My English Cottage Garden. Year 2.

This is year two of trying to grow an English Cottage Garden that looks like it’s been around for a century. So far it looks like it’s been growing for 2-3 weeks tops. It’s quite pathetic actually. Welcome to it!

Karen Bertelsen on the front porch of her historic red brick cottage.

This is me leaning my porch pillar in a bra that doesn’t give enough support, holding my iPhone casually while I click a button on it to take a photo with my drone all the while attempting not to crash it into a car, sidewalk, neighbour or my forehead.

Yellow daylilies growing near front of white picket fence, with open gate.

I mentioned that my English Cottage Garden, Year 2, is quite pathetic. And it is. But that’s to be expected. It’s pretty hard to fake a garden that’s been around for a century. It takes time. Maybe not a century but certainly longer than the 2 seasons of Big Little Lies that I’ve given it.

Purple/pink phlox growing in front of historic porch.

Welcome to my 2-year-old English Cottage garden, surrounding my 180-year-old cottage. Certain places are too crowded, certain places are too empty and others are just right. Actually there aren’t any that are just right, but I added that in there to make myself feel a little better about this process.

Side view of English Cottage garden with old fashioned porch, white picket fence, flowers and greenery.

Can you see the two tall groups of purple/pink phlox?  Of course you can because they stand up and out like great big giant phlox plants. The thing is, the phlox  I bought and planted last year were tiny. And I thought the variety was supposed to stay tiny. In fact I’m sure I have a tag somewhere claiming exactly that.  Because I thought they were going to stay low to the ground, I planted them in the front of my beds where they currently look like 2 pink soldiers guarding my apple espaliers.

3 Tiered apple espalier growing in front of porch.

Speaking of the apple espaliers … they’re getting enormous and I’m really going to have to throw caution to the wind and just regularly prune them instead of only pruning them on the summer solstice. Yes, I want to keep them compact and have apples on them, but I also want them to look relatively tidy along my porch. At the moment they’re a bit frenzied looking.

Corner of garden showing a variety of colourful flowers including dianthus, phlox and lavender.

Look!  That’s a nice corner. And that’s how the whole garden should be.  Free flowing, lots of colour with just a bit of garden bed showing.

My side yard and along my fence is doing fairly well in terms of its development.

Narrow English Cottage garden to the side of an historic red brick cottage.

But the front beds are a struggle for me because I want to keep things nice and low. Like ground-cover low so you get an uninterrupted view of the espaliers. 

Side view of English Cottage Garden with grass lawn surrounded by beds and classic English plantings.

I don’t want any sort of border plant or edging because that’s too structured for the look I’m going for.  I LOVE the look of little square boxwoods along the border of beds and everything looking crisp and perfect, but that’s not where I’m headed. I’m headed somewhere a bit more frantic but still controlled.  Part crazy Russell Brand part sane Russell Brand.  Understand?

Historic red brick house and white picket fence seen from the side with window boxes filled with red geraniums and parsley.

In amongst the perennials and annuals, I have a few of my vegetables. The flower boxes for instance are geraniums, but all the greenery in them is parsley.  I have a random pop up potato plant in one of the beds that I’ve left and celery tucked in beside the phlox.  There’s rhubarb, herbs and of course tomatoes.

Espaliered tomato plant growing along Year two of my English Cottage Garden around my 180 year old cottage.

I’ve espaliered this tomato by  using a variation on the string method  I use and love so much. I’ve let one stem grow from the ground up until just before the top of the fence. At that point I allowed 2 leaders to grow, one running off to the left of the stem and one to the right. By the end of August, I suspect it will run the length of my fence, spilling cherry tomatoes all over.

Black Krim tomato plant growing against back fence using the string method.

Using the string method again, I’ve planted a Black Krim tomato against my fence. On my porch trellis I’m string training another cherry tomato to grow up it.

Last fall I dug up, split and moved a variety of hydrangeas, daylillies, peonies and phlox. This fall I expect I’ll be doing the same. Digging up, moving, rearranging and rethinking.

Overhead view of English Cottage Garden and front of historic red brick cottage house.

I’ll get some more shots of the infant English Cottage Garden in late August when it will either be exploding with colour and beautiful or brown and dead.  If the flowers do well but grubs get at the lawn, it might just be a combination of both. 

Either way I’ll be taking photos of it all in a new bra.


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My English Cottage Garden. Year 2.


  1. Amariah says:

    Thanks for the post on your English cottage garden! It sounds like you’re having a lot of fun (and frustration) with it.

    I can completely understand where you’re coming from. I’ve been there too. When I first started gardening, my garden looked like a disaster too.

  2. It is not pathetic, progress is beautiful!

  3. hedge care says:

    I just read your post .” And you were so right when mentioning that it is hard to fake a garden that’s been around for 100 years! It takes time.

  4. Awesome info on some considerations with such value! Thanks for sharing such a wonderful content. HEART HEART ❤

  5. plaster says:

    Nice, Easy and interesting products. ! Mine is a real mess and it is high time to clean it and to organize it! Thanks for contributing the best tips in an approachable, down to earth way. You’re talent is huge, and your practicality is quite grounding in this digital world. Thank you! 😄

  6. jessie says:

    Your cabin garden is tagging along pleasantly. Your wonderful old block home is the ideal spot for the cabin look. love what you are doing; you will have precisely what you set out to do; an exquisite cabin feel to your nursery and home.

  7. Athena says:

    My perennial flower garden mentor always says don’t loose heart, the garden won’t look full and finished until the third year.

    ‘So this link says chives and lavender and nasturtiums are companion plants for apples, they might be low growing enough for you. But if you put in that tiny, orderly boxwood hedge that you fired my imagination up when you mentioned, I would likely sigh with contentment, too.

    I’m using the string tomato method with success this year! But definitely will try the two string mod next year because it pains me to cut off one of the leaders.

    And the upper story window box? Pure delight.

  8. Mary says:

    Have you thought of hellebores? I’m in zone 5-6 and I have half dozen different hellebores. They’re evergreen, have leathery leaves, start blooming in March and I just noticed a week ago a couple flowers on one of them. They grow about 12 to 18 inches tall and all I do is cut away the last years dead stuff in the spring throw a little compost around them and ignore them except to admire the beautiful flowers. They like bright shade or early sun. I love them.

    Your house and garden are lovely.

  9. Angela Sadler says:

    Move the phlox. You’ll be much happier☺️

  10. Mary says:

    I forgot about the chickens🙄 Can you get your hands on leaf mulch or mushroom compost?

  11. Mary says:

    I love your home, it’s charming. Reminds me of a grownup doll house (And i mean that in a good way, not a twee way 😍) if I could make one tiny suggestion, the next time you mulch, consider using a darker mulch—you want it to look like dirt. I used to work in landscape maintenance for an Englishwoman who designed small patio gardens and it’s something I learned from her. It puts the emphasis on the plants and not the mulch. Just my 2 cents.

    • Karen says:

      I agree! Plants look much better against darker mulch. I used to have black mulch and I do love how plants look against it, but it’s dyed and possibly toxic for my chickens. Also the dye used to get all over my hands and feet :/ So now I go with natural cedar mulch, lol. ~ karen!

  12. Jill Marvin says:

    I enjoy your gardening stories immensely – always with humour and boy oh boy gardeners need it. I commit horticultural homicide every year but hope blooms eternal. May I just say that an honest to goodness English Cottage garden very seldom has any lawn at all. Just flowers, flowers, flowers – poppies, campanula, lavender, hollyhocks (beware the dreaded mildew) etc., and some “old” roses with fantastic scent. David Austin has lovely olde worlde variety, old fashioned very double flowers.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Jill! I have all those flowers you listed. :) And gave up on David Austin Roses years ago. My entire yard used to be roses! All types. But between black spot and bugs they were too needy. Even my oldest heirloom rose that was probably 30 years old and had a trunk on it succumbed to a couple of hard winters in a row. I’ve replaced one single rose (Hansa) but that’s it. I can’t take the heartbreak, lol. ~ karen!

  13. Kate says:

    The purply-pink flowers are Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), possibly Dianthus barbatus ‘Amazon Neon Purple’. The red ones are another cultivar of Sweet William, possibly ‘Atrosanguineus’. Sweet William petals are edible!

  14. Carlene says:

    I’ve had amazing success with perennial salvia (salvia nemorosa, NOT annual salvia). Super appropriate for an English garden, as that’s where it’s from, and added bonus that it’s also native food for honeybees. I mostly have the “East Friesland” variety, as the “May Night” variety tends to flop midsummer. Their flowers bloom early, last forever, and if you give them a good pruning after the first bloom, they usually give at least one additional bloom. One summer I ended up with 4 total bloom cycles, it was fantastic. Completely covered in pollinators the entire growing season, too. I also grow purple Veronica speedwell, which begins to bloom as the first round of perennial salvia blooms fade, so it goes from purple spiked flowers right into purple spiked flowers. I plant or divide giant allium bulbs every fall since those bloom late spring/early summer, and all the different shapes of purples are covered with happily buzzing insects from May until August. The photo I added was from early June as the garden was just beginning to fill in (zone 5).

  15. Ann says:

    Hi, your garden is lovely and the phlox is smashingly beautiful! You could move it to the outer edges and try yarrows, coreopsis, pinks and old fashioned creeping phlox (not the mossy stuff) in front of your espaliered apples. I’m so jelly of your espaliered trees. Been dying to try espaliering Asian pear and cherry trees along a fence line in the sightlines of my back patio. Next spring it is!

    • Karen says:

      I’ll definitely be moving the phlox in the fall. :) But that’s how the garden takes shape I guess. Moving things around. That’s what I did last fall and it helped. :)~ karen!

  16. Vikki says:

    Well, I think your garden is lovely and a good start. Anything would look good against that fabulous house! Patience, Grasshopper……
    (I don’t have any, but I always recommend it.)

    • Jan in Waterdown says:

      Ok I just read that link…. wtf was that? Is it funny or supposed to be? Maybe it’s like beauty is in the eye of the beholder or ya just had to be there 🙄.

      • Sarah Neely says:

        Jan, It is meant to be humorous, and I definitely have an odd sense of humor! I think they’re making fun of all of the advice we women get about how to choose a bra – why is it so dang hard?!

      • Sarah McDonnell says:

        I thought it was hilarious, Sarah! Save me a seat on the Weird Humor Bus, K?
        I had always suspected bras of having a part in original sin, as evidenced by the way so many women refer to it as a Damned Bra.

    • Jan in Waterdown says:

      Ok I just read that link and all I can think is wtf was that? Ya gotta explain it to me! Is it funny? Imho, it’s really creepy but then I dislike snakes. Maybe it’s like beauty is in the eye of the beholder or something 🤔.

    • Karen says:

      I didn’t even recognize it as a snake, but they might be right. Thanks! LOL. ~karen!

  17. Sarah Padron says:

    Hi Karen. I hope this may be able to help you with the grubs. My sister investigated milky spore. It only kills Japanese beetles but it’s non toxic to other bugs animals and people. It’s a bacterium that attacks grubs and kills them slowly. You would have to do 3 applications but after that, it not only kills the grubs but keeps the soil grub free for 10 years! We also applied liquid aeration along with the milky spore and our grass which was mostly dead has come back to life as well as the plants. You can use this along with the nematodes and that should help a lot hopefully.

    • Karen says:

      Huh! Interesting. I’ve never heard of milky spore. Thanks! ~ karen

      • Sarah Padron says:

        One more thing Karen! Get the granules, not powder and you can use it in a drop spreader. It’s much easier than the powder. The brand I use is St Gabriel Organics. Good luck and I love your garden!!

  18. Valerie says:

    Hollyhocks are a must

    • Karen says:

      You might want to let my hollyhocks know that because they’re unaware of their importance, lol. They’re coming along veryyyyyy slowly along my fence line. ~ karen!

      • Karen White says:

        Aren’t they biennials? Like delphiniums and foxglove? I have a few biennials this year I started from seed and I’m not surprised they haven’t bloomed because I think that happens the second year. Your hollyhocks will look amazing next year!! I may grow some. Have you tried growing verbena bonariensis? Or cephalaria gigantea? I started mine from seed this year. The verbena is quite tall but you can see through it so it can go in the middle of a border. The cephalaria seems to be a quintessential cottage garden plant.
        I’m always inspired by your projects and your food and garden posts are my favorites! (Karen in Colorado)

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