Creating and Sustaining a Cottage Garden: A Simple Guide

Andrew Little

June 30, 2024

Creating and Sustaining a Cottage Garden A Simple Guide

What is a Cottage Garden?

The cottage garden style is characterised by its informal, densely planted design, which combines ornamental flowers, herbs, and even vegetables in a vibrant, seemingly spontaneous arrangement. Unlike formal gardens with their rigid structures and symmetry, cottage gardens thrive on a mix of colours, textures, and heights, creating an inviting and whimsical atmosphere.

In Melbourne, with its unique climate, creating and maintaining a cottage garden can be a fulfilling project that brings beauty to your home. Here, we’ll guide you through the steps to start and sustain your cottage garden and provide recommendations on what flowers to plant, along with a bit of information about each.

Creating and Sustaining a Cottage Garden A Simple Guide
Cottage gardens beautifully layer plants with various heights and colours to create an interesting garden.

Starting Your Cottage Garden

Understanding the Style

A cottage garden is characterised by its informal layout and mix of ornamental and edible plants. Think of it as a delightful hodgepodge where flowers, herbs, and vegetables intermingle freely.

Site Selection

Choose a location that receives ample sunlight, as most cottage garden plants thrive in full sun. However, some shade-tolerant varieties can also be included to create layers and depth.

Soil Preparation

Melbourne’s soil can vary, so it’s essential to prepare it well. Enrich the soil with organic compost to improve its structure and fertility. Conduct a soil pH test and adjust accordingly; most cottage garden plants prefer slightly acidic to neutral soil. If you need assistance with maintaining your garden and soil health, we’ve got you covered at 2 Men and a Shovel.

Design Layout

Plan a layout that embraces curves and meanders rather than strict lines. Include pathways, arches, and focal points like birdbaths or benches. The idea is to create a garden that feels both whimsical and inviting.

Creating and Sustaining a Cottage Garden A Simple Guide
A very inspirational garden that displays a range of of vibrant colours mixed with greenery.

Plant Selection

Layering Plants

Layering is crucial in a cottage garden. Start with tall plants at the back or centre (depending on your layout), followed by mid-sized plants, and then groundcovers and trailing plants.

Diverse Planting

Aim for diversity in plant selection. Incorporate perennials, annuals, shrubs, climbers, and bulbs to ensure year-round interest and continuous blooming.

Flowers to Plant in Your Cottage Garden


  • Lavender is a quintessential cottage garden plant known for its fragrant purple flowers and silvery-green foliage. It attracts pollinators and can be used in culinary dishes and homemade sachets. We’ve got some tips on how to plant lavender in Autumn.
Planting Lavender in Australia - 2 Men and a Shovel
  • Delphiniums bring vertical interest with their tall spikes of blue, purple, pink, or white flowers. They thrive in well-drained soil and full sun but need staking due to their height.

  • Peonies are beloved for their large, lush blooms and sweet fragrance. Available in various colours, they thrive in sunny spots with rich, well-drained soil.
Creating and Sustaining a Cottage Garden A Simple Guide - Peonies
Vibrant pink peonies make a great addition to a cottage garden. They also double up as beautiful cut flowers.


  • Sweet peas are climbing annuals with fragrant flowers in shades of pink, purple, red, and white. They are perfect for trellises and fences and require full sun and regular watering.

  • Cosmos are easy-to-grow annuals with daisy-like flowers that come in pink, white, and red. They bloom from summer to autumn and thrive in full sun and well-drained soil.
Creating and Sustaining a Cottage Garden A Simple Guide - Cosmos Flowers
Cosmos Flowers are dainty flowers that bring a nice pop of colour to cottage gardens.
  • Marigolds are bright, cheerful annuals that add a pop of colour. They are hardy and easy to grow, thriving in full sun and tolerating a range of soil types.


  • Roses: No cottage garden is complete without roses. Climbing roses can adorn trellises and arches, while bush roses provide structure and scent. Choose varieties suited to Melbourne’s climate, ensuring they get plenty of sunlight.

  • Hydrangeas are known for their large, showy flower heads in pink, blue, or white. They prefer morning sun and afternoon shade, and their flower colour can be influenced by soil pH.
Creating and Sustaining a Cottage Garden A Simple Guide - Hydrangeas
Hydrangeas come in a variety of colours which can change depending on the soil’s pH.


  • Clematis is a versatile climber with a long blooming period. Its flowers come in various shapes and colours. Plant clematis in a spot where its roots are shaded, but the vine can reach the sun.

  • Honeysuckle is a fragrant climber that attracts pollinators. Its tubular flowers come in shades of red, yellow, and white. It grows well in full sun to partial shade.


  • Daffodils herald the arrival of spring with their bright yellow or white blooms. Plant them in the autumn in well-drained soil, and they’ll return year after year.

  • Tulips are spring-blooming bulbs with a wide range of colours and shapes. They prefer full sun and well-drained soil and should be planted in autumn.
Creating and Sustaining a Cottage Garden A Simple Guide - Tulips
Tulips also come in a variety of different colours!

Maintaining Your Cottage Garden

Cottage gardens require consistent moisture, especially during dry spells. Use mulch to retain soil moisture and reduce the need for frequent watering. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses can be beneficial for providing even watering without wetting the foliage, which can lead to disease.

Regular pruning helps maintain the shape and health of your plants. Deadheading, or removing spent flowers, encourages more blooms and prevents plants from becoming leggy.

Feed your garden with organic fertilisers such as compost, manure, or seaweed extract. This boosts soil fertility and promotes healthy growth. Annuals and heavy feeders may benefit from a balanced liquid fertiliser during the growing season.

Monitor your garden for pests and diseases. Encourage beneficial insects like ladybugs to keep pests in check. Good air circulation and proper spacing of plants can help prevent fungal diseases.

Seasonal care is vital to maintaining a vibrant cottage garden. In autumn, tidy up the garden by removing dead plant material and adding a layer of mulch. In winter, protect tender plants from frost by covering them with burlap or bringing potted plants indoors. Spring is the time for planting and dividing perennials, while summer requires diligent watering and weeding.

Creating and Sustaining a Cottage Garden A Simple Guide

A cottage garden is more than just a collection of plants; it’s a living, breathing piece of art. Embrace its informal nature by allowing plants to self-seed and intermingle. Include whimsical touches like birdhouses, garden gnomes, or vintage garden tools.

Creating and maintaining a cottage garden can be rewarding since it can bring year-round beauty. By carefully selecting a mix of perennials, annuals, shrubs, climbers, and bulbs, and by providing the necessary care and maintenance, your garden will flourish and become a charming, enchanting space that reflects the timeless appeal of the cottage garden style. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a novice, the journey of cultivating a cottage garden is filled with discovery and delight. Happy gardening!