Cottage gardens and cottage garden flower borders are delightful sights to behold, particularly during high summer. This is when many of the different types of flowering perennials used to create that ‘look’ are in full flower.

The term ‘cottage garden’ is used to describe a joyful, informal style of planting. Here, many different types of flowering plants, fruit and vegetables all jostle happily together side by side. This style is thought to have originated from villagers throughout the UK working at their local grand houses. They would come home with cuttings, seeds and unwanted plants, which they then planted in their gardens. And, as they mainly lived in cottages, the term ‘cottage garden’ evolved to describe that unique style!

Choosing the right plants

The secret to a successful cottage garden scheme is to make sure you include a mix of shapes and heights. For example, bowl-shaped pink flowered peonies, upright spires of lupins, foxgloves and delphiniums. And the massed mounds of tiny, pollinating insect attractant flowers, of salvias and gaura.

Globe thistle cottage garden

To embrace the ‘cottage garden’ look, most plants should be herbaceous perennials/ annuals that die down later in the year. This means that the garden or flower border may not give you year-round interest. Although many perennials, such as evening primrose and globe thistle, can provide extended interest. Even into autumn and early winter with their ornamental seed heads and stems.

Plants for structure in a cottage garden

If you want the garden or flower border to have extended interest, then structural plants are great. They won’t fight for attention with the joyful jumble of flowers during the summer months.

Many ornamental grasses, such as silver grass, (Miscanthus), produce interesting seed heads which last until the early new year. The bushy evergreen sweet box (Sarcococca) is a great choice for part shade areas and delights in the winter with its sweetly scented flowers. Another option is to include deciduous shrubs with brightly coloured winter stems, such as dogwood (Cornus alba).

Don’t forget woody shrubs like lavender, but don’t be tempted to plant them in straight lines or bunched groups!  They need to be dotted, randomly throughout the border. It’s the absence of any pre-designed plan and random planting that lets the flowers tell their own story.

Miscanthus silver grass

Herbaceous perennials

The majority of plants in a cottage garden are herbaceous perennials, (plants that don’t develop a woody structure,). Most of which die down late autumn, reappearing each following year. There’s a huge choice, in a wide range of different colours too!  Lupins, delphiniums and phlox are three iconic examples that should be included in every cottage garden scheme.

Hardy geranium

Hardy geraniums are other, ‘must have perennials’.

These range from the sprawling, brightly coloured G. Psilostemon, to the neat, low-growing, ground cover G. ‘Mavis Simpson’.

Check for specialist nurseries in your area in addition to good Garden Centres.

They usually have a ‘cottage garden plants’ section for you to home in on.


Sweet peas, love in a mist and ox-eye daisies are just three varied examples of beautiful, annual, cottage garden plants. They will grow and flower profusely throughout the summer in the same year as they are sown.

Cosmos seashells cottage garden

Cosmos are another great choice, flowering from early summer right the way to the first frost. They’re also available in many colours, including white, rich-red, and purple, plus different flower types; single, semi-double, double and quilled.

The flowers from C. ‘Seashells Mixed’ have beautifully quilled petals and are a perfect choice for this style of garden. Alternatively, C. ‘Purity’ produces large, pure white flowers known to attract butterflies, moths and other pollinating insects.

Cosmos 'purity'


Including plants that readily self-seed will not only be money-saving but also do the placing and planting work for you!

Granny’s bonnet (Aquilegia) are old-fashioned, cottage garden plants with, as their common name suggests, bonnet-shaped flowers. Easily grown from seed they flower from May until June making them the ideal late spring choice.

They will not only happily self-seed around the garden, but often hybridise amongst themselves meaning that you’re likely to see different shades and colours randomly appearing over the years. A. chrysantha has beautiful soft yellow flowers with striking, extended, spurred petals.

Granny's bonnet
Hollyhocks for cottage gardens

The statuesque, upright flower heads of foxgloves and hollyhocks are a different type of example of prolific self-seeders. And their self-seeded progeny will also weave themselves artfully throughout the flower border.

Forget-me-nots, lady’s mantle, honesty, and Californian poppies are examples of low-growing self-seeders. Nasturtiums will provide sprawling bursts of bright colour throughout the summer. Plus, they have the the added bonus of all parts of the plant above ground being edible!

Lady's mantle alchemilla mollis



Consider adding a range of different types of bulbs to not only add to the joyful jumble of summer colour. But to also provide out-of-season bursts of colour.

Crocosmia, lilies and gladioli will provide colour from early to late summer.

Snowdrops, daffodils and crocus flower between late winter and early spring.

Repeat flowerers

Another way to extend the flowering season is to include plants that, when cut back after first flowering, will produce a second flush of flowers later in the season. Long flowering, mid-height, plants such as penstemon, astrantia and catmint will also flower again later in the year. This is only if flower stems are removed once flowering finishes.

Plants that produce tall, upright flower stems like Delphinium and Verbena bonariensis will also flower again. Cut spent flower stems down to just above ground level after flowering to stimulate fresh flower stems.

Verbena bonariensis

Edible plants

Cottagers also planted fruit and vegetable plants in their flower borders. Ruby chard is a great vegetable to include as it’s easy to grow in situ from seed. And as a cut-and-come-again plant, there will always be vibrant, ruby-red stem leaves on show. The cultivar ‘Bright Lights’ will produce a variety of different colour stem plants; white, yellow, orange and red.

Consider sowing different colour leaf varieties of lettuce at the front of the border, as well as beetroot.

Ruby chard

Autumn fruiting raspberries can be planted amongst the flowers too as they are largely self-supporting. And they don’t need to be protected from birds for some reason. Birds don’t take the ripe fruit in the autumn in the same way as they do with summer fruiting ones. Cut the fruited canes down to the ground in early February of the following year to stimulate new fruiting stems.

There are thornless varieties of cultivated blackberries that can be planted to grow along fences and gooseberry plants trained into half standards.

All in all the whole experience of planting up a cottage garden can be one of the most fun and rewarding things to do.

Plants for Summer Containers:

Or check out my Pinterest board for more ideas: