How to Create an English Cottage Garden Wherever You Live (2024)

A perfectly manicured lawn with bright green grass and pretty flower beds is a suburban mainstay, but homeowners are increasingly shying away from ultra-manicured landscaping in favor of personalized, rustic designs. Enter the English cottage garden, which is enjoying a rise in popularity across the United States.

Landscaping companies, such as Yardzen, say they've seen a 100 percent increase in demand for "cottage gardens," along with a notable uptick in requests for details such as quaint cobblestone pavers and whimsical garden benches. You'll also see this carefree, earthy aesthetic across social media via images of walls climbing with ivy, stone birdbaths, and a rainbow of wildflowers bending in the wind. Here, discover how to turn your yard into a slice of the English countryside, wherever you live—and why you should.

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The English Cottage Garden and Sustainability

The cottage garden's surge in popularity is two-fold. They're idyllic, but they're also a far more sustainable option compared to high-maintenance grass lawns."At Shades of Green Permaculture, we're seeing a huge shift away from lawns as people recognize how unsustainable they are and how much life and beauty can be found in alternatives like the [cottage] garden and meadow," says founder Brandy Hall.

There's also a general movement towards building up wildlife habitats and creating landscapes that support biodiversity, Hall says. And interestingly, a number of municipalities in the United States are also in on this effort.For instance, cities such as Las Vegas have initiated grass lawn bans due to their water-guzzling tendencies, and other cities—such as Santa Barbara, Calif. and Albuquerque, N.M.—are striving to become "bee cities" in an effort to support pollinator conservation. The cottage garden aesthetic supports both of these sustainable initiatives.

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What an English Cottage Garden Looks Like

Cottage gardens are also a notable departure from rigid landscape conformity. Instead of identical, symmetrical suburban scenes (picture quiet roads with endless stretches of grass and white picket fences), cottage gardens invite you to become the artistic director of your outdoor living space."Unlike the heavy hand in manicured, contemporary yards, the English garden is unique, bespoke, and has an element of wildness," says gardening expert Rebecca Sears, chief marketing officer for Ferry-Morse.

As for a cottage garden's defining characteristics? They have an organic form, offering a ray of textures via stone, wood, patinated metal, and dense plantings of flowers and shrubs. They are immersive and inviting thanks to their winding pathways, climbing vines, and trees that draw your gaze through the space and establish opportunities to enjoy nature's inherent beauty.

Small Cottage Gardens

The best part? You don't need lots of acreage to create your own spin on the English garden. If you only have a petite yard or small patio space to work with, you can still build something beautiful, lush, and decidedly old world. "Use small, legible spaces and orderly frames to contain abundant flowering, textured, and colorful wildness—even in small yards," Hall says.

Small planters, vining plants, and hanging baskets are all perfect options if you want to create a cottage garden in a small outdoor space.

How to Create an English Cottage Garden

You can design an English cottage garden in just about any yard, however big or small. Be sure to include this landscaping style's defining features—and be sure to plant colorful varieties you'd see in the English countryside.

Choose Native Plants

Leaning into your locale's natural ecosystem is key if you want to create a cottage garden. When you design gardens using native plants—and plant communities that work well together and support each other—you'll attract local pollinators, support the natural habit, and build healthy soil, says Hall. You'll also find that your yard is easier to maintain and requires less water.

Layer Flowers and Plants for Texture and Dimension

Layering plants of different colors and textures is key if you want to plant a cottage garden. "There are so many possibilities, as you can not only incorporate various flowers into your yard, but hedges and trees, as well," says Sears. "As you're starting to plan, try stepping out of your comfort zone and pairing flowers and plants that you may not have necessarily envisioned together before."

For example, instead of planting marigolds with other warm-toned flowers, try planting them next to blue Salvia to balance the colors, shapes, and heights found in your yard.Here are a few other varieties—a mix of annuals and perennials—that you can plant in your cottage garden:

  • Foxglove
  • Peonies
  • Sweet William
  • Phlox
  • Honeysuckle
  • Bellflower
  • Columbine
  • Hollyhock
  • Lavender
  • Delphinium
  • Campanula
  • Roses

Add Vertical Interest

Along with volume and texture, add vertical interest with trellises, arches, pergolas, and gazebos, and then plant climbing flowers (like clematis, climbing hydrangeas, or wisteria) and vines alongside them. "This is another way to achieve that eye-catching look that the English modern garden is known for," says Sears. "Growing vines up a unique trellis can be achieved even in the smallest of spaces."

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Incorporate Whimsical Touches

Drama is a part of this slightly-wild garden style, so consider including bridges, benches tucked into canopied nooks, wishing wells, and charming trinkets hidden throughout the space. "My favorite elements of an English garden are benches and bird baths," says Hall. "They create places to sit—little vignettes that draw you in and invite you to spend time watching the birds and bees and butterflies. These elements bring a romance to the space."

You can even layer in small elements throughout, such as rustic clay pots, salvaged wood, wind chimes, birdhouses, and garden décor.

Create a Pathway

Garden paths are a staple in English-inspired gardens, and they're much easier to create than you might think. For the most cost-effective route, Sears recommends using mulch or gravel to lay out a walkway; you can also try stepping stones. Add more interest and definition to the path by planting flowers alongside the edge or adding solar powered lights for evening strolls.

How to Create an English Cottage Garden Wherever You Live (2024)

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