The English Cottage Garden.

A little lesson in how to get an English Cottage style garden.  

Skip right to the English Cottage Garden Tips.

I was walking down my street the other day on one of the rare May afternoons that didn’t require wearing a wind protection helmet, and it started all kinds of awkward feelings inside of me.  Not the walking around without my wind protection helmet, I was O.K. with that.  I was jealous and inspired and motivated and shamed by everyone else’s front lawn.  Every time I turned a corner I saw another house with something my house needed. A new driveway. A coat of paint.  A front yard that looked tidy. One house had a pine tree in their driveway but I don’t think that was a gardening choice so much as a byproduct of the stupid wind.  See?  This is why we should all wear wind helmets when venturing outside on windy days.

So these yards around the neighbourhood look much better than mine. At the moment, you’d only see a yard like mine from the perspective of a news helicopter.   “Yes, that’s right Dan, just under our chopper is a home that looks like it’s owned by a whackjob cult leader who is holding 22 hostages and 4 amputated turtles in their basement. Neighbours say they’ve never met the owner but are pretty sure it’s a troubled person.  I mean, the lawn says it all.  Back to you Dan …

I can’t be blamed for all of the mess.  Well, actually I can, but let’s not lay blame.  5 years ago I ripped out all of the overgrown shrubs, resodded my yard and filled the entire front yard with vegetables. You can see the disaster of ripping everything out to get it ready to make a vegetable garden yard here.  You can see how nice it turned out in this post.  The problem is I liked my front yard vegetable garden so much I decided to rent a 20’x20′ gardening plot.  Then the next year I liked THAT so much that I rented a 40’x20′ gardening plot.  The year after that I liked it even MORE and rented a 40’X40′ plot.  That’s 1,600 square feet of garden space.

I didn’t need my front yard vegetable garden anymore.  So I planted fewer and fewer vegetables in it but didn’t replace those bare spots with any plants. So in the span of 5 years my yard evolved from perfectly designed edible garden yard to kidnapper lair.  Another part of the problem was pests.  At my big garden I can cover everything in row cover or throw old milk crates over my melons to keep raccoons away, but when you do that in the context of a front lawn … well … kidnapper lair.

Get ready to call the authorities, lock your children up, avert eye contact … this … is my front yard today.

The black squirrel has been in that position for the past 3 months, paralyzed with fear. His squirrel sense is telling him whoever maintains this horror of a yard would surely catch, kill and stuff him if he shows any signs of life. He’s right on the money.

This year I’m getting it back on track, even if it’s just a quickish fix.  I’ll be putting in only 2 or 3 vegetables: a couple of tomato plants (one big, one cherry) and green onions.  The rest of my available space will be filled with a riot of perennial and annual flowers.

Behold the side yard. Equally impressive.  The rhubarb patch right beside the air conditioner is the Queen of the yard.  NOTHING could kill it and every year it comes back stronger.

That air conditioner used to be hidden by a tree I had removed last fall.  So I’ll have to figure out something to disguise it a bit.

Gertrude Jeckyll

I’ll do the yard in a Gertrude Jekyll style.  If you don’t happen to be up on your historic garden designers, Gertrude Jekyll pretty much invented the English cottage style garden. A casual balance to the highly structured and formal Victorian gardens.  She was considered a bit of a madwoman at the time, which of course means she was a genius pioneer.  Not unlike whoever invented salted caramel cookies I imagine.

I’m not starting with completely nothing. I do have a few good established perennials like Lupins, Phlox, Climbing Hydrangea, Lillies, Delphiniums and a few other things.  Which are all perfect for an English Cottage garden.  An English cottage garden looks a little bit wild in that it isn’t perfectly symmetrical with everything lined up in a row, but really it’s quite structured and well thought out according to size of plants, colour and textures.  An English cottage garden for instance wouldn’t have a border row of marigolds around it with a row of other flowers behind it. It’s more fluid than that and more chaotic.  Typically, English cottage gardens have a colour theme, a LOT of different plants and virtually no news helicopters hovering overhead.

(source unknown)  For me this is too much colour but you can tell it’s been boosted a bit in Photoshop by someone so in real life it might not be so riotous.

In order to get it done I’ve made a task list.  THIS is what needs to get done.

Task List

Weed control – holy crap – get rid of the weeds.  I’ll be using the weed rod from Lee Valley.
Edge the lawn.

Reseed and fertilize lawn.

Get rid of dead, overgrown or otherwise ugly plants (I’m talking to you sage bush)

Plant perennials and annuals of varying heights.

Mulch, mulch, mulch.

Sounds easy right?  Yeah. That’s what I think too. Which means it’ll probably end up taking me half the summer.

Elements of an English Cottage Garden

  • Structures are needed to evoke the feeling of an English cottage garden. Trellises, picket fences, stone fences, pathways and benches.
  • Lows and Highs. An English cottage garden gives the impression of rolling hills with high and low points to plantings.  Make sure you have climbers too for a real English Cottage garden feel.
  • Close plantings. There isn’t a lot of room between plantings in an English cottage garden but that doesn’t mean overgrown.  You have to maintain and trim plants to keep within their boundaries so the look doesn’t go from controlled chaos to unattended.
  • Blooms. Pay attention to the bloom time. You don’t want a garden that’s in complete bloom for 3 weeks and then nothing for the rest of the summer.


Flowers in the English Cottage Garden

    • Lupin
    • Delphinium
    • Roses ( I will not do roses again. I used to have an entire yard filled with roses and one by one they died due to whatever. The ones that insisted on living only did so for the first month of summer at which point they promptly lost all their leaves to black spot leaving a thorny ball of anger for the remaining 4 months of the season)
    • Lavender
    • Phlox
    • Hollyhock
    • Peony
    • Dianthus
    • Herbs
    • Snapdragons
    • Lady’s Mantle
    • Columbine
    • Foxglove
    • Heliotrope
    • Cosmos


  • Sweet Peas
  • Clematis
  • Morning Glory
  • Wisteria
  • Scarlet Runner Beans

In truth, my plan is to have this done in 2 weekends, which providing the winds allow me to venture outside, should be doable.  In fact, even if it is windy I’ll just put on my wind helmet and march onward.  It’ll make gardening a little less pleasant (it’s quite unpleasant being whacked in the face by garbage cans and air borne toddlers who have lost the grip of their mother’s hand), but this is gardening where you have to be strong if you want to survive.  I’m no delicate rose.

I’m a rhubarb patch.

Have a good weekend!


→Hey there! GET MY POSTS emailed to you 3 times a week←


The English Cottage Garden.


  1. Lorie says:

    Lee Valley has a water-powered weeder. Would be fun to use on a warm day as you might get wet.

  2. Judith Miley says:

    Composted manure

  3. Heather says:

    Thanks for making me laugh this morning. Good luck with your new garden. Something tells me you’re going to get carried away with it. (Which is what we all love about you, of course.) Go easy on yourself, internet friend.

  4. leisa says:

    I read a really nice book called, “A Garden from 100 packets of Seed”. by James Fenton. The basic premis is to choose and plant flower seeds, kind of the way we do with our vegetable gardens. It inspired me to just pick some flower seeds that I like and throw them in to fill some gaps :) Goodluck with your project :)

  5. You are way smarter than I Karen but reconsider the sweet peas!
    I planted some about 8 years back from seed. They were stunning. The grew like crazy and flowered like the world would end that fall. The next spring, their seedlings were every where. In the patio cracks and through out the garden.
    The following spring I decided to get rid of them. It took forever to pull the tap roots. Had to use vice grips they were so deep and strong. For the next five years seedlings appeared. Had to get them all before the roots became too strong. Even this year there were a few seedlings!
    A more nicer plant can’t be seen but their beauty is based in evil.
    Or maybe I’m a terrible gardener.

    • Karen says:

      Hi LeeAnne! I have perennial sweet peas already. :) I’ve had them for years. You’re right that they do have tap roots, but I haven’t had a problem with them popping up everywhere. The odd one comes up but not too many. NOTHING like the trumpet vine I once had (which truly should be banned). Maybe you’re a BETTER gardener than me and that’s why you had so many sweet peas, lol. ~ karen!

      • Diane Ward says:

        Perennial sweet peas? Whaaaattt? Where do I get those? I plant a couple packets of annuals every year and get a couple sprouts.
        Ugh. They are so fussy in Calgary! The morning glorys however come up happily everywhere….so now they are my favourite. BTW, my stoopid climbing rose is coming out this year as well. To be replaced with???? Clematis??

      • CoCo Dubai says:

        Trumpet Vine – should be known as Satan’s plant. Can not be killed…

      • Karen says:

        Nope it cannot. It’s UNREAL. ~ karen!

  6. Darlene E Meyers says:

    Thinking about the squirrel…..I hate squirrels

  7. Jane says:

    I love my Morden roses, names for the research station here in Manitoba.
    I too have an English cottage garden, with no plans or much control over what survives. I am Sooo looking forward to seeing yours.
    P.S. I can’t kill that damn giant kale..

  8. Mary C says:

    This is my style. I found a local Facebook group of gardeners and they have given me so many plants that they’re wanted to move or thin. The more crowded an area is, the less weeds to pull. I just bought a hosta that when mature could hide a small child, the picture is even on the tag. Can’t wait to see yours and be jealous. You’re the wicked person who got me into veggies and now I have to go out and tend those assholes all summer.

  9. Mim says:

    Karen!!!! Don’t do it! Don’t plant wisteria! You will end up a truly madwoman, hacking away at the roots that take over your entire yard. And heave up your walkway, strangle your plants (and probably that black squirrel) and generally turn eden into an impenetrable thicket of vines. Soon you will find the only solution is to sell your house and move far, far away, being sure no root fragment has attached itself to your boots, just waiting to re-establish itself at your new home.

    Other than the demon wisteria, your plan sounds ducky.

    And yes, what is a weed rod?

    • ronda says:

      i agree!! NO wisteria! my old neighbour planted it at the base of her pergola, and it “climbed” over the fence and strangled the tree in mt backyard. new neighbours tore down the pergola and took out the wisteria as best they could, and pieces of it grew back and started to strangle my lilac! 5 years on and there are STILL bits of it growing!

    • Karen says:

      Hey Mim. I’m not planting wisteria. :) Although I have had it before. I just included it in the list of appropriate flowers for an English Cottage garden. Wisteria is WAY better than trumpet vine though! I had one and found it growing … IN MY DINING ROOM. ~ karen!

  10. Tammy says:

    Hope to see some of those awesome Dahlias as well! Love Love dahlias!

    Have a great weekend

  11. Marilyn says:

    Wind helmet. Lol

  12. Krista says:

    What is this weed rod thou speaketh of? Please tell me it is magical of nature and all I have to do is say is, “Weeds! You shall not pass!”, and then strike it on the ground and they all disappear! (I probably shouldn’t have watched Lord of the Rings last night before bed). Can’t wait to see how your garden progresses! I am currently in the process of doing the same to my backyard.

    • staci martin says:

      I googled “weed rod”….not what I think she meant. lmao Maybe she meant a “weed wand” from Lee Valley? It looks like a long tube that fits over the weed and then you can directly spray the offending weed with a spray without affecting the surrounding plants/grass.

    • Karen says:

      It’s a weeding tool that squirts water into the base of the weed to make pulling it easier. Good luck with your yard! ~ karen

      • PMMK says:

        We bought a 1.5 acre property that wants to grow nothing but rocks and weeds. I bought a flame thrower at Princess Auto and it does a pretty good job of the weeds. It’s actually easier than all the bending that other non-chemical methods require. One caution, though. If it hasn’t rained in a few days, it’s probably a good idea to keep the hose handy.

        And, I think your rhubarb is thriving in the only ideal spot for a climbing rose. The wall and fence would provide shelter and also act as a heat sink. You know how roses love sun and heat. That’s probably what keeps the black spot off.

        Can’t wait to see pics of the new garden.

      • judy says:

        I think you just saved my sanity,my 81 year old Husband went into the hospital about a year ago and came out bed-ridden and incontinent,needless to say our small front yard full of flowering shrubs,flowers and japanese maples were totally ignored for the next year. A vine took advantage of the lack of care and (I kid you not!) grew over and covered everything,killing many plants in the process. My son finally found the time to spend 2 days pulling it all out with a huge metal rake but not wanting to use poison and seeing this devil plant popping out all over the ground I was ready to weep for a solution. I will now be known as the flame lady and hope it works. Thanks

      • Noreen McKechnie says:

        Love my “flame thrower”from lee Valley. Can’t remember what it is really called but it is great for the garden weeds and the paths.

      • Alena says:

        Thanks for mentioning that. Is it really called ‘flame thrower’ or does it have a specific name? I know my neighbours had an attachment that worked with a propane gas tank (aka your bbq gas tank) – is that what you are talking about? I have been thinking about having to get something similar as my weeds are on steroids.

      • PMMK says:

        It really IS called a flame thrower. And, it really did put a dent in the weeds the past couple of years. I went at them early in the season, like right about this time of year before the no-burn rule goes into effect. .

        I’m sure I paid less than $80 for it because I shop sales. I just checked WalMart and their version is $120. We have used it for other things too; like melting ice buildup on the driveway and putting a charred finish on wood.

        You can get a version that you can attach the green gas cylinders that go on a Coleman camping stove but that makes for really expensive fuel. I just carry around a propane BBQ tank (cuz I want arms like Karen’s). Wear gloves. Handsome-Man-Unit offered to engineer a cart for me but it would have been way heavier than the tank. You can just set the tank down awhile if it gets heavy; its hose is plenty long.

        Keep the garden hose handy. Please don’t ask me why I know this.

  13. Tracey says:

    You are freaking hilarious! It’s a good thing I wasn’t drinking my coffee upon reading that or it would have came out my nose. Good luck with that project. Keep us updated. I’m sure it will be the jewel of your street. P.S.-Do you really have a wind helmet?

  14. Jack Barr says:

    When are you thatching the roof?

  15. Chris says:

    Before you start I have only two words to say ‘Piet Oudolf’. I’m not swearing at you, Google will explain all.
    And ditch the lawn – mowing, weeding, fetilizing – repeat endlessly. Pavers and more garden.
    And if that fails consider the Sissinghurst look – you already have the white picket fence.
    Love the squirrel!

    • Karen says:

      Beautiful work. But Piet seems to use more grasses and that sort of thing that I would. I’m keeping the lawn. Others stronger than you have tried to talk me out of it, lol. I like the look and feel. I’ll give it one more shot at rejuvenation. ~ karen!

  16. Megan says:

    Are you doing this all as seeds or will you be getting started plants?

    • Karen says:

      A bit of both. :) I’ve already started many seeds but not all. 2 years ago I started lupins and those are doing really well in the garden this year! Any of the annuals like snapdragons, statice, dianthus etc. I’ve started from seed. ~ karen!

  17. Alisa Kester says:

    You need roses! But get the old roses like the rugosas. Magnifica is an excellent one. They need NO care, they get zero diseases, the leaves are always lush, they don’t care about temperature, and the scent of the blooms is unbelievable. Trust me. I’m the one that told you about the Grow a Little Fruit Tree book…I wouldn’t steer you wrong!

    • Karen says:

      I used to have a Hansa Rugosa which I absolutely LOVED. It was so big it had a *trunk* on it. It eventually died but you’re right, I had no problems with it. Until it died, lol. I haven’t had much luck finding a local supplier of anything other than David Austin roses. I might have to branch out my search. ~ karen!

  18. Tina says:

    I had my house built 2 years ago come August. There’s a sort of dirt, unusable area behind the garage that looks like an appropriate place to house old dust bins, bent trellises and the wheelbarrow with a flat tire. But last summer I stuck some spare bulbs in there and a lavender, a couple of extra phlox and some dianthus and something that has huge purple and white flowers, all because they were extra. Now that spring has arrived, I’m amazed at how fabulous it is! So now my big job is to finish it. It looks too carefully planted in a casual pattern to keep doing it casually. It needs work!

  19. Speckhen says:

    Crap I’m wrong. That book is Mirabel Osler reflecting on Gertrude Jekyll’s gardening influences, among others. It’s still a great title!

  20. Speckhen says:

    Gertrude Jekyl has a fabulous book on gardening: A Gentle Plea for Chaos. I kid you not!

  21. Kim says:

    Well. Apparently I have an English garden! I had no idea. It’s just how it “came out”. I even have a colour scheme! I’m sorry about your roses. Roses are my favourite. I’m on Vancouver Island, so we can grow anything here. Which makes me feel bad for the rest of the country. I accidentally called a garden centre in Saskatchewan to ask about wisteria, and apparently it only grows SOME places there. When they asked WHERE I was located and I told them close to the ocean it became clear google had given me the wrong number. (Or maybe it was my fault)

    Either way, I’m glad you can grow wisteria there even though you can’t grow roses. Is it just you or Toronto? Though tbh I am now not sure if you live in Toronto. Either way I am SUPER excited to read about your English garden and all your tips! I’m not really a vegetable grower. I’m all about the flower. So I’m glad you’ll be doing this.

    • Karen says:

      I can grow roses here, in fact I had several that were probably 30 years old. But they finally died around 3 winters ago when it was insanely cold. It was a rare occurrence. The others I dug out on purpose because they’d get either black spot or thrips every year and I got sick of babying them. :( This house used to be literally covered in roses. They were everywhere. It was beautiful but too high maintenance. ~ karen!

  22. Lynn says:

    I love The English county gardens it’s always been my goal. Hubby on other hand prefers the French …. we have battled every year over the yard 🤪🤪🤪 . He loves roses I can not stand them, I love sweet peas he hates them. At least my sweet peas don’t cost as much as his rose’s that keep dying on him do. You named a couple I don’t know Lady’s Mantel an Heliotrope I will need to look them up. An I love my columbine mind you I am partial to most of the old variety’s . They give more joy than newer varieties at least for me. I can not wait to see how your refreshed yard looks when you are done.

    • Karen says:

      Heliotrope is pretty but it’s REAL beauty is in the scent. If you go to a garden centre search some out and smell it! ~ karen

  23. Melanie says:

    I cannot tell you how much better I feel seeing your front yard. Mine’s worse, but not that much worse. I pretty much ignored it last year (and most of the year before) — other than moving ferns that decided to grow in odd places, and transplanting hosta babies from the gravel driveway to somewhere safer. I’m determined to get it to where I’m happy to see it instead of pretending it doesn’t exist. It will definitely take me more than 2 weekends, though!

    • Karen says:

      I’ve actually been digging weeds for the past 3 days! I think I finally got all the dandelions. What a disaster! ~ karen

  24. Debbie D says:

    Looking forward to the after pictures. Black squirrels get me every time. We don’t have those here. Only gray and brown ones. Not sure why.

    I loved your veggie front yard. Your plans sound great. Sorry roses don’t do well for you but it is cold up there. So I can understand. I have heard that chickens love rose petals. Something interesting to do with the deadheaded flowers. Best of luck to you and as stated earlier, can’t wait to see the results. I am sure they will be beautiful.

  25. Olga says:

    I saw nothing but black squirrel! I couldn’t figure out if it was real, if you photoshopped it or if my eyes playing trick on me.
    The good thing if it all fails half of the year it will be covered with snow haha

    • Karen says:

      Real squirrel, lol. ~ karen!

    • judy says:

      Sorry about butting in but I wanted to give you credit for buying the better Wagner paint sprayer on Amazon and at /first it seemed to click to A but then I got a real cute heads up about my inability to spell(how did you know?) anyhoo do you still recommend it or have you withdrawn your recommendation?

      • Karen says:

        I love love love my sprayer. I just used it this week to spray my fence and I’ll be using it tomorrow to spray my porch. :) ~ karen!

      • judy says:

        I can’t find the darn link “paint my shed with my wonderful paint sprayer” and another question. I am very worried about the many threats?russian propaganda? about our power grid and I would like to buy a propane backup generator. Do you have any ideas about this and a brand you would recommend? We already have a propane tank for the gas stove. Thank you oh font of all knowledge that is useful,helpful and saves me money.

      • Karen says:

        Are you in Canada or the US Judy? I’ll send you the link for either or ~ karen!

      • judy says:

        Dear Karen- I am in The former US of A….sob but if you would like to rent a basement corner to 2 old people who are agog and aghast at how quickly a Great Nation can be hit over its’ collective head with weirdness and ? words fail me. thanks for the link. I intend to paint me and mine into an unassailable corner.

      • Karen says:

        Hi Judy! Here’s the link to my sprayer … I have to say you are not the first American to ask if they could move in with me. ~ karen!

Leave a Reply

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