charming ways to create a character-filled outdoor space

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Our favourite cottage garden ideas are all about creating a romantic space that’s packed with beautiful flowers and scent. From overflowing flowerbeds packed with cottage garden plants to elegant seating and pretty accessories that add instant charm to your space, there’s plenty of ways to create a cottage-style scheme in your own garden. 

a close up of a flower garden in front of a house: null

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Despite what you might think, you don’t have to live in a picture postcard thatched cottage in the English countryside to create a cottage garden scheme either. All of these ideas will work just as well on a smaller scale for a romantic, flower-filled urban garden as they would in a larger rural space.

Cottage gardens typically have an informal planting scheme featuring lots of different colours for a space that’s packed with interest. Flowerbeds are bigger than you might find in a more contemporary style garden, so keep in mind that you might need to sacrifice some of your lawn to create the most successful cottage garden planting scheme. 

Whether you want to create winding pathways, design a pretty seating area or introduce more cottage garden plants to your space, there’s plenty to inspire in our selection. Read on for the best ways to capture all the charm of a country cottage garden, then head to our garden design ideas gallery for more garden inspiration. 

1. Create a relaxed feel with curved borders

While formal gardens were laid out with parterres and terraces, traditional cottage gardens would have had no predetermined layout. There would have been little space for lawn and no hard surfacing. To capture the romance of a country cottage garden, you should avoid straight lines and factor in plenty of deep, curved borders for planting. Curved landscaping always creates a more natural and relaxed feel that allows you to meander along pathways through the flowerbeds.

2. Fill a cottage garden with a mix of colourful planting

If there’s one thing that’s essential for a country garden, it’s flowers. Historically the quintessential cottage garden would have evolved slowly and planting would have had no strict plan. Self seeders were welcomed, plants were propagated from cuttings, gifted by neighbours and perhaps collected from the native countryside. All would have been planted in whatever space was available with little thought to hierarchy or height, which resulted in a magical jumble of shape and colour. 

For best results, choose a variety of colours and heights, and layer them up to create a wild meadow feel. You can find our top planting suggestions in our guide to the best cottage garden plants. 

3. Choose colourful cottage garden perennials

Cottage gardens are all about abundance, so don’t hold back on the flowers even if you are restricted on space. Pack your borders with a mix of perennial favourites which will bring uplifting colour year after year, such as hollyhocks, everlasting sweetpeas, poppies, and hardy geraniums. 

Ensure interest all year round by planting for each season. In winter think about cylamen, hellebore and snowdrops and follow our guide to planting bulbs such as daffodils, muscari, bluebells and tulips for spring colour, as well as iconic primroses. In summer, no cottage garden should be without roses, lavender, ox-eye daisies, delphiniums and foxgloves. Plant dahlias, rudbeckia and echinacea to keep the garden blooming into late summer and consider michaelmas daisies and Japanese anemones for autumn interest.

4. Add in meandering pathways

Unlike formal country gardens, cottage gardens have a relaxed, casual feel. One way to help achieve this is to embrace sinuous pathways. Avoid geometrical, rigid materials like square paving and instead try materials which are softer on the eye such as a gravel path lined with reclaimed bricks that have a worn patina. Find more inspiration in our garden path ideas gallery. 

5. Make roses the star of the show… 

If there’s one flower that should take centre stage in a cottage garden, it’s the classic rose. Romantic, English garden favourites, they are loved for their fragrance and classic blooms, plus there are so many to choose from and they can be grown in all sorts of positions. Autumn is the perfect time to plant bare root roses so that they have time to settle in before the coldest temperatures of winter arrive. Head over to our guide on how to plant bare root roses for our expert tips.

6. …and grow them up your walls for added impact

With their abundance of pretty floral sprays, climbing or rambling roses are brilliant for softening harsh walls or fences and they can be used to bring height and structure grown over an arch or obelisk. Alternatively choose shrub or bush roses for borders, or if space is tight you can grow them in pots, too. Head over to our garden wall ideas for more ways to add interest and character to your space. 

7. Paint gates in pretty colours

Add extra charm to your cottage garden by painting gates, woodwork and even wooden furniture in soft, muted colours such as pale greens and blues. These types of shades work well with pretty cottage garden planting and will add another layer of interest to your garden scheme. Find the best exterior wood paint for your garden in our guide. 

8. Go for deep flowerbeds and pack them with flowers

Bigger is definitely better when it comes to designing flowerbeds in a cottage garden. Go as deep as you can so that you can fill them with colourful planting and stunning blooms that will pack your garden with scent and colour during spring and summer. It’s also a good idea to plant flowers right up to the edge of the flowerbeds so that over time they’ll soften the hard lines of garden landscaping ideas such as pathways or patios. It really is a case of the more the merrier, so plant in abundance and watch the texture and shape of your garden evolve in years to come.

9. Choose rustic furniture

Create a sociable space to gather friends and family for alfresco dinners. Choosing a large solid wooden dining table is a great way to create a social hub and focal point in your garden, and it’s worth investing in a quality design that’ll last. Classic designs such as the best wooden garden furniture is just the ticket for enjoying long balmy nights, while a comfy rattan bench seats let you budge up to squeeze everyone in. These pretty placemats and napkins are from Setting Pretty, and they’re the perfect finishing touch. 

Gallery: 22 traditional home office ideas (Real Homes)

10. Frame your front door with flowers

Admittedly most of aren’t lucky enough to live in a charming thatched cottage such as this, but you can still give your house similar instagrammable kerb appeal by growing hollyhocks along the front of your garden or by the front door. Creating colourful spires of colour in summer, Hollyhocks like light, well-drained soil which is why they are often found close to houses. It thought that before homes were built with damp proof courses, hollyhocks would often be grown close to cottages to help take up the water.

11. Make a feature of your garden boundaries

Fixed features and boundaries like gates, hedges and fences all help lend themselves to the overall look and feel of a cottage garden. Traditionally they would have been made from local materials, so across Britain you will find variations in vernacular design from the dry-stone walls of the Cotswolds to wattled fences in Wiltshire and white-washed stone walls of Devon. There’s nothing quite like a charming white picket fence to give your garden some instant cottage garden appeal though is there? Head to our garden fence ideas feature for more advice. 

12. Create a pretty seating area…

After all your hard work in the garden it’s important to have somewhere that you can sit back and enjoy it. With its curved details, an ornate metal garden bench would work well in romantic cottage garden. For similar designs try Wayfair. 

13. …and surround it with flowers

Before you invest in garden seating think about where it will be positioned. It’s a good idea to position seating areas at various points in the garden so that you can make the most of the sun as it travels throughout the day. Siting a bench close to a border billowing with plants, or even on small patio or clearing within a border, will create a magical, cocooning space to relax and will allow you to appreciate the medley of aromas. 

For a timeless bench with an elegant design that would complement a cottage garden consider this iconic Lutyens bench from Waitrose Garden, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, architect of many English country homes. 

14. Use obelisks to add height to your borders

Factoring in obelisks to your garden borders is a brilliant way to add interest, structure and to grow cottage garden plants. Use them to support traditional cottage climbers like honeysuckle, clematis and roses. We think these wooden ones painted in a soft green make the perfect foil to weathered stone and the vibrant greens and colours of the cottage garden flowers. 

15. Grow flowers to display indoors

The beauty of having a cottage garden that’s filled with stunning flowers means you’ll have a ready supply of cut flowers to display in your house too. Growing a range of annuals such as sweet peas, zinnias and dahlias will give you beautiful, scent-filled bouquets for your home. Cutting flowers from plants such as sweet peas can actually encourage growth and repeat flowering over the summer months, providing they are kept well fed and watered. To ensure you have a steady supply over the summer months, try successional planting, where seedlings are planted out every two or three weeks so that you have plants that come into bloom at regular intervals.

16. Install a country–style she shed

If, like many of us, your garden is your happy place, don’t let the rain hold you back from enjoying it. She sheds are spaces created for relaxing, doing hobbies, and just escaping the rest of the world. A traditional design like this will make for a cute-as-a-button design feature in any country cottage garden. It’s the perfect way to shelter from wind (or even the sun for that matter) whilst admiring your flowers when they’re in full bloom. This shed was painted in Royal Exterior paint from Protek and we’re loving the square windows and little porch. 

17. Choose traditional furniture to suit a cottage garden

Classic furniture such as metal bistro sets, wooden benches or dining sets are you go-to choices to suit classic cottage garden schemes. Nestle furniture in amongst the planting to soften the effect, and stick to natural finishes or colours such as pale greens, greys and blues to help them blend in with the background. You want your planting to be the star of the show rather than a bright and bold item of furniture that could detract from your beautiful blooms.

18. Create a kitchen garden area

Traditionally the purpose of the cottage garden was to grow staple produce like peas, beans, cabbages, onions, leeks and carrots, but also a wide array of herbs used in cooking but also for medicinal purposes. For a true cottage garden feel, grow produce in amongst the flowers in whatever space you have. If you have the luxury of more space, dedicated raised beds could be created in a sunny south-facing area. 

19. Introduce quirky planting ideas 

The cottage garden was a humble space worked for necessity and crops would have been grown in anything that came to hand. To capture the quirky charm of a cottage garden think outside the box and reuse unwanted containers as planters – ensure you drill holes in the bottom so that the soil can drain freely. 

In his book Cider with Rosie, Laurie Lee describes his mother’s cottage garden in the Cotswolds in great detail and observes how, ‘she also grew plants in whatever would hold them – saucepans, tea-caddies and ash tins. Indeed she once grew a fine crop of geraniums in a cast-iron water-softener.’ 

20. Decorate a garden shed with vintage finds

What better way to make the most of your garden than a little hideaway tucked away that you can retreat to with a tea and a good book? Brighten up the interior with a lick of paint and furnish with a couple of comfy armchairs. In the make-do-and-mend spirit of a cottage garden, use the structure to support rambling plants which will also help soften the building, helping it to blend into its surroundings.

21. Embellish benches with floral cushions and throws 

When it comes to accessories, floral fabrics are your friend. From outdoor cushions to throws and rugs, choose designs in soft pastel shades and pretty patterns to add interest to your space. Natural materials such as cotton, linen and bamboo will be soft to touch and in keeping with the natural country vibe. We love these beautiful fabrics from The Observatory collection at Iliv.

22: Encourage wildlife with bee-friendly plants…

Attract bees and other pollinators to your cottage garden by choosing the best bee-friendly plants in your planting scheme. Popular choices include lavender, foxgloves, alliums, honeysuckle and dahlias. By including all of these plants you’ll not only be encouraging more bees into your garden, you’ll also be helping other insects such as  moths, hoverflies and butterflies. 

23. …and add some wildlife-friendly accessories

Attract birds into your garden by hanging the best bird feeders from your trees. Go for pretty designs, such as these apple hanging shapes that won’t dominate your garden scheme. Head over to our guide on how to make bird feeders for top tips on making your own bird feed to keep feathered friends well fed all year round.

More garden ideas:

  • Small garden ideas: make the most of your outdoor space
  • The best cottage garden plants for your scheme
  • Discover the best shade-loving plants for your garden 

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