Cottage Garden

Most gardeners can readily call to mind a classic English cottage garden with mounds and spires of blooms that provide a lush foreground for a house.  Because the form of the cottage garden is English, so is our image of what a cottage garden must incorporate. These are frequently plants that thrive in mild summers with plenty of rain, in a part of the world where winters are mild.  So, in the San Luis Valley, we can’t have cottage gardens, right?  Wrong!  You can create a beautiful, lush, and thriving perennial cottage garden or border right here, and we will help you.

First, it’s helpful to examine what a cottage garden is, then choose plantings that form companionable combinations that thrive in our environment. The term “cottage garden” comes from the location of gardens that surrounded homes, namely cottages.   The result was dense, informal plantings of flowering plants, shrubs, vegetables, and herbs.  In the 16th to 20th centuries, cottage gardens allowed people with small properties to grow many types of useful plants.  Even the traditional roses of English cottage gardens had practical uses and rosehips were used in teas.  These early cottage gardens included vegetables as well, and there’s no reason a modern cottage garden can’t.

You’ll hear the term “border” used almost synonymously with “cottage garden.” This is because these gardens form a wide “border” that extends from the wall of a house or outbuilding to the edge of the property.  Perimeter fences add a definitive edge to many cottage gardens. Some cottage gardens replace lawns with flowers.  This style of gardening emphasizes perennials but annuals add color and fill in gaps while perennial plants become established and begin to spread.

Cottage gardens look unplanned, but they are not.  The traditional cottage garden seeks out a range of plant shapes, forms, and colors then combines these to create a seemingly wild, untamed tangle of flowering plants.  Tall spires of delphinium and trellises supporting clematis need to be planted in the back of the border so they will not overshadow lower-growing plants.

Accents for cottage gardens include statues, trellises, fountains, and planted containers.  These gardens invite pollinators and birds.  You may want to include a birdbath, feeder, or bee house.  Benches and seating areas invite visitors to linger and provide visual points of interest.  Be aware that tall plants in back of the border require staking or support.   We carry supports that add accents made of natural materials as well as options that are unobtrusive in your landscape and we carry many types of plant-safe ties.

Our list of plants for a San Luis Valley cottage garden emphasizes perennials hardy to USDA zone 4 which require low to moderate amounts of water.  Because plants in a cottage garden are close together, there’s an added water wise benefit. Companion plants for a cottage garden include:

  • Roses
  • Shasta Daisy
  • Veronica
  • Daylily
  • Astilbe
  • Peony
  • Hosta
  • Clematis
  • Delphinium
  • Foxglove
  • Dianthus
  • Jacob's Ladder
  • Echinacea
  • Poppy
  • Baby's Breath
  • Larkspur
  • Lavender
  • Columbine
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