Cottage gardens encapsulate all there is to love about quintessential English style.  Traditional in style, they are usually found brimming with classic plants and distinctive features.  Cottage gardens can be a labour of love, taking time to establish and to create their distinctive look.  That’s why starting off with one or two borders is a good idea.  In this guide, we explain how to create a cottage garden border.

cottage garden border

What can I put in a cottage garden border?

Cottage garden borders combine a heavenly mix of romantic annuals, perennials, climbing plants and flowering shrubs.  As well as incorporating traditional horticultural favourites, cottage garden borders can also feature a few modern plants.  Plus, you’ll often find plenty of characteristic and traditional features, from clipped hedging to ornamental stonework.

What makes a cottage garden style?

Cottage garden style is distinctly relaxed, informal and whimsical.  In stark contrast to carefully manicured gardens and formal landscaping, cottage gardens have a signature style that is much less structured.  Think a jumble to ornamental perennials, dense planting and a soft palette interspersed with elegantly coloured flowers.  

6 steps to create a cottage garden border

Follow these six simple steps to create your very own cottage garden border.

1. Pick herbaceous perennials

There’s nothing most characteristic of a cottage garden border than densely planted herbaceous perennials.  Here’s a handful of classic plants to include.

Top 10 cottage garden border plants:


Turn your cottage garden border into the local pollinators’ favourite pit-stop by planting a few Salvia nemorosa plants‘Caradonna’ is an essential cottage garden treasure.


There’s no surprise where Aquilegia, or ‘Granny’s Bonnet’ gets its name from.  This charming perennial bears gently nodding bonnet-shaped flowers and is an easy maintenance choice.  


No cottage garden border would be complete without the crimped petals adorned by Dianthus.  ‘Shirley Temple’ is a hardy variety that has sumptuous pale pink and fuchsia petals.


Often found creeping out of nooks and crannies in rockeries and stone walls, Phlox subulata can also be incorporated into a cottage garden border.  This alpine produces pretty, dainty and colorful heart-shaped flowers in early summer. A useful, evergreen ground-cover plant for filling gaps. 


Delphinium elatum can be found in almost every cottage garden border and the lilac and China blue petals adorned by ‘Paramo Celeste‘ makes it a real showstopper.  Position towards the back of your border and pair with similarly lofty Hollyhocks.


Peony is such a quintessential cottage garden border classic that it cannot be missed off this list.  For that unmistakable English garden feel, try Peony ‘Sarah Bernhardt’. Its dinner plate-sized, pale pink flowers are as elegant as they are exquisitely scented.  This lovely perennial will improve in your border year after year and its ruffled blooms are excellent for cut flower arrangements.

English Lavender

English Lavender needs almost no introduction.  It’s often the first planting choice for cottage garden border designs.  Line your border with clumps of English Lavender and your garden will be filled with its heady scent, butterflies and bumblebees on a warm day.  


Many cottage garden borders feature edible plants and Rosemary is a wonderful herb to add to the mix.  An incredibly hardy, robust, evergreen shrub that radiates a lemony-pepper aroma and plenty of deep-green foliage.  Perfect for adding year-round structure to your border and of course, for its culinary uses too.


Their flowering season may be relatively brief, but Tulips are a pleasing way of adding some springtime cheer to your cottage garden border.  Underplant taller herbaceous perennials with a few clusters of these showy bulbs.  Dwarf tulip ‘Honky Tonk’ will do well in moist, but well-drained borders, and is as pretty as a picture.  Its pale, lemon-yellow blooms are a pleasant change to all the blues, whites and purples so often seen in a cottage garden border. 


Don’t be fooled into thinking that cottage garden borders need to be about showy ornamental flowers alone.  A few well-placed Heuchera will add a much-needed anchor to the overall scheme.  Heuchera ‘Wild Rose’ bears muted maroon foliage and sprays of rose-coloured flowers in summer.  Ideally placed in shade, these beautiful perennials offer wonderful ground-coverage.

2. English rose 

Nothing says cottage garden more than the classic rose.  A healthy shrub rose such as the beautiful hybrid tea variety, Rosemary Harkness is a lovely addition to any English garden.  Grown in the UK, it bears large, peachy apricot blooms, repeat flowers and has a gorgeously strong scent.  As a climbing rose, Compassion is hard to beat.  Awarded the Award of Garden Merit given by the Royal Horticultural Society, it repeat flowers shapely, pink-tinged, coppery-apricot double-blooms.

cottage rose garden border

4. Create structure with traditional features

Breaking up a cottage garden border with traditional features provides year-round interest and structure.  Cleverly chosen outdoor living products made from natural materials will also help to break up the effervescence of the planting.  A stone bird bath is a lovely way to encourage our feathered friends into your own garden.  Wooden features are also a classic cottage garden border staple.   Adding a wooden garden bench or obelisk offers both practicality and refined design.

5. Clipped hedges and balls

Whilst cottage garden borders are by and large all about informality, there is one wonderful evergreen that provides structure and form.  Box Hedging, or Buxus Sempervirens, has been carefully clipped into formal hedges and bulbous ornamental balls for centuries.  Box hedging and pre-clipped Buxus Topiary Balls are so incredibly easy to grow and maintain.  They’ll thrive in almost any soil and just require a little smartening up once or twice a year to keep their shape.  An attractive addition to any cottage garden border that also provides year-round interest when all those glorious perennials and annuals have died back.

6. Add height

When it comes to creating a cottage garden border, many focus purely on lower planting and eye-level herbaceous perennials.  But to really create that quintessential English garden look, you need to add height.  Towering Verbena bonariensis will do just the job and this Purpletop Vervain variety has soft lilac flowers that will elegantly waft on a summer’s breeze.

A dwarf ornamental tree is also a clever addition to any cottage garden border and a 5ft ‘Bramley’s Seedling’ Apple Tree is a perfect choice.  Awarded the Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society, this Malus produces delicious English cooking apples and bears the prettiest white and blush pink springtime blossom.  

Finally, climbing plants will elevate the look of any cottage garden border.  Train Clematis, Wisteria or Honeysuckle along a garden wall, trellis, or for smaller varieties, a garden obelisk.

Nicola Clements has been working with brands and publications in the gardening and lifestyle sectors for many years.  As well as regularly writing for The English Garden‘s website, Nicola is also a contributing gardening editor to Wildflowermagazine.  In her spare time, Nicola can be found pottering in her garden, where she hones her skills, ready to pass on her expert advice to amateur and seasoned gardeners.