Printer Friendly

Carefree & colorful: use our planting and design tips to create a cottage garden with a Western twist.

When you hear the term "cottage garden," you might automatically picture a flowerful plot in front of a rustic country cottage in England. But you don't need a rural address to create such a garden. Cottage gardening is an attitude, not a location. All you need is a passion for plants and a willingness to mix them all up.

As Western gardeners are proving, you can achieve a cottage effect in the heart of the city as well as the' suburbs. While English-style gardens draw heavily on hardy perennials, you can accomplish the same look of artful chaos with any plants appropriate to your climate. Indeed, Mediterranean plants and succulents like agaves work splendidly in coastal and desert plantings.

The owners of the gardens pictured on these pages will never be convinced that less is more. Perennials, annuals, vegetables, herbs, vines, roses, and other flowering shrubs--they find room for all of them. The result is cheerful, charming exuberance.

Four-season appeal in Portland

How long does it take to create a show-quality cottage garden? About 18 months for the beauty shown above--and most of that was growing time. Soon after garden designer Darcy Daniels (BloomTown Garden Design; or 503/331-1783) moved into this Portland property, she ripped out a ragtag lawn, then began planting the rich tapestry pictured here in late spring. "I plant densely in a layered fashion, striving for a generous and abundant look. Over time, I will have to edit some plants out," she says.

A couple of principles guide Daniels's plant choices. Her coordinated use of color--burgundy, chartreuse, pink, purple, and blue--ties the garden together. Creating four-season interest is also critical. "In spring and summer, nearly everything looks good, but I use plants that hold their places in the off-season so I won't be looking at bare ground." Among her favorites are several kinds of Euphorbia, evergreen Clematis armandii grasses, and New Zealand flax.

Perennials and shrubs form a multilayered tapestry of flowers and foliage in Darcy Daniels's front yard. To the left of the path, the mauve blooms of Erysimum linifolium 'Variegatum' and the burgundy leaves of New Zealand flax are backed by white 'Iceberg' rose, yellow-flowered Achillea 'Moonshine', and the violet blooms of Allium 'Globemaster'. To the right of the door, deep blue flowers cover Ceanothus 'Victoria'.

Plants for a cottage effect

Cottage gardens may appear wild and romantic, but it takes the right combination of colors, textures, and accessories to pull off the look. The prettiest gardens blend at least a few of the following types of plants into the collage. Choose plants appropriate for your climate and the site.


Pillowy shrubs and perennials, like this phlox spilling over a rain barrel, add softness.

Others: breath of heaven (Coleonema), ceanothus, lavatera, lilac.


Twining plants, like this wisteria, climb walls or trellises and spill over fences or arbors.

Lacy accents.

Wispy foliage and delicate flowers, like those of love-in-a-mist, create an airy effect.


Ground covers soften the hard edges of paths and patios. Here, chartreuse Scotch moss fringes a pond and steppingstones.

Others: blue star creeper, creeping thyme.


Plants with tall flower spikes, like gayfeather (Liatris), make bold contrasts to lower-growing ones.

Others: delphinium, foxglove, hollyhock.


They're naturals in cottage gardens. Plant shrub roses among perennials, climbing types over arbors and against fences or walls.

South African flavor in Southern California

Even if your favorite plants aren't traditionally used in cottage gardens, don't assume that they won't work; the trick is to use multiple varieties and plant them for an unstudied effect. That's the lesson behind Alan and Angelika Wilkinson's exotic cottage garden in Los Angeles.

When the Wilkinsons moved to Southern California, Alan realized that the climate offered the opportunity to use plants that he had grown up with in South Africa. (Both Southern California and South Africa's Western Cape Province have Mediterranean climates, characterized by long, dry summers and mild but wet winters.) Alan started a wish list of plants--including acacia, aloes, arctotis, kalanchoe, and leucadendron--and asked landscape designer Robert Cornell (626/398-5581) to help him fit them all in. Alan's desires matched Cornell's cottage garden approach: "Plant-intensive, naturalistic gardens are my style," Cornell says.

African daisies with reddish orange flowers skirt the front of the Wilkinsons' garden. Just behind are Aloe marlothii with saffron colored flower spikes and kalanchoe with pink bell shaped blossoms (left). Evergreen shrubs bring up the rear; from far left to right are New Zealand tea tree (Leptospermum scoparium Ruby Glow'), Leucadendron 'Safari Sunset', and a treelike protea.

Finishing touches

Placing sculptural elements among plants or using them imaginatively as backdrops adds magic and romance to cottage gardens. Use them sparingly, to accentuate the plants rather than overwhelm them.

Curved paths.

Allow walkways to meander among plantings, and put an interesting focal point, like a bench, at the path's end. These steps lead to a trellised rose.

Recycled materials.

Integrate a flea-market find into your garden. This window-gate frames a moss-lined path leading to Darcy Daniels's rear garden.

Bird feeders.

Use them as accents among drifts of flowering plants like these roses.


Set a piece of outdoor art or a gazing ball on a pedestal among plantings.

Rock walls.

Build a stone wall to add structure and texture. This one, fringed with Scotch moss, curves past lilies and other perennials.


Place one among perennials and keep it filled with water to serve thirsty birds and catch reflections of surrounding flowers.

Carefree style fits anywhere

You don't need much space to achieve a carefree, cottagelike look. You can create the same bursting-with-blooms appearance by arranging potted plants on a deck or rooftop. Or plant a portion of your existing garden, perhaps an island bed, with a cottage-style mix of perennials and roses.

On a rooftop

Pots filled with astilbes, delphiniums, and roses create a cottage effect on a San Francisco rooftop.

DESIGN: Sonny Garcia

In an island bed Pink Ballerina' and red-and-white 'Eye Paint' roses share an island bed with blue catmint in Sharon Brasher's garden in Reno.

In a patio bed

Layered plants, from the fringe of white bacopa in front to the red 'Simplicity' rose in the center to the blue delphiniums at rear, create a colorful centerpiece for Carol Brewer's Southern California patio.

In a sunny corner at Sunset

In this springtime scene from Sunset's test garden in Menlo Park, California, drifts of California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) are backed by ornamental grass, purple Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas), and a tree mallow with rosy blooms. The poppies reseed freely.

DESIGN: Bud Stuckey

For more information

You'll find more design tips in the new book Cottage Gardens (Sunset Publishing Corporation, Menlo Park, CA, 2003; $15; The 128-page softcover contains ideas for regional variations of cottage-garden style, plus details about plants and structures. Look for it in home centers and bookstores.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Brenzel, Kathleen N.; Cohoon, Sharon; McCausland, Jim
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2003
Previous Article:Souffles made simple: use our easy techniques to take souffles to new heights.
Next Article:Grand Tour exploring the Southwest: at least once in your life, you should visit certain places. The Southwest is one of them. Join Sunset on a...

Related Articles
Instead of a front lawn: to save water or improve looks, these homeowners replaced lawn.
Pretty small gardens.
California geology in miniature.
Western Garden Design Awards for the year 2000.
2000-2001 Western Garden Design Awards.
WEEKEND: GARDENING: Lose yourself in Bard's blooming labyrinth.
Your garden: Makeover: Your cure for those grot spots.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters