Everyone loves a cottage garden. It’s the perfect, nostalgic, rural dream. In our mind’s eye, we wander down a narrow lane to a little house, its garden filled with roses, chickens scratching by the back door, a neat little veg patch and fruit-filled apple tree. It doesn’t matter whether this vision is real or imagined; it’s a familiar world of profusion, fragrance and colour, chaotic yet charming, relaxed and reassuring.
Cottage gardening has always had its fans. And, with recent months more turbulent and stressful than any of us could have imagined, it’s not surprising cottage gardening is being enthusiastically embraced once more. Tipped as the big trend for 2021, ‘cottagecore’ embraces all things heritage and crafty; based on English country style, it’s heavily influencing our choice of home décor and fashion. Cynics might say that you can’t save the world by hanging floral curtains, but when comfort is needed, cosy cottage style hits the spot perfectly.
Out of doors, the cottagecore gardener is after something less clichéd, more authentic. They’re daring to dream of homegrown salads, home-baked bread and picking a posy from the back garden. They’re adapting traditional rural cottage ideals to suit an urban, artsy, artisan or eco-warrior perspective, depending on their tastes and needs. The best bit? You don’t need an actual cottage to create a cottage garden.
So, cottage gardening is absolutely in keeping with the spirit of the age. Small gardens, where every inch of space is valuable, invite a playful and experimental attitude where the boundaries are metaphorically pushed. The casual quality of an informal space that’s well-used and well-loved, where nature is welcome and food can be grown, is to be cherished.
From balcony to newbuild to tiny front garden, this is the year to take a trip down the garden path, pull up a chair, attend to your wellbeing and sit among the flowers.
Aquilegia 'Nora Barlow'
Also known as granny's bonnets, aquilegias are archetypal cottage flowers with elegant gently blooms that are often bicoloured u2013 a bit like a puffed sleeve on a tall stem. The foliage is distinctive too. Popular cultivars include pink and white 'Nora Barlow'. H90cm (35in) S40cm (16in)
1 Foxgloves: Digitalis purpurea – the common foxglove – is loved by bees. This biennial prefers light shade and a humus-rich soil, flowering from June to July. Furry green leaf rosettes form in year one, then tall pink flower spires are produced in year two, then it self sows with joyful abandon! H2m (6ft 6in) S60cm (24in)
2 Hardy geraniums: These good-natured plants will thrive in pretty much any site and soil, making them ideal for beginners. They’ll quickly form a generous green mound in spring, then flower in shades of white, blue and pink from June to September. They spread from rhizomes and will happily colonise areas of dry shade. ‘Rozanne’ is a reliable choice. H60cm (24in) S80cm (31in)
3 Climbing roses: Choose a fragrant climbing cultivar to clothe bare walls and fences. Train one up a pergola for added height and that romantic rose bower look. We like all the faves – pink ‘Generous Gardener’ (H4.5m/15ft), white ‘Claire Austin’ and yellow ‘Graham Thomas’ (H3.75m/12ft)
4 Aquilegias: Also known as granny’s bonnets, these archetypal cottage flowers have elegant gently blooms that are often bicoloured – a bit like a puffed sleeve on a tall stem. The foliage is distinctive too. Popular cultivars include ‘Nora Barlow’ H90cm (35in) S40cm (16in)
5 Alchemilla mollis: Lady’s mantle is an easy-going plant for sun or shade; it will even manage in heavy clay. Pleated, scalloped leaves add a decorative note to path edges, while the frothy yellow flower sprays June to September draw in pollinators of all shapes and sizes. After rain, the leaves hold onto droplets like tiny little balls of molten mercury. H60cm (24in) S75cm (29in)
6 Nigella damascena: Wispy flowers in soft sky blue have a delicate floaty look, July to September, with fine feathery foliage. An excellent partner for more robust-looking blowsy blooms. Needs sun or part shade and a moist well drained soil. H45cm (18in) S40cm (16in)
7 Lupins: These plump little skyscrapers flower in June, in such a wide range of colours there’s sure to be one for your garden. Palmate foliage has an almost jungly look. Make sure to water them in dry conditions – especially those in containers as they can get mildewy. Popular cultivars include purple ‘Masterpiece’ H75cm (29in) S50cm (19in)
8 Honeysuckle: Delightful fragrant climber in rhubarb and custard colours, with such fancy flowers July to October they always invite a double take. Grow them in sun or part shade but remember to add trellis or wires for support. We like ‘Serotina’ H7m (23ft) S1m (3ft 3in)
9 Lavender: A fragrant sun-loving subshrub, these silver-leaved plants create a purple haze when grown as an informal hedge by a path. Loved by bees. Keep them sheared back after flowering to avoid woody trunks and branches forming. H and S50cm (19in)
10 Hollyhocks: These gorgeous blooms are quintessential cottage plants, flowering on tall spires June to August. Grow them in a sandy well drainned soil and they’ll self sow for more the following year. H2.5m (8ft) S60cm (24in)