The Making of a Cottage Garden - Jan Johnsen

'Bright Eyes' Phlox, on right, is a staple in a cottage garden. Photo by Jan Johnsen
I once worked with a lovely client who wanted a cottage style flower garden. She is now my dear friend....

But there are cottage gardens and then there are 'cottage gardens'...know what I mean?

When I see photos of gardens in Great Britain, it seems everyone there has the most magnificent flower garden, each more spectacular than the next... like this one:

Ladies mantle in front is a stand out here. Bigstock photo.
Their lushness sets a standard of perfection for cottage gardens which makes me want to say to someone here in the Northeast U.S., "Wouldn't you like to consider an ornamental grass garden instead?"

But of course, the call of a cottage garden, filled with a profusion of  flowers and redolent of roses, peonies and lilacs, makes one yearn for such a place.

The stone dog keeps watch.

PG Hydrangea in rear.
What you need, in my part of the world, is a deer fence, deep fertile soil, constant watering and someone to tend it lovingly... a tall order indeed.  

But it can be done.  We installed a deer fence, brought in great topsoil and amended it and added irrigation. My client followed through and tended it with a loving hand and added wonderful flowers whenever she saw the need.

The cottage garden in its full glory. photo by Jan Johnsen.

The result?  A sumptuous garden filled with a riot of colors and intoxicating scents.

I planned the garden to be a 10 foot wide curved plant bed bordering a level lawn. The only problem - there was no level lawn.

The rear property sloped steeply downhill and so we had to bring in soil and retain it with a wall.  This is a big proposition in any situation but here it was especially dicey because I didn't want to disturb the roots of the native hemlock trees growing near where the wall was to be located.

Alpenstein wll that we installed. Then planted vinca and more here. Jan Johnsen

To accomplish this, I used the stacking, concrete units that are part of a wall system called Alpensteina versatile, plantable wall system.  It is a great solution because no footings are required and once planted with vines and spreading groundcovers, an Alpenstein wall blends with the natural setting.

After we levelled the site  I planted perennial and annual flowers. Perennials come back every year and form the backbone of the cottage garden. I set out large drifts or groups of medium tall, durable flowers in the mid-zone of the bed  to add height and variety. 

These included 'Sunny Border Blue' Speedwell (Veronica 'Sunny Border Blue'), the PPA Plant of the Year 1993, and 'Caesar's Brother' Siberian Iris (Iris sibirica 'Caesar's Brother'), a reliable and graceful flower with pansy blue coloring....

Additionally, I planted the graceful Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis gracillimus) and other  perennials like dwarf Gayfeather, (Liatris spicata 'Kobold'), the tall 'Magnus' Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus') and dwarf Chinese astilbe (astilbe chinensis pumila).

Below is the list of the flower varieties I used for this garden. No unusual cultivars here - just a cottage garden full of faithful staples that work together in cozy harmony..

Flower List for a Cottage Garden
Jan Johnsen


Botanical Name                                                               Common Name

Artemesia 'Silver King'                             'Silver King' Wormwood

Astilbe chinensis pumila                           Dwarf Chinese Astilbe

Coreopsis vert. 'Moonbeam'                    'Moonbeam' Coreopsis

Dianthus 'Bath's Pink'                               'Bath's Pink' Dianthus

Echinacea purp. 'Magnus'                         Magnus Coneflower

Heuchera  'Palace Purple'                         'Palace Purple' Coralbells

Iris sibirica 'Caesar's Brother'                   'Caesar's Brother' Siberian Iris

Liatris spicata 'Kobold'                              Dwarf Gayfeather

Lilium orientale 'Stargazer'                       'Stargazer' Oriental Lily

Peonies                                                        Peonies

Persicaria 'Donald Lowndes'                    Don. Lowndes Fleeceflower

Phlox pan. 'Bright Eyes'                            'Bright Eyes' Garden Phlox

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'                                  'Autumn Joy' Sedum

Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm'                 Dwarf Black eyed Susan

Veronica 'Sunny Border Blue'                   'Sunny Border Blue' Speedwell


Botanical Name                                          Common Name

Senecio cineraria                                          Dusty Miller

Cosmos sulphureus                                     Cosmos 'Klondyke mix'

Ageratum 'Blue Hawaii'                               Blue Hawaii Ageratum

Catharanthus roseus                                    Annual Vinca

Heliotropium arb..Marine'                          'Marine' Heliotrope

Salvia farinacea 'Victoria Blue'                   Salvia 'Victoria Blue'

Salvia 'Sparkler Purple'                               'Sparkler Purple' annual Salvia

cottage garden by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools
photos of siberian iris and veronica courtesy of Bluestone Perennials, check them out! 


  1. Jan, this is absolutely beautiful. I had originally put in a cottage garden at my home, but then water became too much of a problem, and it is getting worse (California) So I'm preparing to rip out what is left, except my dogwoods, camellias, and katsura. But I will still look at your gardens and lust after the English gardens. The look just isn't the same with drought-tolerant plants.

    1. Thanks Barb! and I feel your pain - although you can plant Mediterranean gardens of rosemary, euphorbia, agave, and all those plants I dream of...

  2. Replies
    1. and another snowstorm is heading in my direction....

  3. The notion of 'cottage garden' is one of the curses of UK gardens. It generally means 'I call it cottage and it means I can stick in every impulse buy, any old where'. The result is what you'd expect - same old same old muddle and mess. (all called 'lovely'.)

    1. Anne, I like your description: 'muddle and mess'...which we might call 'lovely'. It is a challenge, especially when the request is for a 'cottage garden'. Not many cottages around where I live.

  4. Jan, good to know about the Alpenstein wall. That's going to be useful! Also, that link doesn't work..

    1. Hi Amy! Thanks for letting me know - I just updated the link. So glad you are staying in touch.

  5. Waow, you are very experienced on gardening and make you look healthy and wise. Good luck !


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