Romance in the garden: advice on creating a cottage garden

PUBLISHED: 10:46 14 January 2016 | UPDATED: 09:27 18 January 2016

Pretty cottage planting style

Pretty cottage planting style


The Cottage Garden Society aims to bring romance and informality to our outside spaces. Philippa Pearson meets the society’s Herts, Cambs and Beds branch

Fragrance is a must-have in a cottage gardenFragrance is a must-have in a cottage garden

The traditional romantic idyll of a cottage garden is something that many gardeners strive to create. But new gardening styles over the years have tempted us with alternatives – minimalist, prairie planting and eco-gardens have all become buzzwords in horticultural-speak.

 It was a reaction against formal gardening styles, fads, and the growing popularity of covering gardens with paving or other hard landscaping that was the catalyst in 1982 for the formation of the Cottage Garden Society. At the time, conifer and heather gardens were gaining ground and traditional cottage garden plants were seen as unfashionable. The rationale of the society was, and is, to champion vanishing plants from our gardens and to celebrate cottage-garden planting style and gardens. The society brings together amateurs and professionals across many countries to share ideas, plants and the preservation of all things cottage garden.

With more than 3,000 members, mostly in the UK, there is a network of 35 regional groups that meet regularly for talks, garden visits, seed swaps and plant sales. The Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire group meets six times a year, mainly for garden visits across the three counties and occasionally trips to gardens outside the area. From April to September there’s a garden visit each month and the visits organiser works hard at finding all sorts of amazing places to visit. Some of the gardens belong to some of the 30 members of the group and range from country gardens to smaller town spaces. Many of the gardens visited are not open to the public and naturally there is a focus on cottage-garden planting and style through the seasons.

Plant sales often take place on these visits – a great way to keep many cottage garden plants in circulation and preserve them for generations of gardeners to come. Places for garden visits and events in 2016 include Walkern Hall in March and an evening meeting at Letchworth in April with Lucy Redman from Suffolk, a passionate plantswomen with a love of sculpture and crafts. In June there’s a visit to Barry Kaufmann-Wright, known as the Wildlife Man, at Wimbish in Essex and in July a trip to see the glorious gardens of Beth Chatto, also in Essex.

Each year during October the annual general meeting takes place in the village of Ashwell in north Herts at the United Reformed Church Hall, with a pub lunch before the meeting which is then followed by a talk from a visiting speaker. The event is always a great and informative day and it’s a chance for members to get together and talk about their passion, swap ideas and gain advice.

Many cottage garden plants attrtact beneficial insectsMany cottage garden plants attrtact beneficial insects

So what is a cottage garden? An ideal vision is one with lots of tall perennials including hollyhocks, foxgloves, delphiniums, lupins and hardy geraniums, all arranged rather haphazardly and left to self-seed, plus an area to grow your own vegetables and one for fruit trees. Other key essentials include strongly-scented plants such as lavender, jasmine, honeysuckle and lots of old-fashioned roses.

A place to sit to enjoy the garden is a must to admire the informal planting as closely packed old-fashioned plants flower exuberantly and intermingle. The general feeling however is that there are no hard and fast rules about what to plant where, and that the whole effect should be billowing, peaceful and romantic.

If you fancy creating a cottage garden haven in your own outdoor space, take yourself off to one of the meetings of the Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire group of the Cottage Garden Society for ideas and advice from like-minded gardeners.

Non-members are welcome, but by joining the group and the national society you’ll access much more information and enjoy all the benefits of being part of the organisation.

Mix plants together for cottage garden styleMix plants together for cottage garden style

For details on how to join the Herts Cambs and Beds Cottage Garden Society, contact Lesley Donovan on 01462 712889 or email

The website has details about the organisation, its history, national membership and more.

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