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5 Steps to an Easy Bird-Friendly Cottage Garden

Updated on October 8, 2013
grandmapearl profile image

At a very young age Connie learned from her Grandma Pearl to observe and love backyard birds. She stills feeds and studies them everyday.

Astilbes in one of my Cottage Gardens.
Astilbes in one of my Cottage Gardens. | Source

Cottage Garden Style

Cottage garden style is a casual, colorful, easy, beautiful and cheerful celebration of flowers and herbs. I started small and continued to add to my garden. It is much less overwhelming to do ‘baby steps’, rather than to craft a large garden all at once.

Red Bee Balm and Yellow Evening Primrose
Red Bee Balm and Yellow Evening Primrose | Source

Start with Organic Soil

To reduce the amount of watering and fertilizing later, start right by using organic soil that is rich in nutrients. You will enjoy the gorgeous abundant blooms of happy plants that are thriving in ideal conditions. Healthy, well-nourished plants need little to no fertilizer.

One of the best things about this type of garden is its plant density. This dense growth keeps roots cool and moist while crowding out any weeds. Moreover, some seeds will naturally fall to the ground and provide a whole new crop of flowers the following spring.

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First Step to a New Garden

All new gardens should start the same way:

  • assess the area for the amount of sunlight it receives in a day
  • determine if the spot is normally dry or moist
  • if your soil is not ‘gardeners dream loam', add organic materials as needed to make it a great place for new growth to thrive

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Second Step: Define Your Garden Borders

  • I love the old picket fences, and incorporate them to delineate the boundaries of my gardens. I think they add to the old-fashioned feeling cottage gardens evoke.
  • Perhaps you would rather use stones or some other materials to outline your garden. That’s the beauty of a cottage garden-there are no rules except yours!

Flowers for a Cottage Garden

Candy Stripe Clematis
Candy Stripe Clematis | Source
Orange Daylilies
Orange Daylilies | Source
Purple Bee Balm and Oregano
Purple Bee Balm and Oregano | Source
White Peonies
White Peonies | Source
Bleeding Hearts
Bleeding Hearts | Source
Purple Coneflowers
Purple Coneflowers | Source

Third Step: Choose Your Plants

For me that is the most fun of the whole project. I prefer to use mostly perennial plant material, but you can certainly add annuals for a bright pop of instant color.

My favorite plant choices, which thrive in sun to part-shade conditions, include:

  • Columbine
  • Astilbe
  • Coneflowers
  • Lady’s Mantle
  • Daylilies
  • Lemon Balm
  • Bee Balm
  • Sage
  • Salvia
  • Joe Pye Weed
  • NY Asters
  • Weigela bushes
  • Climbing Roses
  • Hollyhocks
  • Iris
  • Coral Bells
  • Turtlehead
  • Peonies
  • Lungwort
  • Bleeding Hearts
  • Clematis
  • Bachelor Buttons
  • Anise Hyssop
  • Marigolds
  • Zinnias
  • Salvia
  • Calendula
  • Cockscomb
  • Coral honeysuckle
  • Lettuce (all varieties)
  • Trumpet Vine
  • Alyssum
  • Million Bells

Incorporate the plants that you love, and that work in your sunlight situation. As to choosing colors, I like to mix and match for a very informal look, as if Nature painted the picture herself.

But if you wish to use your favorite colors, or coordinate them with your house color, or use complimentary colors, then that is what you should do. Again, there are no hard and fast rules with this type of garden.

There’s something in blossom all summer long. It is so satisfying to walk around every morning and see the newest flowers that have opened.

How to Install a Soaker Hose

Fourth Step: Provide a Water Source

Wind a drip hose in and around your cottage garden to ensure your plants get all the moisture they need and you won’t have to haul out the hose at all! Water ends up where the roots can access it easily. There are inexpensive timers available at local garden centers and online. Just set the on/off time and duration so your garden is watered automatically.

Once established, cottage gardens require a lot less water than traditional gardens. Mine doubles as a rain garden, so I rarely have to water it unless we have an extended dry spell during the hottest part of the summer. Also, my cottage garden faces towards the east. It receives about 6 hours of sunlight, most of which comes during the morning hours.

Fifth Step: Mulch Your Garden

Mulching your garden is always an important step. Mulch holds in precious moisture and holds down weeds, plus it provides that finishing touch that pulls everything together. Use organic mulch like leaf mold or bark, and you have added another layer of nutrients as the mulch breaks down over time.

  • I make my own leaf mold by filling up a large black plastic leaf bag with leaves in the spring; tie it up and let it ‘cook’ in a sunny place for several months. It will break down into usable mulch and be ready for spreading on your gardens in the fall.

Cottage Gardens Attract Beneficial Insects

Bumblebees and Hummingbirds love nectar plants like Weigela.
Bumblebees and Hummingbirds love nectar plants like Weigela. | Source

Turtlehead Attracts Hummers and Beneficial Bees

Pink Turtlehead is a favorite of hummingbirds and beneficial insects.
Pink Turtlehead is a favorite of hummingbirds and beneficial insects. | Source
Joe Pye Weed makes a great landing surface for butterflies and bees.  And it forms seed heads that are used by our resident songbirds all winter long.
Joe Pye Weed makes a great landing surface for butterflies and bees. And it forms seed heads that are used by our resident songbirds all winter long. | Source
Purple Salvia attracts nectar-lovers.
Purple Salvia attracts nectar-lovers. | Source

Attract Songbirds and Hummingbirds

Plants that produce nectar, seeds and seed heads are helpful for wild song birds. Nectar plants provide nutritious food during the warmer months; then in the wintertime the seed heads supply valuable nourishment when other seed sources are scarce.

  • Birds that will eat the seeds during the wintertime: Sparrows, Towhees, Juncos, Chickadees, Doves, Finches, Quail, Thrushes, Cardinals among others

Never use toxic weed killers or chemical fertilizers. Stick with natural and organic alternatives that do not harm us, our wildlife or our water supply.

The best gardens are those that bestow beauty and fragrance for us, as well as nourishment for wildlife and beneficial insects.

Remember it is always best to use native plants. They have adapted to your particular climate and soil conditions. Native songbirds, butterflies and bugs look for those familiar and useful plants and shrubs.

Your new cottage garden will have many far-reaching benefits for you and your local wildlife. Enjoy its fragrance and easy-care beauty; and know that you have made a positive difference by creating a much-needed habitat for birds and beneficial insects.

Yellow Hollyhocks
Yellow Hollyhocks | Source
Lemon Balm is a lovely dense herb, attractive to all kinds of beneficial insects.
Lemon Balm is a lovely dense herb, attractive to all kinds of beneficial insects. | Source
Red, Pink and Orange Tubular flowers attract Hummingbirds.
Red, Pink and Orange Tubular flowers attract Hummingbirds. | Source
Butterfly Bush
Butterfly Bush | Source

Do You Choose Garden Flowers With Birds, Butterflies and Beneficial Insects in Mind?

See results

Add Your Own Finishing Touches

Incorporate a bench, bird bath, fountain, gazing globe, sundial or any other decorations that enhance your cottage garden experience.

Time to Go Shopping!

'Robin Hood' Climbing Rose
'Robin Hood' Climbing Rose | Source

Do You Garden for Wildlife?

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    • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

      Connie Smith 

      5 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Hey Irish! This weather is fabulous. Makes me want to get out and dig in the dirt, like you! In fact, I went to the garden center yesterday and just couldn't resist:) So many beautiful flowers. I go for the ones that the bees are working at; yesterday it was more salvia.

      Thank you for the wonderful comments on my gardens. Each flower shines up at me so pretty and fresh. Ain't Nature grand!!

      I'm always so pleased to see you my friend;)


    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 

      5 years ago from Upstate, New York


      I so enjoy the journey you always take me on. Your back yard is truly a slice of heaven on earth. Such stunning and gorgeous gardens! Bravo my friend and many blessings.

      Isn't this weather fabulous?! Isn't it also the greatest feeling in the world when the soil gets under the nails? I love it!

    • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

      Connie Smith 

      5 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      So true Deb, my gardens never cease to show me the awesome variety that Nature has to offer, whether it be wildlife, insects or plants! They are my cushion against all the bad things in life.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting ;) Pearl

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      The garden is such a wonderful oasis. One can mingle with all types of nature there.

    • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

      Connie Smith 

      5 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      bravewarrior, you are welcome! Good luck.

      ;) Pearl

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      5 years ago from Central Florida

      Thanx, Pearl. I'll look into the butterfly bush!

    • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

      Connie Smith 

      5 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Billy, my friend, you are most welcome! I'm pleased to see you as always! Hooray, another cottage garden to increase bird habitat--you and Bev obviously have these earth-friendly things in mind all the time, which I think is awesome.

      Your supportive comments are always appreciated, as are you. I hope your weekend is fun and peaceful!

      ;) Pearl

    • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

      Connie Smith 

      5 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Hi bravewarrior! You know I'm always glad to see you; and thank you for the supportive comments. We are kindred spirits I think, always trying to achieve the greenest and most earth-friendly solutions.

      Yes, you most definitely can grow butterfly bushes in Florida. The more sunshine these plants receive, the more prolific they are. And you can be sure they are butterfly, hummingbird and beneficial bee magnets; plus they have an amazing sweet fragrance.

      I ordered mine from Bluestone Perennials--they have lots of different colors available, as well as multicolor which is what I have shown in the photo.

      Thanks for your visit ;) Pearl

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      5 years ago from Central Florida

      This is a hub after my 'green' heart, Grandmapearl! I prefer organic gardening also and try to incorporate plants that attract birds, butterflies and bumble bees. I just love the butterfly bush - it's beautiful. I wonder if it grows in Central Florida?

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You read my mind, Pearl. My goodness you give great, detailed information in your bird hubs. This is a gold mine. We have this in our plans, but the full cottage garden won't happen until next year. I will definitely be bookmarking this hub as a reference.

      Thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us.

      Have a great weekend!



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