An English Country Cottage Garden

Early cottage gardens met the needs of their inhabitants – bursting with vegetables, herbs, fruit and livestock, flowers filled the gaps and were intended for medicinal or culinary use. Over time flowers have become predominant in cottage garden design, with climbing scented roses and honeysuckle, simple daisies, pinks and self sown annuals packed in the English cottage garden has come to be dominated by colour and scent at its peak in summer.

Use _Garden Path Originating in Medeival times cottage gardens have moved from survival towards the aesthetic. It wasn’t really until the mid 19th century with the  emergence of leisure and the importing of specimens from round the globe that the” fashion” for cottage gardens was idealised and taken on by the middle classes and garden designers/landscapers alike.

Cottage Garden Flowers (1)Gardeners and designers from Gertrude Jekyll, William Morris and Vita Sackville-West to name a few were proponents of the development of an idealised natural country garden style – the English cottage garden – where the old fashioned became fashionable.

Cottage Garden Flowers (7)Essential elements of a cottage garden are that the overall look appears artless and yet as with any garden design there is a basic form of paths, borders and walls beneath the unstudied look of flowers, herbs and vegetables jostling for space; where seemingly every inch is used for planting and the plants themselves are as abundant in their  rich variety as they are in colour.

NemissiaTraditionally English cottage gardens are packed with violets, primroses and calendula, sweet williams, bobbing alliums, hollyhocks, carnations, sweet scented lavender, dancing verbena, marigolds, daisies, jostling with salvia, lilies, foxgloves, roses, honeysuckle, clematis clamber, arch and trail, fruit trees blossom and herbs of rosemary and thyme nestle in amongst self seeded annuals of lobelia.

Use Helenium - CopyThere are no rules, no must haves and don’t dos, the cottage garden is for plantsmen and women to simply enjoy and tend their plot of land. The overall look is casual, yet the look belies the maintenance, planning and timings of a passionate and experienced gardener. A cottage garden smacks of abundance, exuberance and bursts with life; so that in the full summer blaze a cottage garden glows and hums with a glory of its own.

Cottage Garden Flower Border 1

A Sussex Cottage Garden

No matter how much I enjoy seeing, being in or tending an English Cottage Garden, I rarely find peace or tranquility there – my mind never truly settles, like the bees it’s is in a constant flux and buzz, rarely settling on one plant for long – moving along and drinking them in. So by the time I head for home and to my own garden I’m invariably exhausted, thrilled and experiencing a sensory overload. The chaos and clamour for attention that the plants exude tires me out.

Cottage GardenAnd as I reach home from a house and garden sitting weekend I breathe my sea air, hear the gulls and wander around my own walled garden. I drink in the night air, slowly relaxing, running over the ideas and inspirations I can bring home and finally settling on the back doorstep to revel in the tranquility of home.

Use Hanging basket

But who am I kidding? My urban garden may be green and have ferny dells but it has it’s moments of teeming chaos with bright and breezy dahlias, where showy cannas pop, heleniums fizz, rudbekias glow, sweet peas clamber and echinacea sparkle. So no matter my influences and desires of modernist green orderly simplicity I have a 21st century cottage garden after all! where nothing is too serious or precious and everything is special.

Of course the only difference is that the beans, potatoes, garlic and greens are on the allotment so my walled garden is far removed from medieval gardens of yore and is a truly modern affair.
Cottage Garden Flowers (2)

The photos for today’s blog were taken last year in my friends Sussex cottage garden and as I plan what to sow and grow this year in the garden I wonder how a cottage garden makes you feel, on what emotional level does it touch you, if at all whether you live in the heart of a town or a teeny village?



  • I live in a city of about 210,000 people so country gardens are rather scare though there are people in the city who use their small properties quite creatively with everything from fruits to vegetables. I’d love to visit your friend’s garden to enjoy the scenery.

  • I love English country gardens, or the things I associate with them: I love old-fashioned flowers, roses and delphineums and sweet peas, lily of the valley and love-in-a-mist. Daffodils. Camellias, Rhododenrons. Alas, I live in a dry zone that is getting drier. I will have herbs because sage, rosemary and oregano grow well here. And my friends are getting me a Gravenstein apple tree as soon as the drought is over…

    • I see what you mean about the association of “old fashioned” flowers – but like most things Sharyn they get “re-invented” or rediscovered at least. I just looked up Gravenstein apple – it sounds delicious – just picture the apple blossom in spring too!

  • I love the harum-scarum of a cottage garden, this n’ that dropped last season by an hos planting, or tucked in occasionally by me or a bird’s fly-over deposit or left by a bobbin’ robin pecking along to a hidden birdbath. And the odd left to grow interesting weed. My sister-in-law who lives here part time wants a formal garden & grumbles about the chaos. She really attempts it every 3-4 yrs. We are complete opposites in our garden tastes. The birds & bees are in league with Me!

    • Isn’t it fascinating that one person’s joy is anothers chaos?! I sometimes long for formal, for a green structured garden, which is when I start dreaming of owning a large plot of land where I could create lots of different gardens to satisfy my gardening dreams !

  • Hi Promenade Claire,

    I live on a farm in the Southern US. These lovely pictures of a cottage garden make me feel happy and satisfied. There’s something about observing its bright busyness, knowing that the soil and seeds and bees are doing all the work while I watch, that makes me feel utterly content. Of course, there’s also great contentment when it’s my turn to work in the garden. I wouldn’t have the view with out the work – it’s a perfect partnership – creates a small, beautiful world outside my window and inside me.

    I like this quote so much – “…I have a 21st century cottage garden after all! where nothing is too serious or precious and everything is special.” May I credit you with it and put it on a photo – linking back to your site from mine?

    Best, Emily Grace

    • Hi Emily Grace and thank you for your kind comments. You are right the activity in the garden starts in the soil and works its way up to the flowers and bees. Constant movement.
      and you are welcome to use the quote and credit back. I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

  • This post makes me have hope that the icy wind, rain and snow will soon be gone and happier sunnier days will be here. Days of cleaning, hoeing, raking and planting.

  • Stunning, Claire – British Cottage Garden ….. so full of vivid colors. What a fantastic garden your friends have.
    And it would be that beautiful without the severe job going into it, even if they look like they are wild growing. Your photos are so stunning … I’m not a gardener, but I enjoy others very much. Thanks for the history behind. It here a difference between country garden and cottage garden??? My favorite shot is the daisies.

    • I’m not sure there really is a difference between a country garden and a cottage garden…. in my head I think of cottages as being in the country so I suppose they are the same – but that is in my head! I guess the cottage garden is a gardening style….

      • Anyhow … your friend’s garden is stunning … and your photos are magic.
        I’m amazed how much time people put into their gardens over in UK. Over we have very well kept gardens too, but they are more made by and for connivance. I always stop and have a good look when I see a fantastic garden, the passion and time …

    • afternoon! It is a very lovely garden to sit in, but it does take a lot of work to maintain – I know I’ve spent some time watering and deadheading there 🙂

  • I rarely get to see a cottage garden, but when I do I adore it, envy it, explore it, and take hundreds of photos… but it isn’t “me”! There are lots of elements in it I like, and perhaps if I had a different site… who knows! Your photos and this whole post is so cheerful – just thinking about flowers and herbs does me good! Thanks! 😀

    • I understand what you say about admiring a cottage garden but it not being “me” – I think that’s where I’m currently at with my garden, wanting modern, site related, but with plenty of flowers…. a conundrum

  • This post makes me smile. I could imagine drawing, reading and just chilling with these beautiful flowers surrounding me 😀

    Choc Chip Uru

    • that would be lovely to see some drawings of a garden, a gazillion years ago I used to dabble….. maybe one day I’ll pick it up again

    • I’m finding it fascinating to read of other peoples English country gardens around the globe. Imagining one in the bush has my mind boggling a bit – but in a good way!

  • I’ve always loved an English country garden because it’s not contrived. I have one really sunny spot on our city lot and I have cultivated it with lovely flowers like lavender, asters, Black-eyed Susans, lambs ears and peonies!

    • Your sunny spot with classic plants and flowers sounds a delight, and I’m sure the local bee population are just as appreciative of it as you are

  • I love cottage gardens for how happy they make the bees. When they look like a wildflower field, I’m happy to sit and watch the bees at work.

  • This was such a beautiful post. Like you, I love the “chaos” in a country garden. I love that for something that is supposed to be carelessly put together, it is so carefully planned and groomed and photogenic! I love when a garden — country, walled, formal — can take me to another place and time.

    • There is a huge amount of work that goes into these gardens, from the preparation, the planting, the maintenance…. makes me tired just thinking about it 🙂 and I think that is one of the beauties of a good garden, that it can take you somewhere else… somewhere good. Hope the winter sunshine is reaching you Kevin

  • I absolutely love both your story and the lovely pictures you have published. I do live semi-rurally with my own small garden amicably nestled without fences into that of others and the bigger parklands all around us . . . my style is slowly becoming country garden-like but a lifetime of perfectly stylized city gardens with flower beds just so, colours carefully chosen, heights oh so accurately measured, is still partly me. Lack of time, always working and studying [and being on the computer] and so forth have gradually led to a relaxation of mind and acceptance of more artlessly arranged greenery . . .:) ! More fun . . .

    • from the description of your garden Eha ” gradually led to a relaxation of mind and acceptance of more artlessly arranged greenery ” it sounds a delight. City gardens do seem to have their own unique character don’t they, much more studied I think, but no less attractive

  • I quite like cottage garden style but it is interpreted in so many different ways and I couldn’t say I like them all! If well done, it should be a place where your heart and soul find peace.

    • I’m with you Annette, I don’t think I’d like them all either. But isn’t that the joy of gardening, in that what pleases one person leaves another cold…. it’s about finding what you love in gardening and for me I’m still searching 🙂

  • When we first moved into our house over two decades ago, this is what we wanted. Old world cottage garden, no borders, rambling plants and pretty flowers. We seem to have done a full 180 now – we only plant what we can eat, and most of our flowers come from potted succulents! 🙂 Looking at your photos though, it does make me wistful.. xx

    • It’s funny what we think we want and what we end up with isn’t it Celia. I don’t think I ever had me labelled as a cottage garden fan, but I do appreciate them for all their beauty

  • Oh Claire, what a beautiful Cottage Garden that is! I’m truly inspired to get some flower seeds into the veggie patch just for a bit of colour amongst it all. Just gorgeous

  • I dream of turning into a slightly funky Miss Marple with a little cottage garden all of my own. Clearly there would be an agile (and probably quite good looking) young gardener to tend my veggie patch and do all the digging! Oops – did I just reveal a middle aged fantasy out loud?!

    • a funky Miss Marple…… tell me when you do and I promise not to visit as there’s bound to be murder mysteries in the village…. a bit like Murder she wrote where everytime she visited friends some one would be bumped off!
      and as to revealing your middle aged fantasies out loud…… yes you have 🙂

  • Thank you for this, Clare. We are all in need of some color in our yards and, though that’s still weeks away, your wonderful photos are a beautiful reminder of what’s to come. (Well, maybe not in my yard but hopefully somewhere nearby.)

    • Hi John, colour is definitely needed (especially after our respective winters), but I have to say my favourite colour is green 🙂

  • Blooming things don’t do so well for me in Houston, so when I am in Maine where things grow so much easier, I haunt the nurseries for beautiful flowering plants. They give me such pleasure and I never tire of walking outside to see what new bloom is there.

    • Locations really do affect gardens don’t they. I’m sure your Houston garden is a delight too – just very different from a cottage garden (remember I’m envious of the heat!!)

  • What beautiful pictures! I love a good English Country garden. When I was growing up we’d drive by a house with one. The house was plain but the effusive garden a standout that made the whole scene. And speaking of utilitarian beginnings, we did brew up some rose hip tea last fall our of our yard, just on a whim.

  • Cottage gardens make me feel happy. I do know what you mean about overload, I felt a bit of that at Great Dixter. However, even in a busy chaotic garden I find I am able to focus on just one flower, or the bees gathering pollen, and then I do feel peaceful.

    • I see you understand. I found with Great Dixter I could look at the Yew hedging or get a sense of space and peace from looking onto the orchard areas.

  • Talk about painting a picture in the mind of your readers! This post {photography + words} is simply lovely! There’s a local place that advertises they have an english garden… now I’ll have to go check it out.

    • Thank you Caitlin for your kind words. I’m sure the local place would be lovely to see and wander around, if just for something “different” 🙂

  • A cottage garden is truly a wonderful thing to me, Claire, and I loved your pictures and your narrative, rambling and colourful in the best possible way, just like these gardens. We’ve been very focused on growing food in our new rural location (on the edges of a small town of 5,000 people), and not so much on ornamental plants that might simply make us feel good as we look upon them. I’ve been gradually adding a few prettier plants to our garden as I try to rectify this. I’m a lifer in this regard – it will be a work in progress for many a year!

    • “I’m a lifer” sums up gardening to me!
      I’m gradually adding more flowers to my allotment – it’s good for me, it’s good for the eyes and the bees love them too, I see that as a win-win !

  • I love all kinds of gardens, as you know, but the classic cottage garden is undoubtedly the favorite I come back to again and again! Such a lovely post, my dearest! 😀

    • Morning Kathryn, I wonder why it is that we return to cottage gardens as a style of gardening? what is it that really appeals to us? ……..answers on a postcard!

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