Privilege Blog

How To Plant A Cottage Garden That Feels Bigger Than It Is

I have a little cottage garden. A little cottage garden surrounding a little ranch house built when Silicon Valley was still a twinkle in Fairchild’s eye. When the neighborhood was little. Which it is not any more. But I digress.

In Northern California coastal regions, a cottage garden hedges its bets by including drought-tolerant grasses amongst the hydrangea, and relying on Mediterranean flora for inspiration. A High WASP, fading family fortune to blame, may hedge some additional bets, relying on camera angles to suggest the grandeur of her childhood homes. But she will tell you in advance. You deserve that much.

So here’s how to plant a cottage garden that feels bigger than it is.

Mix up your plants, unexpectedly
I’m fond of massing plants. Somewhat more structural than your archetypal cottage layout, but if there’s no room for interpretation of the classics, where then is taste? Even if masses in a small garden mean 8 plants of one type, 6 of another, 12 of another – let them grow in organic shapes and entangled if they will. Here, the front yard in sun, the back yard in shade.

Lychnis, lavender, fleabane


Hide your fences, and your neighbors
You see that patch of brown above, through the greenery? That’s my fence. On the other side of my fence are my neighbors. I do my best to pretend they aren’t there. Gardeners with gas mowers and children in swimming pools thwart me on occasion, but I raise my chin and think of England.

Build paths, or suggest them

These paths may wend their way only around a raised bed, or through a shrub or two to the back fence. Which might be nearer in reality than you pretend. Again, front yard in sun, back yard in shade.

Ferns, native Californian iris, bleeding heart, cotoneaster, hydrangea, bay laurel

Plant a cutting garden in its own bed, or pot if that’s what you’ve got
My cutting garden followed the sun to my front yard. Luckily Northern California also supports gardening eccentrics with visible tomatoes. For cut flowers, I have one rosebush. And since I can see it out my kitchen window, for the most part I cut roses only in my imagination, preferring they live on outside rather than drop petals with a tiny thwap on my kitchen counter.

The rose. I do not know its name.

Cherry tomato plant, basil, cuban basil, marjoram, thyme, parsley, mint, more mint. Still more mint.

Write up a list of future projects
Things left undone, projects for the future, empty containers are all markers of hope. Anything unfinished is a vista, of sorts.

Finally, when in doubt, plant another rosebush. They are likely to light up for you, early in the morning. Which, although a cheap date sort of photo opportunity rife with easy sentiment, can lift a full heart in real life. I suggest we do not dismiss roses.

25 Responses

  1. That first looks a bit like a Playboy rose, and I love the second pic – but I have a weakness for peach-colored roses.

  2. you are just so sweet- thank you for the kind words and your faith in me… will probs pop you a note as the week goes on.

    MoMo would be proud of your gardening skills- exactly what she would do too and that is all she does in the summer!




  3. What a lovely garden you have! And truly, it's more about mood than size. I had a friend once who had a breathtaking garden on an apartment balcony. You've created a fabulous mood here. Magic can happen in this garden. And lovely cups of tea.

    I too am an absolute sucker for roses.

  4. Beautiful garden! We have made few efforts to disguise how painfully grey and urban ours is, but thank goodness all the greenery and flowers at least provide a bit of relief. I love all of your lavender!

  5. Jan – Same weakness here. Thanks for the kind words re: photo.

    QBS – You go girl.

    Deja – Thank you very much. I do have a bench out back:).

    accordions – Thank you so much. I love to pinch a lavender head every time I walk by.

    Buckeroomama – Here's to your future garden.

  6. Beautiful! There were some lovely examples of cottage gardens in this year's Elizabeth Gamble Garden Tours. Some we're just a bit too over the top for me, but most accomplished feeling cozy and lush and private.

  7. Your garden looks very private…and I can see you out there tending your patch…
    the apricot rose could be Royal Sunset, I have the climbing version and they look alike.
    Mass plantings are the ticket…you have something very enchanting going on…a secret garden…I'd love to be invited in!

  8. This is good advice, and you have a lovely garden. The matter of hiding fences and neighbours, I had never articulated, but it is very true. The sense of a partially wild haven. Daisies always help too, and clover and fuschia for the bees.

  9. What can I say? So many flowers, nearly all unfamiliar to me, yet your garden, when I gather all the pictures together, looks big. How much time do you spend in your cottage?

  10. Maggie – Thank you:).

    Hostess – That name sounds just about right for the rose. You're always invited.

    Mise – Thank you. Exactly, a wild haven in suburbia.

    Metscan – I have given the wrong impression. I apologize. My cottage is my house:). Ranch house is what we call a certain kind of California architecture. No second house – although I do dream of it.

  11. It looks lovely! And I completely agree with you about writing up lists of projects. I tend to do mine in the winter, and they make me anticipate the spring.

  12. Just when I think I like the shady spots best, you show me the roses. Sigh. I really do have all shady, woody spots, so no roses for me. Thanks for posting yours.

  13. Beautiful roses. When I saw the first one, I gasped. Literally. By the second one I was primed and didn't, though I adore its colouring even more.

  14. I dream of having a cottage garden… I love unmanicured lawns. Thanks for these tips. xoxo

  15. You have a beautiful garden. I envy you the sunshine of California, but having lived in Fresno, I know the other half of it is the unrelenting heat. And I agree about keeping the roses outside.

  16. What a lovely garden! I must not wait any longer! I will begin with a single plant – a rose bush – this very week!

  17. I love cottage gardens because you are free in terms of designs. You can also easily change the designs and have the plants grow in any directions if you want too. Soil is one of the very important factor for gardens like this. Of course sunlight too. I love the way your cottage designs looks. The privacy factor is there when you hide your fences and your neighbors.

Comments are closed.