The cottage garden planting style features a jumble of annuals, bulbs, flowering shrubs, perennials, and climbers. In sharp contrast to a manicured border, cottage garden plants are much more informal affairs that include brightly colored flowers in an informal planting scheme. You typically mix the colors up instead of sticking to one strict color scheme.
Also, cottage garden plants are usually going to be self seeding plants like aquilegias and foxgloves that allow them to spontaneously pop up throughout the garden or cracks to create a very informal look. They may also mix vegetables, fruits, shrubs or plants with edible or medicinal properties. Here are a few key cottage garden plants that you’ll want to incorporate into your design below.
Cottage Gardens – Typical Features
Along with the pretty flowers, the original cottage gardens had herbs and vegetables that were used in the kitchen or for medicinal purposes. The inclusion of some plants may surprise you as they have an invasive classification in some states or areas, so it’s always a good idea to double-check before you plant anything.
Herbs that have fragrant leaves are very popular cottage garden plants, and a sweet-smelling herb like woodruff was popular due to the use of masking unpleasant agricultural odors. Fruit-bearing trees are also popular, including crabapples and apples to lend shade and structure to the garden. HOllies and yews formed hedges and served to help keep livestock at bay.
Amaranth is a pretty cottage garden plant that comes in shades of red, purple, green, and gold. It produces taller flower spikes that are feathered with blooms that make a nice statement when you set them against a green backdrop. Amarnath is also a hardy plant, and it’ll grow well in hot conditions with very little water. You can use the leaves in a salad, saute them in a stir fry, or allow the plant to mature and harvest the seeds. A few popular cultivars include Red Leaf, Green Tails, and Love Lies Bleeding.
2. Asian Pear
Seasonal fruit trees like the Asian or apple-pear add height to your cottage garden plants and help to form an edible landscape with color during the spring. Unlike the Western pear, this one is juicy and crisp, and it’s relatively easy to grow in wetter climates. You can get russet or smooth, and the fruit is very attractive to look at, and it grows rapidly when you get the growing conditions correct. Consider any space restrictions when you plant this fruit tree and how tall the tree will be at maturity.
3. Bay Laurel
This cottage garden plant is native to the Mediterranea, and it can’t survive prolonged frosts. However, any gardener in colder climates can plant this tree in containers and have it do well because you can bring it inside to spend the winter. It’s a relative to the sassafras and avocado tree, and it produces dark green, stunning leaves that grow in large bunches. It’s a slow-growing tree that can get anywhere from 25 to 60 feet high, but you can control the height and shape by pruning it. It also works well in topiaries and hedges, and you can use the leaves for culinary uses to season stews, soups, or savory dishes.
If you need to fill in an area very quickly and add some height to your space, beans are a great cottage garden plant. They fill in rapidly to cover an obelisk or trellis with heart-shaped, soft leaves. Several varieties also have long-lasting blooms. The Scarlet Runner gives you pretty splashes of color as a cottage garden plant, and the Rattlesnake cultivar has striped pods for more interest. The flowers are edible, and you can easily add them to desserts or salads.
5. Beard Tongue
This sun-loving cottage garden plant comes in hues of white, pink, purple, red, lavender, and hot pink with contrasting colors on the throats. There are over 200 species in the snapdragon family, and they have trumpet-shaped blooms that are a good source of nectar for bees and hummingbirds. They blooms open very early in the spring months, and once the flowers finish, the foliage will make a nice backdrop for plants that bloom later.
Who doesn’t like fresh blueberries in the summer? They’re packed with antioxidants, and they go well in smoothies, salads, and a range of desserts or breakfast foods. In late spring, they form tiny flowers that are very delicate looking, and these flowers work to attract pollinators to the garden, especially bees. In fall, blueberry bushes turn a stunning red to add interest and color to your garden.
Loganberries, raspberries, and blackberries all create nice displays when you stake or trellis them over a vertical structure. They also give you a lot of sweet berries that are perfect for making sauce or jam, or for preserving whole or for juice. There are new cultivars that are thornless that give you all of the berries without the pinch.
There are also now a range of climate-adapted cultivars available. You can plant bare-rooted varieties in November or December, or you can wait and put the plants right in the ground in the springtime. Brambles are self-fertile, so you won’t have to have more than one variety of fruit. However, mixing plants with more traditional summer-bearing varieties will give you a longer harvest period. Sunny locations with loamy soil will give these cottage garden plants everything they need to thrive.
Better known as bellflowers, there are many species of this cottage garden plant available to choose from. Some grow just a few inches tall at full maturity while others reach five feet and higher. Most campanulas bloom in the early spring to mid-summer months, and they give you hues of violet, purple, white, and pink. Many species are very fast spreaders though, and some like the creeping bellflower are invasive. They can easily choke out other plants in your garden if you’re not careful. Better behaved cultivars you can choose include the milky bellflower or Brantford.
9. Cardinal Flower
Butterflies and hummingbirds love the tube-shaped, bright red blooms of cardinal flowers or lobelia. This is a native perennial that thrives in partial shade to sun, and they may need shade in the afternoon if you live in a warmer climate. They prefer to be in moist to wet soil, so good companion plants include hostas, ferns, iris, or astilbe. Be careful when it comes to using this cottage garden plant around pets or kids as it is poisonous.
Catmint is a favorite springtime perennial for many gardeners as it’s long-flowering, especially when you shear it back after the first bloom in late spring. It’s also a pollinator-friendly plant that is disease and insect-resistant, and it’s tolerant to drought. It has a very relaxed habit that makes it a wonderful addition to your cottage gardens. You can tuck clumps of this plant along pathways at the front of the garden, and it’ll give you pretty blue-purple flowers.
Great with almost every savory dish and easy to grow, chives add a zing and color to meat, eggs, stews, potatoes, salads, and stir fries. They’re not picky about the soil conditions, but they do need ample water and prefer rich soil. During summer, they produce pom pom purple blooms that add visual interest to borders and pathways that soften the edges with the fluffy texture. They’re also a favorite cottage garden plant for hummingbirds. You can grow them in clusters for drama or squeeze a few into a garden bed to get an edible color display.
This is a very versatile cottage garden plant that is a climber that you can grow over fences, walls, trellises, obelisks, and pergolas. There are different varieties that flower almost each month, and they’re great for introducing color to the garden all season long. They make nice companion plants, and you can grow them through several hosts. Since there are so many clematis varieties available, you can find one that fits most situations. Most cultivars will thrive in a well-draining, rich, fertile soil.
Although the blooms last a single day, this cottage garden plant is a pretty addition to your design. This is a virtually indestructible plant that craves sun, but it can grow in less-than-ideal soil conditions. They produce a rainbow of colors that range from raspberry pink to butter yellow, cream, maroon, apricot, and red. You can plant varieties with staggered bloom times to keep them flowering until the first frost of the season, and you can divide the clumps to spread out around your cottage garden.
Delphiniums are beloved cottage garden plants due to the showy color spears that range from white and purple to various blues. You should go for a variety of delphiniums instead of sticking to one in your garden. They flower from June to July, and they work very well planted in a border or for cut flowers. You can sow this plant from seed to encourage them to flower the following year. You want to pay attention as sowing instructions will vary, but you generally sow them during autumn or in August to overwinter before blooming the following spring. They like well-drained soil and won’t do well in pots.
Black elderberry is the main ingredient in many cough syrups due to the healing properties of this cottage garden plant. They have a soothing effect on the respiratory system. The berries make a lovely cordial or juice, and you can use them to make jams, pies, jelly, and wine. You do have to be careful that you don’t eat a red elderberry by mistake as this is a poisonous look-alike cousin to the black elderberry. You want to plant at least two bushes 60 feet apart to maximize pollination, and a few popular cultivars include Black Lace, Nova, and York.
16. English Daisy
If you look very closely at many medieval paintings or old tapestries, you’ll see these tiny white cottage garden plants popping up through the grass. English daisies were bred from these flowers, and they’re native to Europe as a low-growing plant. Today, you’ll see larger blooms in the single or double varieties, and the colors range from red or pink to white with bright yellow centers. You can combine these early-blooming plants with violas, pansies, and other spring flowers. They tolerate average soil with full sun to partial shade.
17. English Lavender
Sweet-smelling lavender is a very popular cottage garden plant, but it can be challenging to grow in climate zones that feature high humidity levels. English lavender is usually less demanding as long as you plant it in a well-draining soil in full sun. It’s a taller perennial herb that is a great companion plant to black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, and shorter herbs and flowers.
18. Flowering Tobacco
As a member of the nightshade family, flowering tobacco is also called jasmine tobacco or woodland tobacco. The trumpet-shaped flowers come in white, pink, red, and pale green, and they are great for feeding hummingbirds. You should grow this annual cottage garden plant with other plants that tolerate partial shade to sun, such as cleome. For more visual impact, you want to use airy, tall plants in clumps or masses. These plants are also toxic, so avoid growing them where your pets or kids can get into them.
19. Flowering Quince
This is a deciduous shrub that produces colorful flowers on several individual stems. The traditional cottage garden plant is Chaenomeles japonica, and it produces a host of red and pink blooms and dramatic clusters. The fruit it has is astringent and very unpleasant to the taste. The flavor will improve after the first frost. This cottage garden plant is different from the tree that produces pear-like, bland fruit that is commonly made into jelly.
Foxgloves are great for the back of your cottage garden as they produce taller spires of bell-shaped flowers that tower over plants. You can get purple, pink, white, yellow, and apricot blooms, and they make long-lasting cut flowers. Foxgloves fall into the biennial category, and this means that they won’t produce flowers until the second year. Once they flower, they produce seeds and die off. They will self-sow through your garden beds and mingle with other plants. All parts of this cottage garden plant are toxic, so wear gloves if you touch it.
Heliotropes produce a vanilla-like scent, and you can find them in shades of lavender, blue, and white. They work well growing alongside pale yellow or pink flowers to create a soft color combination, or you can get a bold look by planting them next to gold or hot pink blooms. Marine is a very striking navy-blue cultivar, and this is a spring-blooming annual that needs partial to full sun and well-draining soil.
Hollyhocks are usually very short-lived perennials that will only last as a cottage garden plant for a few years. They self-sow a lot, so they will eventually wander through all of your garden beds. They work well in the back of your perennial border or alongside a fence where the taller flower spikes won’t overshadow shorter plants. They can get between six and seven feet tall with a four-inch diameter with double or single flowers that bloom on the top half of the stem.
Widely considered to be one of the most nutritious vegetables you can get, kale is a very fast-growing member of the brassica family. This family also includes cabbage, broccoli, and turnips. It produces lacy, colorful leaves in several shades and textures that are so delicate. It’s a cool-season vegetable that you should plant as soon as you can work the soil in the spring, and you can harvest your kale regularly by trimming away the outer leaves as soon as the plant establishes itself. Red Russian offers purple stems with fringed foliage, or Redbor is a curly, colorful cultivar.
This cottage garden plant grows very easily from seeds, and it’s an annual that you should sow in the fall months since they tend to wither as the summer heat arrives. They self-seed to pop up again next spring. You can plant them with lavender and roses to get a soft look with different heights and forms. Larkspurs produce shades of pink and blue and white. Self-sown flowers tend to get drab over time, so it’s a good idea to start with fresh seeds every few years.
Better known as sweet alyssum, this cottage garden plant makes a wonderful groundcover or in borders in your garden. They’re typically grown as an annual in zones four to nine, and it produces a stream of fragrant, endless tiny white flowers throughout the summer months.
Pansies are very hardy, and they offer cheerful faces that make them a great cottage garden plant. They prefer to be in cooler temperatures, so start them roughly six to eight weeks indoors before you have to transplant them. You can sow them in the summer months to get early winter flowers too. Pansies come in more colors than virtually any other flower, and some cultivars offer a very light, delicate perfume.
Late spring is the best time for peonies, and they’re very hardy cottage garden plants that produce showy blooms. Most cultivars are also very fragrant, and they’ll perfume your garden for several weeks when the flowers are in bloom. You should pick a spot in your garden that gets full sun with well-drained soil that has compost added in. When you plant them, don’t bury your peony tubers too deep in the soil or they’ll never flower. The tuber should go no deeper than two inches into the ground.
Garden phlox is also called border phlox, and it’s a perfect mid-sized cottage garden plant to have. The plants will top out at two to four feet tall and bloom starting in early July and going through August. You can deadhead the plants to extend the blooming season. There is a range of brighter colors available with phlox cultivars, including red, white, lavender, pink, peach, and violet. You can get powdery mildew resistant varieties like David if this disease is common in your area, and you should space them apart to allow for good circulation.
29. Pineapple Sage
Native to Guatemala and Mexico, this cottage garden plant is a hardy perennial that produces bold red blooms that attract hummingbirds. It has edible soft green foliage, and it has a stronger pineapple scent that makes it a very nice border plant. Pineapple sage is also deer-resistant as they seem to avoid the uncommon scent. Because it tends to bloom later in the summer months or in the fall, it brings color to autumn gardens.
With the tenacious habit and colorful stalks, rhubarb works well in both front and backyards as a cottage garden plant. It has toxic leaves that make it resistant to deer, and it gives you a welcome splash of color in early spring. Rhubarb is a perennial that prefers to be in cooler climates to do well, but it’ll grow as an annual in warmer planting zones. You should feed it heavily with compost to keep it growing.
Old-fashioned, fragrant roses are popular cottage garden plants. You should do plenty of research before you settle on one type of rose though as some are much less hardy than others. For low-maintenance cultivars, look for Knock-Out or Easy Elegance families, as well as more hardy shrub roses. Rambling and climbing roses can also be popular cottage garden plants when you plant them at the base of the fence and let them climb and drape over it. You’ll find a huge range of colors for roses, including yellow, orange, purple, red, pink, peach, and white.
When the wind blows, this cottage garden plant’s pink, lavender, or white blooms tend to sway in the breeze. Despite the unattractive name this plant has, it comes from the Latin word that means scabies, and this is a skin disease that these plants used to treat. It produces pretty flowers that attract hordes of butterflies. They will bloom until frost, tolerate drought, and they like full sun.
33. Shasta Daisy
Long-flowering, cheerful Shasta daisies are foundation cottage garden plants. They’re resistant to diseases and pests, easy to grow, and make great cut flowers. Depending on the cultivar you pick out, you’ll get masses of flowers in mid to late summer that get between 18 and 36 inches tall. Once the flowers start to open, you want to keep an eye on them and deadhead as the flowers start to fade to encourage new blooms.
34. Signet Marigold
Less known than the African or French Marigolds, this plant is a smaller orange or yellow bloom with lacy, fine-cut foliage. They grow between 12 and 24 inches tall, and they have a lemon scent. You want to put this cottage garden plant in an area with full sun or along walkways and paths. They have airy, light foliage that works well with nasturtiums, violas, and snapdragons. They’re deer and rabbit-resistant, and they can tolerate drought without any problems.
35. Sweet Pea
Very fragrant sweet peas are popular cottage garden plants. They are a climbing flower that comes in a range of colors with very intense scents. They’re annuals that prefer to be in full sun, but they dislike very hot weather. They’ll produce the best blooms in early spring. If you live in a hotter planting zone, sow your seeds in the fall. It’s common to trellis these plants, but in a cottage garden, you can let them grow around shrubs or tall perennials or train them to grow up on the fence.
36. Swiss Chard
The final cottage garden plant on the list is a frilly edible that is a relative of the beetroot. It’s a biennial, so you need to replant it each year to optimize the display unless you plan on saving seed. There are a few pests that bother this plant too, so be on the lookout for slugs and flea beetles early in the growing season.
These 36 cottage garden plants make wonderful additions to your garden design, and you can easily mix and match them to get different colors, heights, and foliage to create an eye-catching display. Try them out and see which ones thrive in your planting zone and create a wild, pretty space.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.