How to plant a cottage garden

cottage garden

A cottage garden in Hobart, Tasmania.

Cottage gardens…

look good in small spaces,

don’t need flawless hardscaping,

have so much going on that no one can tell if your yard is a mess,

don’t leave room for weeds,

look better with variety: if you are one of those people who always leaves the nursery with plants that were not on your list or can’t resist cuttings from your friends, this style is for you


  1. Start with a bit of structure with trees, evergreen shrubs or hedges, and paths or small paved areas for seating.
  2. Keep your paving informal: old bricks set in sand, gravel paths, pavers edged with ground cover
  3. Plant everything: if there is a fence or a pillar, grow a vine up it. If there is a paved area or a gap in the garden, put a pot on it. If there is a window, put a box below it.
  4. Forget the rule about repeating just a few varieties of plants. More is more. And more flowering plants is more.
  5. Use 2 or 3 of the same plant together so they don’t get lost in the mix.
  6. Plant things close together and let them sprawl all over each other.
  7. Fill in with smaller annuals and ground covers. You don’t want to see any dirt!
  8. Grow some herbs and vegetables among the flowers
  9. You need some stuff: bird baths, bird feeders, garden junk, found objects. The more worn the better.
  10. Go traditional (or secondhand midcentury modern) with your garden furniture.
  11. Let plants reseed and grow where they show up.