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Cottage gardens

Updated on January 4, 2014

Introduction

What is more laid back and lovely at the same time than a Cottage style garden? Filled with color and old fashioned favorites, a well planned cottage garden will bring a classic look to your beds!

*I'd like to just note here that most photos used were found on Pinterest and can be seen together in on my boards. Visit http://www.pinterest.com/cottageeclectic/ to view them and more!

Quick definitions guide

Annuals-plants that live only one year. Some will self seed, meaning they will drop their seeds and new plants will grow back the following year.

Perennials-plants that live more than one year. Most will NOT bloom in their first year.

Biennials-plants which bloom in their second year, but only live for two years. Many are self seeders and will still return year after year in your garden.

Zone-A way to determine, based on your climate, if a plant will grow for you or not.

Split/splits-usually a way of describing a clump of a type of plant that has been divided from another of the same. For instance, if you have a large clump of daisies, you may "split" that clump into several smaller ones. Useful mostly with plants which will spread.

Planning the bed location

If you don't have an existing bed, start by laying out the area you'd like to use. Keep in mind the light in that area and the requirements of plants you'd like to get. When we bought our cottage (yes, I live in an actual cottage!) there had been gardens at some point long past, but most of what was left was weeds. I chose to lay out a new main bed, with irregular borders to keep it informal looking. You can choose straight lines and still achieve a cottagey feel, but I find even just a little curviness helps relax the style a bit. Here are some examples of both an informal, irregularly shaped edge and a more formal one.

Bed Ideas

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Curved BorderIrregular PathwayStraight BorderStraight Pathway
Curved Border
Curved Border
Irregular Pathway
Irregular Pathway
Straight Border
Straight Border
Straight Pathway
Straight Pathway

Bed prep

Once you have decided on where you want the bed, remove any grass or weeds. We tilled ours then picked out the clumps, but it might have been better to just scrape it off with a shovel (then till to loosen the dirt up)! Next, you can either jump into planting, or edge the beds. I used natural stones, but there are many other options like commercial edging, wickets or brick. You can get creative here and use slices of wood, driftwood or whatever else you can dream up! I didn't amend my soil at all, since I want whatever I grow to be as low care as possible.

Border Ideas

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Single layer of large stonesStacked stonesSolid WoodWickets
Single layer of large stones
Single layer of large stones
Stacked stones
Stacked stones
Solid Wood
Solid Wood
Wickets
Wickets

Budget planting

If you've ever perused the garden departments of stores, you will know that plants aren't usually cheap and starting an entire bed from scratch can be COSTLY! This was a problem for me, since we had just bought our place and couldn't expend all of our extra money on plants. I found a few ways to fill my beds on the cheap.

1) Check your local freecycle, craigslist, bulletin boards, etc for free plants. Other, more established gardeners will find that their gardens are filling up and need to "split" their plants to keep things from becoming over crowded. Some times they will give these "splits" away. You'll find these are typically common plants like Daylilies, Daisies, Black Eye Susans and the like. Don't be tempted by the newest introductions and write off the old standbys. There's a reason these are still staples in many gardens-they work! If you do this, try to remember how wonderful it was to receive these freebies when your own gardens start to grow in and pass along the wealth to the newest gardeners in your area! We found it helpful to bring some plastic totes, shopping bags and shovels when picking up free plants. Many times we would end up digging our own in return for free flowers, so make sure you're ready to work! We've gotten Hosta, Daisies, Day Lilies and even a rose this way. Be super courteous and thankful and you might even get more than you originally expected!

2) Search the same resources for inexpensive splits. Even if someone isn't willing to give away their extras, they might sell them cheap. This is great because you'll be getting established plants with good root systems that are used to your climate (rather than greenhouse grown plants from a box store that came from who knows where). You'll also get a chance to talk plants with a fellow gardener and get tips!

3) Start your own plants from seed. It takes longer than just picking up a pot at the nursery, but it's cheaper! Some will need to be started in trays or winter sown (we'll talk about that in a bit), others can just be direct sown in spring or fall. Some easy starters that you can just toss down and water are Cosmos, Zinnia, Catch Fly and Bachelors Button. Just remember that almost all perennials won't flower the first year. Check below for some Ebay auctions that are pretty inexpensive and offer great seeds (we buy from these sellers ourselves).

4) Look for plant swaps near you! These are SO fun! they can be run a bit differently depending on who is organizing them, but the basic idea is that you bring a plant or plants that you don't need and swap it for ones you want. We attend one every year with a group of maybe 20 or so other gardeners and it's a great way to find new plants and meet other folks that love to garden. Some of them limit you to being able to take only the same number as you've brought, the one we go to does not. Pretty much the common thread is not to bring any invasives, and if you have something which will spread aggressively (like Lily Of The Valley) to note that on the "tag" so others will know. Try to label each pot with as much information you can, like name, light requirements, if it's an aggressive spreader, etc.

5) Garden club sales. Even if you don't join a garden club, their sales can help you fill in your beds. Most are advertised on their site (if they have one) or in a local paper.

6) Roadside carts/stands. A lot like #2, these are usually other gardeners that are thinning their plants out and looking to sell them, generally cheaper than any nursery. I've gotten some great deals this way on some unique plants. Sometimes things can be misnamed or not labeled at all, so try to stick to plants you know.

7) Small local nurseries. Probably the most expensive, but surprisingly many smaller places are less expensive than the big box stores. There are three local to me that have pint pots less than $3 a piece, and their quality and selection are wonderful. I've gotten great plants like Rudbeckia Cherry Brandy, Echinacea Pow Wow (wild berry and white), Lavender and others from them. One doesn't even had a website, so you might have to check your phone book or take a ride around to find them. There are plenty of over priced places too, so don't stop with trying one or two-and ask around for hidden gems when talking to other gardeners!

Cottage Garden Plant Suggestions

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Love in a mistVeronica Royal CandlesGaillardia Arizona SunLavenderCosmosDelphinium Magic Fountain MixEchinaceaCoreopsis "jive"Little Spire Russian Sagedames rocketAlliumYarrow
Love in a mist
Love in a mist
Veronica Royal Candles
Veronica Royal Candles
Gaillardia Arizona Sun
Gaillardia Arizona Sun
Lavender
Lavender
Cosmos
Cosmos
Delphinium Magic Fountain Mix
Delphinium Magic Fountain Mix
Echinacea
Echinacea
Coreopsis "jive"
Coreopsis "jive"
Little Spire Russian Sage
Little Spire Russian Sage
dames rocket
dames rocket
Allium
Allium
Yarrow
Yarrow

Some Seeds

We've bought seeds from this seller for the past two years. Great deals!

More seeds!

This is the other seller on Ebay that we've used with good success. Plus the prices and shipping for the seed quantities are great!!

Planting

Remember that the idea of cottage gardens is informal and simple. Try not to create a pattern when planting. Your main goal should be simple:taller in back and shorter in front. Just try to make sure you're mixing bloom times so you can stretch from spring to fall!

Some cottage gardens in bloom

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Winter Sowing

I'm not going to get really in depth about this method here, if you look below there is a list of "useful links" and in there is one for Wintersown.org. Follow that for a LOT of info on this way of starting seeds! Basically, winter sowing is exactly what it sounds like-you are starting your seeds in the winter. Simply use containers like gallon milk jugs and pick seeds that germinate well this way and you'll get a jump start on your summer garden while the snow is still falling! Great for those of us that start dreaming of what to plant while still putting logs on the fire to keep warm!

Other thoughts

When I planted my gardens, I tried to choose old fashioned favorites for ease of care and a kind of long lived feel. But I also looked for long bloomers, as well as plants that attracted hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. One day last spring as my sundrops began to open I walked out to find every bloom busy with bees! I selectively harvest my lavender to leave wands for the bees too. It is very popular with the honey bees-the photo shown here was taken in my garden.

Useful links

Various links to other sites that might be helpful when planning your cottage gardens.

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    • profile image

      james hill 6 months ago

      I love cottage gardens & I started mine seven years ago, please send me pictures of cottage gardens because you can not ever get enough of different ideas from others......Thank you!

    • JimSandra Hill profile image

      JimSandra Hill 6 months ago

      I love your page, thank you so much!

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