Cottage Gardens


Phyllis Bide – the perfect rambling rose for a cottage garden – informal flowers in a muddle of apricot and cream – and not a monster either, like Kiftsgate or Wedding Day…

The Story cover photo is from the Welcome to Yorkshire Garden at RHS Chelsea this year. Proof if it were needed of the enduring appeal of Cottage Gardens.

Morning All!

I’m hosting a workshop focusing on the beauty, romance and productivity of the English Cottage Garden and of course I’m talking about roses. I have some notes and plenty of books for the good folk at Petersham Nurseries to look through – and we have the Cutting Garden just outside the glasshouse – so we shan’t be short of material and plants on the benches of course. Some links below to a selection of excellent writing and articles from my usual favourite subjects – and suggestions for places to visit that is getting longer by the minute!

We will look at the history and development of these now charming gardens, their design, with generous beds, a labyrinth of paths, lack of grass – or simply grass paths – the materials for arbours, seating, the surfaces (brick/gravel/flint/cobbles …), picket fences and boundaries – the pell-mell tumble of self supporting plants, spires and domes, closely packed, featuring wild flowers and near-cousins, half-hardy and hardy annuals, biennials, perennials, hedges, shrubs, climbers and of course roses – fragrance being integral to both flower and foliage (especially when sewage systems weren’t enclosed and daily washing was anathema) …

…. as well as the mixing in of edibles – beautiful and useful crops, stepovers and arches of apples, wigwams of colourful Runner Beans, French Beans and Borlotti, clambering squash – throw in a globe artichoke or three for drama, darling – herbs, oh yes, and edible flowers. Topiary elements, found objects, repurposed containers, old watering cans, water butts, chickens. And compost – soil preparation is key after all. And slugs. And the Chelsea Chop and Hampton Court Hack. See my blog on perennial pruning for more information and suggestions and perhaps seek out the excellent book, The Well-tended Perennial Garden by Tracey Disabato-Aust.

We will look I expect at free plants – dividing perennials, seed sowing and self-sowing, taking perennial cuttings and roses too – for thrift is a key element to the early Cottage Garden and we all love a free plant, especially if our actions make our plants more healthy, happy and abundant. There is a tradition of generosity and sharing of cuttings, seeds and plants divided that underpins the cottage garden tradition. And we will look at a selection of our favourite cottage garden plants – if the plant delivery I am expecting arrives early enough!


Reine de Violettes, a Hybrid Perpetual, perfect for the cottage garden

Blowing my own trumpet as ever, if you click on the tags for Roses, or David Austin – or search for ‘Mottisfont’, a whole host of my articles will pop up for your delight and delectation. Mottisfont being the National Trust property near Romsey in Hampshire (south of Winchester) and is home to the National Collection of Old Roses, in two – soon to be three – impossibly beautiful walled gardens that were once the orchards  – roses are exuberantly planted with cottage garden perennials and I’m due to make my first annual pilgrimage any day now. I recommend you visit too! David Austin Roses own 2-acre garden in Albrighton is well worth a visit – especially the one garden that mixes perennials in with the shrub, climbing, rambling and standard roses.

The Cottage Garden at Wisley is worth a look, with paths swept by tumbling perennials and huge swathes of Hydrangea Annabelle, rambling roses over arches, towering crab apples and a fragrant mix of annuals (much Cosmos, Antirrhinum, Osteospermums) amongst the tapestry of lilies, peonies and many perennials and other shrubs (Philadelphus, Lilac, Cistus, Deutzia, Abelia spring to mind for late Spring and Summer starriness). The new rose garden (now that the Old Jubilee rose garden is a tropical re-incarnation – also mixes things up with perennial, shrub and grasses complimenting the magnificent roses. I must see that too, soon!

The Gardens at West Green in Hartley Wintney (a perfect village in itself) – is also a must – it is the best example of a decorative fruit and vegetable garden I have visited recently – using herbs and flowers extensively and very beautifully.

Great Dixter might reasonably be called a Cottage Garden, though one of extraordinary vision and horticultural genius, and on a big scale – but many of the beds and borders have an informal style, with a full planting palette, mixing in annuals, biennials, perennials, lilies and herbs, shrubs, roses, clematis and other climbers – strong topiary pieces, impossibly narrow paths running in front of and behind, tight gaps between high hedges, a great many surprises – and a rigorous vegetable garden where straight lines rule and the compost heap is mountainous. I was there recently for the tulip display – such colour – and their containers displays! And I have been there right at the end of the season, in October, when the Dahlias make their exclamation. Search these pages for the photos and stories.

Finally for a recommendation, Waterperry Gardens in Oxfordshire – formerly Miss Havergal’s School of Horticulture for Ladies, with grandeur no doubt removed from the Cottage Garden, but a long border incorporating some magnificent Delphiniums and island beds of pure genius. Plus a lot of fruit, beautifully presented, wilderness and woodland, and a fine, fine Cutting Garden. I’ve visited a few times and records of my visits can be found in the pages of my blog.


For West Green House – quite a bit more than a simple Cottage Garden but with elements to love – this from Youtube –

Have a look at the blog by the Enduring Gardener too –



Gertrude Jekyll, scion of Comte de Chambord, with another cottage garden favourite, Lavender.

Finally, a link to a YouTube Video which though it has some age, showcases a myriad of real Cottage Gardens across the country and is well worth looking up – from the Travel Video Store. A little gem and oddly, not narrated by Penelope Keith. It features among many, East Lambrook Manor, a garden created by Margery Fish and fiendishly good still.


Some of our Favourite Cottage Garden Plants

  • Aquilegia
  • Agapanthus
  • Antirrhinum
  • Alcea (Hollyhock)
  • Agastache
  • Astrantia (Masterwort)
  • Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle)
  • Achillea
  • Aconitum
  • Allium
  • Anchusa
  • Anemone
  • Anthemis
  • Anthriscus (Cow Parsley)
  • Armeria (Thrift)
  • Artemesia (Wormwood)
  • Aster
  • Borage
  • Calendula (English Marigold)
  • Campanula (Bellflower)
  • Catanache
  • Chaenomeles (Flowering Quince, or Japonica)
  • Cistus (Rock Rose)
  • Centaurea (Mountain Knapweed)
  • Chieranthus
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Clematis
  • Cornflowers
  • Coriposis (Tick Seed)
  • Cosmos
  • Crataegus (Hawthorn)
  • Delphinium
  • Dahlia
  • Deutzia
  • Dianthus (Clove Carnation)
  • Dicentra (Bleeding Heart)
  • Digitalis (Foxgloves)
  • Echinacea (more coneflowers)
  • Echinops
  • Erigeron karvinskianus (Fleabane)
  • Euphorbia (Spurge or Milkweed)
  • Erysimum (Perennial Wallflower)
  • Geranium (hardy) (Cranesbill)
  • Geum (Avens)
  • Gypsophilia (Baby’s Breath)
  • Helenium
  • Helianthus (Sunflowers)
  • Hemerocallis (Day Lily)
  • Hesperis 9Sweet Rocket)
  • Herbs of course
  • Heuchera
  • Humulus lupulus (hops)
  • Hydrangea,
  • Iris
  • Jasmines
  • Kniphofia (Red Hot Pokers)
  • Lathryus (Sweet Pea, Everlasting Pea)
  • Lavender
  • Lavatera
  • Leucanthemum (Shasta Daisy)
  • Leucojum (Snowflake)
  • Lychnis coronaria (Rose Campion or Dusty Miller)
  • Lilies
  • Lonicera (woodbine)
  • Lunaria (Honesty)
  • Lupins
  • Lychnis (Flower of Love)
  • Malus (crab apples and eating apples)
  • Matthiola incana (Stocks)
  • Meconopsis – poppies
  • Monarda (Bee Balm or Bergamot)
  • Nepeta (Catmint)
  • Nicotiana
  • Nigella damascena (Love in a Mist)
  • Omphalloides (Blue-eyed Mary or Navelwort)
  • Peony
  • Papaver (Poppy)
  • Penstemon (Beard Tongue)
  • Persicaria (Knotweed)
  • Phacelia(Scorpion Flower)
  • Philadelphus (Mock Orange)
  • Phlomis (soapwort)
  • Phlox
  • Physostegia (Obediant Plant)
  • Polygonatum (Solomon’s Seal)
  • Primula
  • Prunus (Cherries)
  • Pulmonaria (Lungwort)
  • Ranunculus aconitifolius (Bacherlor’s Buttons)
  • Roses
  • Rudbeckia (Coneflower)
  • Salvia
  • Scabious
  • Sedum (Ice Plant)
  • Sidalcea
  • Silene (Campion)
  • Stachys (Lamb’s Ears)
  • Stipa
  • Syringa (Lilacs)
  • Taxus (Yew)
  • Tellima
  • Teucrium (Shrubby Germander)
  • Thalictrum (Meadow Rue)
  • Tropaeolum (Nasturtium)
  • Tulip
  • Verbena bonariensis
  • Verbascum
  • Viburnum
  • Viola







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