The English invented the cottage garden, probably in the 1400s, to produce food for families. Every bit of space was planted with herbs, fruit trees, and flowers – all jammed together. Aside from being practical, it was charming – even to this day !

English gardener Gertrude Jekyll (1843–1932) is the patron saint of modern cottage gardens. She popularized the informal, flowing look we associate with country houses (in England) and picket fences (in the US).

In reaction to the fussy, formal plantings the Victorians created, she followed a more natural look, with plants arranged by color, height, and season. She used a mix of perennials, vines, bulbs, and shrubs.

Plant Specialists design and installation of a roof top English garden.

Controlled Chaos

The key to achieving the look, is to plant flowers at the edge of garden beds and allow them to spill over onto paths.  Then you add shrubs and trees for structure. Unlike classic English gardens where you plant a few things in mass, here it’s the opposite – you plant a little of everything ! This method not only achieves the look, but also limit loss to pests and diseases because of the huge number of different species.

Another Plant Specialists classic English Garden 

The Basics

Use annuals for bare spots as perennials and shrubs fill in, and to add all-season color during the times when the garden seems a bit quiet. Vines and climbers go up and over arches.

Install perennials that bloom at different times to ensure a sequence of interest throughout the season. This grouping includes something that comes on early, mid-season, and late.

Edibles are essential to a true English cottage garden. Use food crops and herbs. Apples do well in containers.

Groups of shrubs are critical – they add volume, height, and depth. Plant in groups of at least three.


A spectacularly designed terrace, installed by The Plant Specialists team.

Add a bit of formal – like a few sheared boxwood balls to the mixed plantings.  It helps to break up the softness  by adding some structure. And, really, what’s more English than some sheared boxwoods!

Although the overall effect is casual abandon, English cottage gardens require careful editing, if you don’t want to end up with jumbly mess !

Plant Specialists designed, installed & maintained by Plant Specialists

The Structures

Plant flowers at the edge of garden beds and allow them to spill over onto paths. Bonus points for fragrant flowers that brush against visitors’ ankles as they pass by !

Install arbors, trellises and gazebo so you can train vines and climbers to grow up and over. Plant them also against walls, next to gates, above doorways and hanging over fences

This is another beautiful Plant Specialists garden

Place benches, and chairs strategically in the garden to lure visitors to spend time sitting among the bees and the blossoms. Add one to a hidden corner, a place with a view, or smack in the middle of an pretty flower bed!

There is no room for error !.  Use tried-and-tested plants known to thrive locally. The English used hollyhock, nicotiana, poppy, foxglove, nasturtium, and cosmos. But if you live in a different climate, plant native flowers to get a similar effect. If those plants don’t thrive in your area use something that does !

This is a lovely example of a garden  – that is very natural looking.

Plant shrubs and small trees among the flowers to add height, structure, and visual interest to garden beds.

If you have fruit trees, berry bushes, or vegetables, you need pollinators to produce a harvest. When planting flowers, choose varieties bees can’t resist.

Cottage gardens often are a dense mix-and-match jumble for a practical reason: If you have small clumps of many kinds of plants, you will limit loss to pests and diseases.

Form irregularly shaped garden beds with paths that define perimeters and spaces.  A meandering walkway is better than a straight one because it will force passersby to slow down and see more of the cottage garden.

This is a spectacular garden designed & installed by Plant Specialists, its structured but also loose if that makes sense


The Plants

Bell flower ( Campanula persicifolia)

Stays in bloom most of the summer. Its long stems and abundance of buds make it a great cut flower, as well as a welcome garden plant.

Carnation and Dianthus (Dianthus x allwoodii)

Spicy scented flowers and fringed petals !  Not very tall – keep them toward the front of your garden border. You will enjoy their scent more if you plant them where you will brush up against them. Drought resistant and because of their fragrance, not usually bothered by animals –  but butterflies love them !!!!


Delphiniums can withstand quite cold winters, but high heat and a lack of moisture during the summer can make them short-lived. Use them in a sheltered spot so the tall flower spikes do not get bent by wind or rain.

Hardy Geranium (Geranium spp)

These are not the bright colored Pelargoniums known as geraniums.  They are low mounding plants that intermingle with a charming ease. The new variety “Rozanne”, will flower throughout the summer, with no deadheading needed.

Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)

Few flowers are as delightfully charming as hollyhocks.  They can easily reach heights of 8 ft. or more, making them vertical accents for any part of your garden. The old-fashioned ones are single flowers and newer fluffy double flower varieties are available.  They need good air flow but not wind.

Japanese Anemone (Eriocapitella hupehensis)

Blooming in early Fall they need moist well draining soil.  Some varieties can reach 4′ tall and may need staking.  They come in shades of pink, purple, and darker hues.

Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis)

A basic fixture in most English gardens, the cup-shaped leaves have a layer of waxy fuzz that grabs hold of water droplets and rolls them about. Delicate sprays of chartreuse flowers form the perfect complement for the rich green foliage. These are very low maintenance plants.

Lavender (Lavandula spp)

What is an English garden without it!!!!   “Munstead” has purple-blue flowers and “Hidcote” rich purple flowers. There are many other varieties for other climates for you to grow. The basic rule for lavender is to give them well draining soil and don’t over water !  More lavender plants die from too much water than from too little.


The short lived flowers are stunning! Who wouldn’t want them in their garden. But in humid summer conditions they will get mildew and become an eyesore.  Be careful to place them in full sun.


Phlox does well in the heat of summer but may get mildew quickly.  Creeping phlox is resilient and a better choice.  Butterflies love them !

Primrose (Primula vulgaris)

Primrose are spring blooming woodland plants and will happily naturalize under trees, but any lightly shaded spot will do. The English primrose (Primula vulgaris) can produce multiple flowers per stalk and comes in a wide choice of colors.

Roses (Rosa hybrida)

It’s hard to imagine an English garden without roses. Climbing roses that have an arbor or arch to climb over will definitely lend a cottage their garden charm. Shrub roses can do double duty as support for sprawling plants and delicate vines.  Modern roses can be disease resistance but I always go for the heavenly scented ones!

There you go ! An incredible recipe for a stunning English garden! 

Ask one of our Plant Specialists design team to create one for you!

Even on a rooftop !