a variety of vegetables and herbs for remedies.

Many are beautiful in their own right and mixed together are anything but mundane.

By rearranging the planting style the same plant could make a kitchen garden like the one at the Château de Villandry, or an Herb Garden … it all depends on the use and display of the the plants.

Many of these plants are used in perennial garden plans, like fennel and the wormwoods, but it is the way they are combined and packed into the space that sets apart this particular style of garden.

A book with good pictures can be a great inspiration in designing your own sweet cottage garden.


Celia Thaxter's garden

Celia Thaxter made a seaside cottage garden that became quite famous due to her illustrious guests (Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Greenleaf Whittier). Her small garden overflowed with flowers, many identifiable in paintings of Childe Hassam. His brush capturing the tumble of blooms and -almost- their very fragrance on the air.

She became famous for her book, “An Island Garden“. Here are a few quotes from Celia Thaxter:

The very act of planting a seed in the earth has in it to me something beautiful. I always do it with a joy that is largely mixed with awe. I watch my garden beds after they are sown, and think how one of God’s exquisite miracles is going on beneath the dark earth out of sight. I never forget my planted seeds. Often I wake in the night and think how the rains and the dews have reached to the dry shell and softened it; how the spirit of life begins to stir within, and the individuality of the plant to assert itself; how it is thrusting two hands forth from the imprisoning husk, one, the root, to grasp the earth, to hold itself firm and absorb its food, the other stretching above to find the light, that it may drink in the breeze and sunshine and so climb to its full perfection of beauty.

“Some seeds take longer than others to germinate: for instance, Hollyhocks, Marigolds, ten weeks Stocks or Gillyflowers, Rose of Heaven, Zinnias, and many others come up in from three to five days if all circumstances are favorable, that is, if it is warm, moist, and sunny enough; Asters, single Dahlias, Sunflowers, Cornflowers, Mignonette, Coreopsis, Morning-glory, Picotee Pinks, Wallflowers, Sweet Williams, and by far the greater number of annuals appear in from five to seven days; Balsams, Pansies, Begonias, Drummond’s Phlox, Poppies, Verbenas, Thunbergia, and many others, in from eight to ten days; Columbines, Flax, Artemisia, Feverfew, Campanula, and so forth, in from ten to twelve days; Maurandia, Forget-me-not, Petunia, Lantana, Nicotiana (an exquisite flower, by the way), in from twelve to fifteen days; Coboea, Gloxinia, Primroses, Geraniums, and others, in from fifteen to twenty days; Perennial Phlox, Clematis, Perennial Larkspurs (which are heavenly!), and various others, take from twenty to thirty-five days to germinate; and as for Lupines and Lilies and Ampelopsis, and the like, they take a whole year! But common gardeners don’t try to raise these from seed, fortunately.”

“Ever since I could remember anything, flowers have been like dear friends to me, comforters, inspirers, powers to uplift and to cheer. ” -Celia Thaxter

A List of Flowers in Celia Thaxter’s Garden

Celia Thaxter, renowned for her seaside cottage garden, inspired many gardeners of her time through her book. Following are a list of flowers that she mentions growing in her garden. Visited by artists of the day, Childe Hassam painted one of a well known picture of it.

  • * Akebia, Vine
  • * Anemone, Japanese
  • * Artemesia
  • * Aster
  • * Balsam
  • * Begonia, Tuberous
  • * Calendula (Pot Marigold)
  • * Campanula, Persifolia
  • * Candytuft
  • * Chrysanthemum, Annual
  • * Clematis, Paniculata
  • * Cleome (Spider Flower)
  • * Columbine
  • * Calliopsis, Tall
  • * Coreopsis, Perennial
  • * Cornflower, Blue
  • * Cosmos
  • * Dahlia, Single
  • * Daisy, Wild
  • * Day Lily, Celia’s
  • * Delphinium
  • * Dianthus (Pinks)
  • * Dianthus (Sweet William)
  • * Digitalis (Foxglove)
  • * Forget-Me-Nots
  • * Flax, Annual Blue
  • * Flax, Crimson
  • * Flax, Perennial Blue
  • * Four O’ Clocks
  • * Gaillardia (Blanket Flower)
  • * Geranium
  • * Gilia, Headed (Queen Anne’s Thimbles)
  • * Helianthus, Annual Sunflower
  • * Helianthus, Perennial
  • * Heliotrope, Garden
  • * Heliotrope, Marine
  • * Hollyhock, Single Old-Fashioned
  • * Hops, Japanese, Celia’s
  • * Lantana
  • * Larkspur, Single
  • * Larkspur, Blue Cloud
  • * Larkspur, Giant Imperial
  • * Lavatera, Pink & White
  • * Lavender
  • * Lily, Auratum
  • * Lily, Easter
  • * Lily, Rubrum
  • * Lychnis
  • * Marguerite
  • * Marigold
  • * Mignonette
  • * Mina Lobata
  • * Morning Glory, Heavenly Blue
  • * Nasturtium
  • * Nicotiana, Alata
  • * Nigella (Love-in-a-mist)
  • * Pansy
  • * Passionflower
  • * Penstemon
  • * Peony, Red
  • * Petunia, Single White
  • * Phlox, Drummondii (annual)
  • * Phlox, Perennial White
  • * Pimpernel, Wild Scarlet (Celia’s)
  • * Plumbago
  • * Poppy, ‘The Bride’
  • * Poppy, Carnation
  • * Poppy, Corn
  • * Poppy, Eschschoizia (California)
  • * Poppy, Heirloom
  • * Poppy, Iceland
  • * Poppy, Oriental
  • * Poppy, Peony
  • * Poppy, Shirley, Mixed
  • * Ragged Robin
  • * Rose, Damask
  • * Rose, Lancaster
  • * Rose, Polyantha, ‘The Fairy’
  • * Rose, Rugosa
  • * Rose, Scotch
  • * Rose, York
  • * Salpiglossis (Painted Tongue)
  • * Scabious (Pin Cushion Flower)
  • * Snowdrops, Celia’s
  • * Stock (Gillyflower)
  • * Sweet Pea, Annual
  • * Sweet Pea, Perennial
  • * Sweet Rocket (Hesperis)
  • * Thunbergia (Black-eyed Susan Vine)
  • * Venidium
  • * Verbena
  • * Violet, Odorata
  • * Viscaria (Rose of Heaven)
  • * Wallflower
  • * Wisteria
  • * Woodruff, Sweet
  • * Zinnia

Gertrude Jekyll:

Gertrude Jekyll Portrait

Gertrude Jekyll by William Nicholson

Gertrude Jekyll was a great plantswoman who immensely influenced our gardening styles of today. Often drawing upon the cottage plants and planting of old to create her garden “pictures” in the “wild garden” manner that William Robinson popularizd. She is considered the preeminent garden stylist in the Cottage Garden genre.

“When the eye is trained to perceive pictorial effect, it is frequently struck by something – some combination of grouping, lighting and colour – that is seen to have that complete aspect of unity and beauty that to the artist’s eye forms a picture. Such are the impressions that the artist-gardener endeavours to produce in every portion of the garden” -Gertrude Jekyll

Her books are still available today, and she remains an inspiration for those who love the English garden style that she represents. While the nomenclature of her plant choices may change, the design principles are timeless.


Read more about Gertrude Jekyll

Thoughts on Such a Garden

Behind a Wall
I own a solace shut within my heart,
A garden full of many a quaint delight
And warm with drowsy, poppied sunshine; bright,
Flaming with lilies out of whose cups dart
Shining things
With powdered wings.

Here terrace sinks to terrace, arbors close
The ends of dreaming paths; a wanton wind
Jostles the half-ripe pears, and then, unkind,
Tumbles a-slumber in a pillar rose,
With content
Grown indolent.

By night my garden is o’erhung with gems
Fixed in an onyx setting. Fireflies
Flicker their lanterns in my dazzled eyes.
In serried rows I guess the straight, stiff stems
Of hollyhocks
Against the rocks.

So far and still it is that, listening,
I hear the flowers talking in the dawn;
And where a sunken basin cuts the lawn,
Cinctured with iris, pale and glistening,
The sudden swish
Of a waking fish.

~Amy Lowell

old roses


One could not possibly compile a list of plants for a cottage style garden and forget roses! They are an integral part of such a place, not only for their traditional role as plants for medicine and flavoring, but for their fragrance, and the sheer abundance of bloom.

Not just any sort of rose is part of the Cottage Garden list, though.

Hybrid teas are distinctly out of place, while the old-fashioned, the shrub, and climbing sorts are, all, most welcome.

Heritage roses bring a certain healthiness and structure that most modern roses lack. Still, with their reintroduction to gardeners, breeders like the famous David Austin have brought back many of their best qualities in new colors, long bloom seasons and all those things that we came to equate with the modern rose…but none of the liabilities.

Quicklist: hints and tips

  • Cottage gardens are “contained” gardens. Within a picket fence, in defined “rooms” of walls or hedges.
  • They are intensively planted, without sacrificing the health of the plants.
  • Plantings give a feeling of “fullness”, billowing over each other, weaving though, tumbling over fences and creeping into pathways.
  • Often “humanized” with paths, benches, and various pots, sometimes small sheds, and arches (over a gate, or a bench)
  • For all their abundance they look “cared for”, not wild.

A selection of books: