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How to make a cottage garden at home

Old-fashioned and charming, cottage gardens never go out of style and suit almost every style of house.

The design often includes a central pathway, sometimes leading to a circular central feature such as a fountain, birdbath or simple piece of statuary, with simple layers of plants extending outwards and upwards to fill any available space.

The path and central feature are usually defined by bricks, pavers or stone.

Plants are chosen for their flowers, colours, textures and perfumes, for varying heights from ground level to climbers, and for variety that changes with the seasons.

As well as flowering annuals and perennials which will need replacing and refreshing, choose shrubs and climbing plants to provide a permanent structure and extend the flowering, colour and texture over the year.

While cottage gardens are based on the idea of the simple English garden set around a thatched cottage, it is possible to develop a garden in Australia that produces lots of flowers, but doesn't require huge amounts of water  and maintenance to thrive.

cottage garden

Plant groups for an Australian cottage garden

To get the balance right in a cottage garden, you need plants of different heights and textures, rising from the smallest at the edges to the tallest, either in the middle, or at the back.

The major plant groups include edging or border plants, perennials, climbing plants and evergreen shrubs.

  1. Edging or border plants:
    These plants thrive by the edges of the path or bed. They are generally low-growing, groundhugging and provide colour over a long period. Most need full sun to grow successfully. Some of the smaller herbs like the many aromatic thymes with their tiny flowers or catmint make great border plants. Other suggestions are English daisies, Everlastings, and lambs ear, all offering variety in leaf shape, texture and colour.
  2. Perennials:
    Flowering perennials are the hardest working group in the cottage garden. They provide most of the flowering display over spring, summer and through autumn. With a careful choice of specimens, you can extend the flowering season all year long. Good hardy specimens include the purple-flowering ornamental leek, the herb salvia, and the Queensland flannel flower. If you choose the traditional English flowers like hollyhocks and foxgloves, be aware they will require much more water, especially in the hot weather.
  3. Climbing plants:
    give vertical accents to the garden, and can be grown on a trellis, a fence or a wall. Vigorous climbers will need solid support structures and good maintenance, but will repay you with vistas of colour. Hardy specimens for Australian gardens include Wisteria, the yellow trumpet flowered Carolina Jasmine, Banksia Rose and the Native Sarsaparilla, Hardenbergia violacea.
  4. Evergreen shrubs:
    These fill in the middle height, and provide accents of green as well as flowers. Since they will be pretty much permanent features of your garden, consider carefully where to place them, leaving space for your perennials between the shrubs. Good specimens that don't require too much maintenance are hibiscus, grevilleas, ceanothus, diosma and Geraldton wax flower.

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