Garden Advice

How to create a vintage cottage garden in the city

What is it about quaint cottage gardens that make you want to own one, even if you live in the city? Well, a cottage-style garden’s main attraction is that it looks as if a piece of nature or the countryside is thriving in your backyard. With untamed wildflowers at the backdrop of meadow grasses, swaying in the light wind, and curving stone paths leading to a corner full of fragrant herbs… you get the picture. 

But how to create a cottage garden in a small space that is a haven for wildlife, where chirping birds and buzzing bees feel at home, undisturbed by traffic noise and rowdy neighbours? Well, we’ll do our best to give you some tips on how to plan and design yours, and what plants to grow.

So, if you:

  • love the idea of having a cottage-style garden on your urban property;
  • are interested in what key elements a cottage garden boasts;
  • feel bored with your uninspiring-looking garden and want to change it;

Then, read on! This post will give you an insight into how to create a romantic, low-maintenance cottage garden, even if you lack the space. We’ll show you how to achieve a piece of heaven in your back garden, which makes you slow down and forget the hustle and bustle of the city. And the minute you relax on your stone patio with a nice book, you forget you worries.

What makes a cottage garden

So, what is a cottage garden? And what is so special about it? Well, historically, cottage gardens were a means of growing your own food. Farmers’ workers lived in cottages on the estate and used their gardens to grow edible flowers, fruit, veggies and medicinal herbs. Packed together, self-seeders filled pretty decorative borders along walls and fences. Nowadays, a cottage-style garden embraces all of the above features, although the reasons for creating one have, of course, shifted. 

Now, let’s see what makes a garden cottage.

The quintessential features of a cottage garden

Although a cottage garden looks somewhat as if it “has just happened by itself”, this is not entirely true. So, don’t confuse its informal design for a lack of design or planning. A cottage-style garden usually boasts overflowing beds with a densely planted mixture of annual and self-seeding perennial flowers. Whether in a corner of your green space or as a border around the house or fence, the crowded tufts and clusters of billowing floral displays are the ultimate signature element of a cottage garden. 

Herbs, vegetables, berries and other fruits are also a distinct feature of a countryside garden around a cute cottage. And when it comes to hedges, these are also on the informal side. Looking slightly messy, your cottage-style hedge can easily be made out of a mixture of fragrant flowering shrubs. 

A cottage garden also fascinates with its natural-stone pathways, curving in between irregular shaped turfed areas and plant beds. The edges often look undefined, as flower beds tend to spill off over the path. A low picket fence, a small stone patio, scattered vintage artefacts and climbing plants along the wall usually complete the cottage garden look.

Advantages of a cottage garden

Having a cottage garden has quite a number of benefits. Let’s list a few below:

  • A cottage garden mirrors nature – As mentioned above, self-seeding flowers, shrubs with berries and trees will create a miniature piece, resembling a secluded spot somewhere out in nature.
  • Its informal design has a focus on simplicity – Old-fashioned flowers, a rose bush, some nicely planted borders and a veggie patch is what you need to make your backyard resemble a cottage-style garden.
  • With its enchanting look, a cottage garden is the epitome of beauty – Pastels mixed with bold and bright colours, dark and light evergreens, coupled with hardscaping features made from natural materials – one feels entranced by this escapist garden look in an instant.
  • If designed well, it can be low-maintenance – Unlike a more formal, neat and tidy garden with carefully planned colour schemes, which demands your regular attention to stay this way, you can kind of let a cottage-style garden be for extended periods of time.
  • It’s wildlife- and most importantly bee-friendly – As it’s mimicking Mother Nature, your relaxed-looking garden with meadow flowers and aromatic shrubs will attract birds and beneficial insects, of course.
  • Edibles encourage your healthy lifestyle – Enjoy your organically grown veggies and herbs, as well as berries, freshly picked from around the corner.
  • Combats better noise pollution and the heat island effect – Bountiful of greenery, tightly planted billowing flowers, shrubberies, colourful carpets of groundcovers, unruly hedges and cascades of trailing favourites, your cottage garden will reduce traffic noise, air pollution and the heat effect far better than a traditional city garden with a manicured lawn and decking, for instance.
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How to create a cottage garden

Practical in its origins, yet, mesmerising with its charming and somewhat chaotic look, your cottage-style garden should appear as if it follows no rules. This, however, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t put some thought into its design.

Cottage garden design layout

Right then, how do you lay out a cottage garden? Well, it’s best if you start working in small sections.

Borders. Plan out your plant bed borders to visually enclose your cottage garden with colourful varieties. Central to the flower bed could be some dwarf flowering shrubs, surrounded by edging plants that bloom in a palette of hues. Mind how manageable your borders will be once plants grow and start spilling over the edges. So, keep the dimensions of your flower beds in check. A decorative low picket fence can finish off the boundary feature, bringing out the display of vibrant green foliage and an explosion of multi-coloured blossoms.

Winding paths. Meandering paths are the hallmark of a cottage-style garden. You can go for some natural stone paving slabs if you wish or cut several reclaimed railway sleepers and dig them into a grassed area in a curving pattern. Whatever material you choose to create a garden pathway, go natural and irregular to ensure the organic look of a countryside green space.

Recreational corner. You’ll be spoilt for choice when creating a sitting area for relaxation and outdoor gatherings or updating your existing one. But when it comes to a cottage-style garden, keep it simple and aim for achieving a vintage ambience. What do we mean by this? A sleek brand new decking will definitely clash with the rustic look of a cottage garden. So, again, stick to a natural-stone patio that accommodates some old plant pots, quaint and ancient-looking amphora vases, and why not a vintage metal table and chairs with intricate legs, for instance?

Hidden gems. Remember the winding pathway or two? These should entice the visitor to follow with the tickling curiosity of discovering where they lead to. Be it a pretty old wooden bench under an unruly rose bush, an interesting sculpture from the local antique shop or a small fountain with rippling water that whispers therapeutically “Stop by and have a rest!”, a hidden gem, just around the small bend is what will make your cottage garden exciting.

Edible plant beds. A garden surrounding a countryside cottage always boasts a variety of useful plants that enrich your daily menu with the goodness of natural vitamins and minerals. So, no matter how small your green space is, you can still allocate an area for creating a vegetable raised garden bed, a strawberry patch, as well as a spot to grow a gooseberry or raspberry bush if you like. In addition, you can easily introduce some of your favourite herbs into your border flower beds.

Turfed areas. We’ll make a special note here that cottage-style gardens don’t need to have a rather boring, perfectly edged and trimmed lawn of a rectangular shape. You can update your existing turfed patch by curving the corners, and/or by breaking up the lawn with a meandering path. You can also create an irregular-shaped small flower bed with spilling-out flowering varieties that you can position towards the corner of the grassed area. Or why not plant a couple of bushes in the middle of the lawn to help you get that natural feel of the whole garden? Another idea is to plant some flowering groundcovers by the fence, near the far-end of your turf that will naturally merge with the latter and help achieve that oval, bay-like lawn corner.

Vertical focal features. Vertical plant displays can be created easily, especially if your garden doesn’t have many flowering trees or tall-growing shrubs like the wisteria bush. Install an arch trellis or two that can support climbing plants. Once established, trailing plants that are trained to grow over curved frames will resemble a natural green tree tunnel in the woods. Or you can create a miniature living wall on the left or right side of your back door, for instance, to green up even more your outdoor space.

What are the best plants for a cottage garden?

Cottage gardens are famous for their low-maintenance plants that are not only pleasing to the eye but also have various uses. Be it to attract pollinating insects, to end up in one’s soup, chutney or jam, or to help heal a wound, traditionally, the space around a countryside cottage is filled up with plants with benefits and uses. To note here, make sure to enrich the soil with organic soil improvers so that your plants have the best possible conditions to thrive. Mulch around your garden where needed, as well. After all, cottage gardens are designed to be low-maintenance in comparison to gardens of more formal styles. On that note, consider planting long-lasting annuals and hardy perennials that don’t require your attention that much.

  • British old-fashioned favourites – Foxgloves, catmint, delphinium, hollyhocks, peonies, busy lilies, cosmos – the list of traditional cottage garden plants can go on and on.
  • The essential rose bush – Whether you go for the climbing polyantha rose that will flower throughout the summer until the first frost, or you are an avid fan of the miniature “Black Jade” rose with its striking dark red flowers, a rose bush will add to the timeless feel of your cottage garden in an instant.
  • Self-seeding plants – From the cheerful common marigolds and the old-fashioned foxgloves to the delicate and dainty violets, choose your self-seeders carefully to achieve contrasting colours and save on maintenance time, of course.
  • Meadow grasses – To have a miniature meadow garden in the corner can be accomplished with a few grass and flowering plant varieties that grow naturally out in the countryside. Meadow foxtail, cocksfoot grass, Timothy grass, Yorkshire fog, mixed with common ox-eye daisies, buttercups and red clover are just some of the choices you can go for.
  • Climbing plants – A cottage-style garden without fragrant flowering climbers like jasmine, sweet peas, clematis or honeysuckle will lack that feel of the countryside.
  • Edible herbs and flowers – Apart from veggies, berries and other fruits, herbal plant varieties and edible or medicinal flowers are all present in a cottage garden. You can plant lavender, calendula, lemongrass, tiger lily, sweet violet, as well as traditional kitchen-garden herbs like basil, thyme, mint and oregano, as either companion plants or separately.
  • Fruits and veggies – When it comes to growing vegetables and fruit, it will all depend on your preferences and the space you have to work with. But even if you’ve got a small city garden, you can still have edibles growing in containers, as well as a couple of bushes that produce your favourite berries.
  • Hedge plants – Many types of woody plants or a mixture of a few can be grown into a cottage-style boundary hedge, from hazel, oak or box to honeysuckle, roses and shrubs with berries. The main point here is to keep your hedgerow slightly unruly to achieve that magical overall garden look.
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Add finishing touches

To complete your cottage garden, you can add some finishing touches that do not involve planting or concern the design layout. We are talking about small details that will enhance that feel of countryside heaven. Go on a little tour around local antique and charity shops. You’ll be amazed by what you can find there, be it a metal pot of a strange shape that just needs a bit of TLC or an unusual statue that can rest under the wisteria bush. Or get creative and make your own artefacts from natural materials, whether it’s a unique scarecrow or a wind chime made from miscellaneous small recycled items.

Tips and ideas for a small-space a cottage garden

How to build a small cottage garden is no different than creating one that is on the large side. And all the above tips and ideas are absolutely valid in both scenarios. However, as lack of space is the biggest issue in city gardens, we’ll now share a few tricks on how to become the proud owner of a cottage-style garden in urban settings. And this – without worrying so much about where to grow your row of beans. Or how to convince your neighbours that the messy boundary hedge, overhanging in their garden is the way things should be. 

We hope that the following ideas on how to create a small-space cottage garden will help:

  • Embrace a seemingly chaotic wild garden look – Introduce low-maintenance self-seeding flowers into existing plant beds and this way, slowly replace formal-garden flowers like petunias, tulips, begonias and asters.  
  • Soften up edges  – Curve up specific ground features with minimum effort by opening up space for a border flower bed at the expense of your too geometrically looking lawn, for instance.
  • Layered verticals – Install a frame on your house wall to start off your favourite trailing plants. 
  • Flowering shrubs are your best bet – If you can’t do much about your already neat-looking formal hedge, add texture to that green boundary wall by planting a couple of flowering bushes in the corner.
  • Break up the lawn – Place some pavers or paving stones on the lawn that do not follow a straight line. Also, create a few small islands, filled up with clustered-together billowing flowering varieties.
  • Container gardening – Surround your patio with rustic-looking wooden planters or terracotta plant pots of different sizes and shapes. Choose plants and herbs that will be alright if they slightly overgrow the containers, so they can trail down and resemble flowering fountains.
  • Accessorise, accessorise, accessorise – Simply put, it’s not that hard to create a small-spaced garden of any style if you’re clever and resort to common interior design and house-staging tricks. In other words, what you can’t achieve with plants and structural garden layout, due to scarce space, you can accomplish with accessories. From aged cottage garden gnomes to a cottage-style tablecloth and cute pastel cushions on your garden furniture, get creative and adventurous with the decor.

Need help with planning your cottage-style garden?

And if you feel out of your depth with creating your dream cottage garden, be it in the city or in a more spacious property in the suburbs, you can always entrust the task to the experienced Fantastic gardeners and landscapers. We offer professional landscaping services, and garden clearance and maintenance solutions that can help you transform your uninspiring outdoor space into a unique piece of the British countryside. Our custom-oriented approach will ensure that the end result will be in tune with your exact requirements and high expectations.

Looking for a specialist landscaping service?

Then, give Fantastic Services a try and hire a skilled landscaping professional!

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Takeaways

  • Cottage-style gardens are designed to look natural as if no rules are followed when being planned out.
  • With the right choice of plants and soil-improvement efforts, a cottage garden can be rather low-maintenance.
  • A countryside-style garden has numerous advantages: it’s wildlife-friendly, it fights better noise and air pollution, as well as it can be a source of fresh, organic produce for you to enjoy.
  • Small cottage gardens in the city can be created by cleverly utilising the space you’ve got and by focusing on interior design tricks and accessories.

Right then, as you can see, a cottage-style garden is not that hard to design and plant. And to get some more useful gardening ideas, you can explore our post on how to create an eco-friendly garden, which is full of inspirational tips.

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Did you find our post helpful enough to share around on social media? Are you the proud owner of a cottage-style garden? Then, why not tell us about it in the comments below?

Image source: Shutterstock / Gardens by Design

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