Click ahead for a look at how the traditional cottage garden can morph to fit your own personal gardening style.
2 of 21Photo by Janet Loughrey
Four-season appeal in Portland
How long does it take to create a show-quality cottage garden? About 18 months and most of that is growing time.
Darcy Daniel created year-round interest in her garden by using plants that hold their places in the off-season. Perennials and shrubs form a multilayered tapestry of flowers and foliage in her front 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’.
South African plants work in Alan and Angelika Wilkinson’s exotic cottage garden in Los Angeles. The trick: Using multiple varieties and planting them for an unstudied effect.
African daisies with reddish orange flowers skirt the front, and Aloe marlothii with saffron-colored flower spikes and kalanchoe with pink bell-shaped blossoms fill in behind. Surrounding: Evergreen shrubs, New Zealand tea tree (Leptospermum scoparium ‘Ruby Glow’), Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunset’, and a treelike protea.
Design: Robert Cornell (626/398-5581)
4 of 21Photo by Allan Mandell
Step 1: Pick 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 plants in the following slides.
5 of 21Photo by Terry Donnelly
Pillowy shrubs and perennials, like this phlox spilling over a rain barrel, add softness. Others: breath of heaven (Coleonema), ceanothus, lavatera, lilac.
Tip: Plant closely for a generous look.
6 of 21Photo by Norm Plate
Twining plants, like this wisteria, climb walls or trellises and spill over fences or arbors.
7 of 21Photo by Janet Loughrey
Wispy foliage and delicate flowers, like those of love-in-a-mist, create an airy effect.
8 of 21Photo by Jerry Harpur
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.
9 of 21Photo by Terry Donnelly
Plants with tall flower spikes, like gayfeather (Liatris), make bold contrasts to lower-growing ones. Others: delphinium, foxglove, hollyhock.
10 of 21Photo by Allan Mandell
They’re naturals in cottage gardens. Plant shrub roses among perennials, climbing types over arbors and against fences or walls.
11 of 21Caroline Kopp
Choose a space
Carefree style fits anywhere. You don’t need much space to achieve a cottage 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.
Next, options for where to plant.
12 of 21Photo by Jerry Harpur
On a rooftop
Pots filled with astilbes, delphiniums, and roses create a cottage effect on a San Francisco rooftop.
Design: Sonny Garcia
13 of 21Photo by Bob Wigand
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.
14 of 21Photo by Connie Coleman
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.
15 of 21Photo by Mark Turner
In a backyard
A grapevine-covered pergola frames a grass path in Jasmin Liepa’s garden in Bellingham, Washington. The soft pink blossoms of an herbaceous peony contrast with the towering spikes of foxgloves.
16 of 21Photo by Norm Plate
In a sunny corner
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
17 of 21Photo by Mark Turner
Add 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.
A curved path like this one will allow visitors to meander among plantings. Put an interesting focal point, like a bench, at the path’s end. These steps lead to a trellised rose.
See more ways to add to your garden next.
18 of 21Photo by Janet Loughrey
Integrate a flea-market find into your garden. This window-gate frames a moss-lined path leading to Darcy Daniels’s rear garden.
19 of 21Photo by Steven Gunther
Use them as accents among drifts of flowering plants like these roses.
20 of 21Photo by Terry Donnelly
Set a piece of outdoor art or a gazing ball on a pedestal among plantings.
21 of 21Photo by Steven Gunther
Place one among perennials and keep it filled with water to serve thirsty birds and catch reflections of surrounding flowers.