Grow the plants that love to mingle

Cottage garden plants are famously relaxed and sociable. Here's how to get the look

By Louise Curley

The ‘cottage-style’ of gardening has evolved over the centuries but retains an enduring charm. Born from the need to scratch a living from the land, it became a romantic ideal during the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and remains popular today. The exuberant but loose and relaxed style of planting suits our modern lifestyles. It embraces sustainable grow your own and wildlife-friendly ideals, and mingles cut flowers with useful herbs. Any planting style that has a naturalistic feel and embraces self-seeders will appeal to time-poor gardeners who find pristine gardens hard to maintain.
Plants are key to achieving the classic cottage look. Plant them close together to banish bare soil and create the all-important romantic tangle of flowers as they weave through each other. This also has the added advantage of keeping weeds down! Here we’ve outlined the key plants to mix and match...

Minglers include annuals, biennials, some perennials and bulbs with single flower stems and generally not much foliage. If they do have leaves these are delicate and add to the soft relaxed feel that prevents the planting from looking rigid. They’ll drift through your borders and many will self-seed, adding to the relaxed planting style.

Clumpers are herbaceous perennials that stay in one place, creating pockets of colour. They can be used in drifts for a classic cottage garden look or in blocks for a more contemporary take. Some ‘clumpers’, such as hardy geraniums and alchemilla, have a floppy habit. Use these to tumble over edges to soften hard landscaping. Divide every 3–4 years to reinvigorate the plants.

Frothers are the plants that offer lots of tiny florets into your planting scheme – the ideal counterpoint for more solid blooms such as roses and dahlias. Use them to create a billowing cloud of summer colour that seems to float on the breeze. These plants are ideal for path edges where they will soften the hard landscape.

Climbers can be used to make the most of every available growing space – a key element in cottage gardens. Use climbing roses, clematis and honeysuckle to clothe walls and fences or to scramble up over arches and pergolas. Make space for an obelisk or two in your borders and grow compact roses and clematis or annual climbers such as sweet peas or nasturtiums.

Spires add strong structural form and interest to cottage garden borders providing a contrast to the soft, floaty planting around them. They work best when planted in the middle to the back of a border where they can rise above the ‘minglers’ and ‘clumpers’.

Edibles were an essential component of cottage gardens. Nowadays most of us don’t have the time or space for self-sufficiency, but it’s still possible to have both a beautiful and productive garden. Focus on crops that are attractive, expensive to buy and those which taste best when super fresh.

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