Creating an English Cottage Garden. Year 1.

An English Cottage garden isn’t something you can whip up in a month. The charm of a true English Cottage garden is that it looks like it’s been that way for decades.  Possibly centuries. And it takes just about that long to actually achieve. ;)

After years of growing only vegetables in my front yard, this spring I decided to rethink the yard.  With 1,600 square feet of vegetables in my community garden and my habit of only eating 17 or 18 meals a day – I knew I didn’t need any more vegetables.

This freed up my entire front yard and created a burst of excitement the likes of which I haven’t had since discovering pillow case sized bags of potato chips at Costco.

Then came the anxiety.  The likes of which I haven’t had since discovering pillow case sized bags of potato chips at Costco.

An English cottage garden is the kind of thing that looks really easy to achieve because it’s so casual and free flowing, but just like perfectly tousled-I’m-so-sexy-just-rolled-out-of-bed hair, it actually looks best when done by the hands of a professional.

For the amateur of anything, perfect is easy – imperfect is hard.

Take a bedroom.  You go to a store buy an entire bedroom suite (cause maybe this is 1952) and you stick it in your bedroom like Lego.  Bed in the centre, matching end tables on either side and a dresser on the long wall.  Done in a day.

Trying to decorate a bedroom with mismatched furniture that didn’t come as a set and still have it look great is HARD.  It’s more time consuming, more annoying and more difficult to get right.

Both bedrooms will end up nice but one will get your bedroom in your local paper while the other will get you it into Architectural Digest. Hypothetically speaking of course.  Because people in Architectural Digest don’t have bedrooms they have sensory deprivation sleeping pods only accessible by boat.

So I was anxious about trying to create a perfectly imperfect garden.   I have most of the elements I want but it’s still a bit awkward.  It’s young though.  It’ll grow into its looks.


I was lucky enough to buy a house with a white picket fence, which is English Cottage Garden 101.  Picket, cast iron or privet fence.

Things should be wild, unmatching but controlled choas.  It shouldn’t feel like a woodchuck is going to dart out from under a bush and eat one of your toes.

Along the fence at the side of my house I have a few perennial sweet pea bushes (one white, two  purple), a few masses of phlox and daylily. Technically I shouldn’t have daylily in the English cottage garden because they aren’t very English at all. They’re North American by way of Asia.  But for now they serve the purpose of filling in space until other more English plants can be grown and split.

The front across the house has two espaliers on either side of my path which again isn’t very English cottage garden because of the symmetry but it still works.

I pulled out some massive herb bushes like sage and an old lavender but left the oregano and thyme bushes.  I hacked them back into submission and they work well.


These perennial sweet peas were one of the few things I didn’t rip out several years ago when I turned my front yard into a vegetable garden.  They bloom from the beginning of July until into September and make the most perfect, long lasting little bouquets.


Picking up on the purple of the perennial sweet peas, I repeated the colour throughout the garden with lavender …


Hydrangeas …


Mini phlox …


and a blue/purple Delphinium.


Plus I couldn’t completely abandon vegetables so every so often you’ll see some celery stuck in the beds. You can see a bit of celery trying to escape from under the left side of the lavender.


My apples have been decondomed for the time being because it’s been SO hot here that they were starting to actually burn in the plastic bags.  I like baked apples and all, but this didn’t seem to be the right way to go about them.


The foreground of this photo is the thyme with little white flowers over it.


Cockcomb are tucked in different areas.


If I had to pick one flower to represent the English Cottage Garden for me it would  be Hollyhock.  I love how I’m making all these grand statements about English Cottage Gardens and yet, have never even been to England. It’s like a Muslim trying to give guidance on how to roast a pig.

Also scattered through the garden are snapdragons. I grew a bunch this spring, plus tons of them sprouted up from last year’s snapdragons in the garden so I transplanted some of them into empty areas in the garden.  Of which there are many.

It’s going to take years for it to properly fill in.

Taking up one major hunk of the garden is my milkweed patch which blends in perfectly with the rest of the garden.  Even if it didn’t I’d keep it because I like my Monarchs.


I’m always befuddled (that’s a word I’m going to use more now that I have an English Cottage Garden) when people tell me they have no luck growing cilantro.  I planted it once.  I will never EVER get rid of it.  As in, even if I tried my hardest I couldn’t obliterate it if I had a Tommy gun, a body burying shovel and a pinkie ring. It pops up everywhere year after year.

I knew I needed some sort of structural element so I decided on a bird bath.  I got this old cast iron one at a local auction for around $40.  Of course it isn’t filled with water at this moment in time but usually it is.

And because like I said before, I just couldn’t completely abandon vegetables.  The espaliered tomato plant.  One of three in the front yard actually.

This particular tomato plant is Candyland, which births hundreds of small, currant sized tomatoes.  It’s an indeterminate tomato plant, which means it’ll keep growing taller and taller until the frost kills it. So by the end of the summer, it should be well up the side of my house by around 9 feet.

Growing up the trellis on the side of my porch is another tomato, this one a cherry tomato called Sungold that is also espaliered with the string method.


There are very definite gaps which still need to be filled in with something other than natural cedar mulch and fallen flower petals but things will get bigger over the years and fill in. Plus other plants will get big enough to split and replant. I think. I hope.  Vegetables were so much easier.

I missed a bag on the apple trees.  Did you spot it?  Or are you stupid, like me?



You might recognize the window boxes on the side of the house from a post I did a few years ago on How to Build a Window Box.  Actually, the title of the post was “Hey, Lady! You Know You Can Buy Those, Right?”.


MASSIVE yellow daylily plants doing their daylily thing.  I’m assuming you all know that a Daylily is called a Daylily because each bloom only lasts for one day.  But if you didn’t know, SURPRISE! It’s true.


The brick path up to the house is uneven and bit hard to walk on and made from the original bricks from the house.  I’ll never change it.

Full List of Plants
In My English Cottage Garden.

Flowers in the garden

Lavender (French & English)
Purrsian Blue Catmint

Edibles in the garden

→Follow me on Instagram where I often make a fool of myself←


Creating an English Cottage Garden. Year 1.


  1. Pamela says:

    I am using your porch trellis as inspiration for one I am building for my porch. I planted a light pink climbing rose below it so I hope it will scoot up the trellis soon. Love the tomatoes! And your English garden will be beautiful!

  2. Ev Wilcox says:

    Well, I have a few choice thoughts about day lilies! Three of us humans spent hours on Saturday last trying to beat back the #$%^&* day lilies! I had no idea how invasive they were, or how their roots were like those of #$%^&* trees! No pulling out for those rascals! One must DIG THEM OUT! They had spread like crazy but didn’t bother blooming, so I didn’t even know what they were! There are more that need to go, but our best helper just HAD to go to work today, so us 70+ old codgers are going to work on the rest today. I have already ordered yet another 12 x 12′ heavy weed blanket to cover up what we did so far. I’ll decide what to do with that area next spring.
    A week ago, my daughter bravely denuded an 8 ft sq over grown like crazy unused turtle pen. I have already blanketed it and will decide it’s fate by spring. Yesterday she showed me her poison ivied arms-even though she wore long sleeves and jeans for the work! I felt bad for that. It was a hot sunny day and she wore all that-to no avail. Sigh…. So-now, NO friggin’ day lilies, ever again. I had always wanted to get the dwarf yellow ones for another area-BUT NO WAY NOW! Your English garden is wonderful. If I was a lot younger I would give it a go, but now I will just enjoy from photos! Today it’s off to buy a lot of poison ivy spray, which is everywhere here in my part of northeastern Ohio. Thanks for the photos Karen!

    • Suel Anglin says:

      Hello there, I feel your pain. Someone gave me a bushel bucket of corms (I think that’s the term) and told me they were Iris…Imagine my surprise when I had those orange things coming up all over creation. Poison Ivy is a hateful thing to have, we have plenty of it here in Western North Carolina.

      I hope to start on my English garden soon, Karen’s is already beautiful. I’m thinking of hiring those fellows with a stump grinder to take out the day lilies.

      • Ev Wilcox says:

        Hmmmm, stump grinder…the neighbors had it done in their yard. Noisy and it took awhile, but effective. Saturday last I went to cut some suckers from a stump we have, only to find it completely encircled with a plush growth of adult poison ivy. Right there where I go past it by our driveway-and I had never noticed it! Going to hardware store today and getting lots of spray today. Stupid poison ivy…. Ev

  3. sara gerdes says:

    If you haven’t heard of him already, I suggest you check out Arthur Parkinson’s garden at the Emma Bridgewater factory. He’s a young English gardener with a really lush and dynamic gardening style, and he’s obsessed with raising chickens! I love him. Your garden looks great!

  4. Nicole says:

    Wait, did I read that right? You pulled out lavender and put in other lavender? I’m not horticulturally-inclined so I don’t understand why that’d be a thing? Wouldn’t it make sense to transplant it if you don’t like the exact placement? Since it’s an established plant?

    Also, I suspect the people whose homes are featured in Architectural Digest don’t sleep. They fold up into a tasteful armchair when they’re not in use.

    • Alena says:

      There are lots of different kinds of lavender so maybe one type was replaced by another one. (Your comment just caught my eye as I was responding to message just above yours, I don’t remember what the Karen’s post said).

  5. Alena says:

    It also takes just as long to get rid of an English Cottage garden.
    When I bought my current house (which does not look very cottage-y) the front yard had what looked like an English cottage garden (if looked from a distance, like from two houses down on the opposite side of the street). I think there was even a climbing rose but I can’t swear on it.
    If you looked closely you would discover that it was mostly an enormous quantity of those orange day-lilies that grow in every ditch, an equally enormous quantity of oat grass and roughly the same amount of weeds. Here and there was a plant that could qualify for an English cottage garden (one was the above mentioned rose plus 2 or 3 other ones).
    I left it as it was for about 2 years as I had other worries and the task seemed overwhelming but my neighbour told me that people were asking if anybody lives there etc. Also, by the end of summer the weeds were almost as tall as i am with their stems so woodsy that I wished I had a machete.

    It was horrible to get rid of it. I kept digging and removing the day-lilies rhizomes and the clumps of the oat grass, then I lathered and repeated endless times. When I thought I had removed every rhizome piece I dug again and found out they were multiplying at an alarming speed. Long story short, I think it took me 2 years to get rid of all of that stuff.

    I wanted a Japanese garden and evergreens and foliage only. Along the way I realized that a Japanese garden takes a lot of understanding of what you are putting where so I changed the course slightly but now, some 7 years later, I have a jungle-y front garden where everything ballooned up in size so I guess you could say I have a West Coast front garden with lots of evergreens and a weeping nootka (which I planted when it was 2-ft spindly stick) with its top above the roof line and as bushy as a grizzly bear.
    I planted a magnolia SHRUB 4 years ago (in a spot where a Japanese maple lived and died) and the magnolia shrub looks liked a small tree and I think I will have to remove it because it will start flirting with the power line next or the second next year.

    Karen, are you planning on keeping the lawn at the front or do you plan to replace it with plants later on? I have a blueish hortensia (hydrangea) in a pot for which I have no place. I wish you lived a bit closer because I would be happy to drop it off.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Alena! I’m keeping the lawn for the foreseeable future. Of course that could change, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. ~ karen!

    • PMMK says:

      Digging up a tree is hard work, Alena. Before disposing of your magnolia you might want to consider some judicious pruning. Not just random hacking but cutting back to shape nicely and to control the size. This would probably increase the number of blossoms too. If you don’t know how, there are probably Master Gardeners in your area who can advise you for free. Then there is Google.

      • Alena says:

        Hi PMMK,
        Thanks for your suggestion, I will do that. There is a retired master gardener lady living not to far from me and I chatted with her a few times in the past when out with my dogs so I can contact her.
        I think I will wait till the end of the growing season since I believe pruning is best done when the tree is going dormant.
        Thanks again!

      • PMMK says:

        I do know that magnolias should be pruned between mid-summer and early fall so they have time to heal before winter; otherwise, they will bleed sap and not in a good way like maple. I also know that one probably shouldn’t remove more than a third of the tree each year. And, the 4 Ds of pruning: remove the dead, damaged, diseased and deformed to maintain a tree’s health and good looks.

  6. Maryanne says:

    The garden looks lovely. I’m excited to watch it evolve :)

    That Delphinium is AMAZING! What’s it’s name? I tried to google and it came up with a bunch of varieties. I think the stripe is spectacular!! Plus I live in the 6ix, so it should do well in my garden too I hope (same zone-ish?).

    • Karen says:

      I’m afraid I have NO idea. :( I got it last year and the tag is long gone. ~ karen!

    • Elizabeth says:

      I’m fairly certain that if you google delphinium ‘Guardian Blue’ you will find the one Karen has. Can never be certain as there is variety in seed grown vs tissue culture plants. It’s the closest thing I found. All of the larkspurs are Beautiful plants!

  7. Kim C. says:

    Thanks for the tour Karen. If this is year one, I can’t wait to see your little patch of paradise reach it’s full potential!

  8. Mary W says:

    That blue/purple delphinium takes my breath away! I’ve wanted an English country garden (is that a thing?) since I was a small girl. It came from my Dad reading to me each night and the wonderful things I imagined while listening. I finally have one without a moments work – yours! I can look at it every time you post a picture and it has a white picket fence – the best part of my dream garden. In Florida, this would be a full time job to keep up and the fence would last about 5 years. Rain every day and heat like a pressure cooker doesn’t fit in my dream space. So, thanks for your beautiful pictures and I don’t think I’ll ever file the delphinium in my long-time memories file, it must remain up front and immediately accessible after hearing any news! Hoping Canadians still have our back! Our old democracy seems destined for long term memories.

  9. Edie Marie says:

    What a sweet garden Karen! My favorite look for gardening and not easy to accomplish. You’ve nailed it! The addition of your trained tomato plants is beautiful and genius! Your brick house with brick walkway is picture perfect. Thanks for sharing all your incredible ideas to spark our own creativity.
    Blessings, Edie Marie & Kitty

  10. Penny Tripp says:

    Looks lovely Karen – I’d also suggest putting in foxgloves and sweet rocket. Both seed themselves around prolifically and fill in the gaps while the other plants get a bit bigger.

  11. june says:

    This garden is shaping up nicely, but I’m surprised that you haven’t sown annual and biennial seeds in the bare spots. There are so many which will self seed each year and can easily be thinned out as you add more perennials in the future. This is the easiest and most inexpensive route to the cottage look you desire.

    • Karen says:

      There are several annual plants I started from seed in there. Zinnias, dianthus, Cockscomb, snapdragons etc. The bigger bare spots will eventually be filled with perennials. ~ karen!

  12. Katie C. says:

    Everything about your house is so beautiful. Can you come to my house and fix everything that’s wrong with it?

    I want to have a beautiful garden in the front of my house, but all I can manage to grow are weeds and a couple lilies.

  13. Cindy Kutz says:

    So pretty! I covet your white picket fence. Can’t wait to see year two!
    Love your blog and your wonderful sense of humor.

  14. Miriam Mc Nally says:

    It’s beautiful Karen, and I really enjoyed the tour of your English Cottage Garden to start my day. Love that you have edibles there too!

  15. debbie d says:

    Fabulous! Great job and congrats on all your hard work. I know the last plant you want in your garden is a rose, but I have been doing research on female rose breeders and came across Felicitas Svejda who was an amazing woman and she bred incredible roses. Just check out her interesting story. If you ever decided to try one of her roses, get it on its own root so it would survive your winters.
    Again, congrats! Your yard is fabulous!

  16. dana says:

    PERENNIAL SWEET PEAS? Those exist?! Youve got alot of nerve plantig daylillies if theyre not usually in a traditional cottage garden. Lol! I agree-dont ever get rid of that original brick walk. It always catches my eye. Is your fence the original fence? It looks new. Everything looks so pretty, Karen. I made a list and pinned the plants you listed. Delphiniums are so hard to come by around here for some reason.

    • Karen says:

      The picket fence is not original, lol. Although I wish I could have a fence that lasted 180 years or so. ;) ~ karen!

      • Dana says:

        Your house is 180 years old? How cool. We lived in a rental that was 800 square feet that was about 100 years old. Old houses are….. interesting..

  17. Lohi Karhu says:


    You need a tilt/shift lens ;-)

    to match your lens capability to your composition; lets you have depth-of-field from the flowers in the front, to the house in the background, or, the reverse, a very narrow depth of field to focus the eye on a very-specific part of the scene…

    only saying ;-)

  18. Paula says:

    Looks lovely! I put my apples in the little fabric gift bags and so far, so good. I tried plastic last year but they were constantly full of condensation.

    • Karen says:

      I meant to order the fabric bags but forgot to, so I looked at Dollarama and they didn’t have any. Thought for SURE they would. ~ karen!

  19. Nikki Howser says:

    Of COURSE you have potatoes in the front yard 😂 But seriously, it is quite lovely! Well done madame! (I’m feeling the English cottage vibe too)

  20. Gayle M says:

    Karen, I read about bagging apples right before you did yours. (Thank you, by the way, cuz hubby thought I was nuts!) But, looking at your bags, it did not appear that you had cut off the corners on them. The article I had read said to do that to let moisture and heat escape. Hubby brought in a bagged apple today that had dropped, and I cut it open to reveal a perfect (but still very imature) apple. Usually by now, they are riddled with bugs and worms–just didn’t have much luck with them. Perhaps because the neighbor has 5 trees at the edge of my property that they do absolutely nothing in regard to maintenance–so my tree gets “infected” from the overwhelming neglect over there. But not this Year! Thank you for all your advice!

  21. Grammy says:

    Your garden is beautiful. I wish you well. I did this many years ago in our yard here in the California Central Valley. Two things did me (and the garden) in: blistering hot summers and bermuda grass. Some genius planted bermuda in most of the yards in our neighborhood back in the 1940s, and most of our lives are now spent fighting it.

    We don’t have hard freezes during the winter to kill it off, and it invades everything. I’ve spent 40 years trying to eradicate it and finally declared the grass won. The hot summers killing off so many of the lovely plants (same ones you have planted) was my fault, I should have listened to the people who said it wouldn’t work. I even tried replacing some of the thing with similar but more heat-hardy things, and it never seemed right.

    But you are a genius with a greener thumb than I, and I will enjoy watching the progress of your lovely front yard. I expect to see you (again!) in one of the magazines that showcase the talent of people like you.

    • Monica says:

      What if you tried a succulent take on a cottage garden? Like mixing a lot of different coloured and textured succulents together and punctuating them with stonecrop for height and larger landscaping rocks for structural elements. That’s the sort of garden the we Northerners could never hope to have and (at least I) would envy.

  22. Thera says:

    Beautiful as always!

  23. Hazel says:

    I’d keep the daylilies- they have them at Sissinghurst, so not so inauthentic! They’re also very tasty (only hemerocallis, not other types of lily).

    Next season you could always fill the gaps with annual flowers, for a fuller, more cottage garden look. I’m not sure what grows where you are but I’d think cosmos, foxglove (biennial), annual larkspur, calendula (also edible), cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus) etc.

    • Monica says:

      I wanted foxglove for filler in my very young, very patchy cottage garden but when I went looking for it I was told by several greenhouses that they don’t carry toxic plants. Well, sure they’re poisonous if you happen to eat them or handle them without washing your hands and then eat but it’s easy enough to avoid those behaviours…

    • Karen says:

      Yup, there’s foxglove along the one side. I’m not a huge cosmos fan but I do like calendula. :) ~ karen!

  24. Steph says:

    Yes, SO beautiful. Exactly what I want to do with my recently purchased little house. Now all of the ‘airy fairy’ visions that have been swirling around in my head and keeping me awake at night have crystallised – thank you. Great that you have included a list of plants too. (I will be adding Perovskia aka Russian sage, a personal favourite).
    I look forward to your posts always and am in awe of your skills.
    Thanks Karen

    • Monica says:

      I like them [the Russian Sage] too, but damn they get huge! I was already sweating the hyssops I chose, but they have nothing on the Russian Sage in our area.

    • Karen says:

      I’ll be changing the garden over the years as things grow and I can split them. I need more heigh varieties, but that comes with time. Good luck with yours and have fun! ~ karen

      • Chris says:

        OMGOODNESS Karen, you do make me laugh when I read your posts!! You have a wonderful talent of story telling that brings your readers right into your kitchen! Thank you!

  25. Lynn says:

    Just beautiful Karen, I love English county gardens for the very reason that they don’t look like they have been planned, knowing that they actually take a lot more planning to achieve the right look .
    Love it , an surprisingly enough they do sneak in a veg and herbs in their gardens so you are right on track .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *