6 flowers for the cottage garden


If you want to emulate the soft, frothy hues of a cottage garden, these six flowers are a good start.

Words: Nadene Hall

The English cottage garden is a colourful, fragrant tradition that has found favour with gardeners around the world for hundreds of years.

But what looks like a jumble of plants and flowers in a delightful mix is almost always planted to a careful design and maintained to a high standard to look at its best, needing a regular schedule of weeding and planting.

The original cottage gardeners were poor, so they chose useful plants that were hardy and could be easily propagated, usually a mix of annuals and perennials, herbs and vegetables.

In more modern cottage gardens the emphasis is on colour and form, so here are just a few of the planting options to consider:

 1. Hollyhocks


Hollyhocks are short-lived perennials that can grow up to 1.8m tall, although dwarf varieties tend to be more manageable at about 40cm high. Will need replacing every 2-3 years, plant in late winter/early spring. Like a well-drained, sunny position, protected from wind. Frost hardy, will need lots of water during dry periods, heavy feeder. If you grow the tall varieties you will need to stake your plants (use bamboo) when around the 80cm mark. Susceptible to rust, slugs and snails. If you cut off flowering stalks in summer you will get a second bloom in autumn.

Variety to try: “Indian Spring” in shades of white, pink and rose

2. Delphiniums


Another traditional perennial flower in the cottage garden, delphiniums range from 1-2m tall depending on the variety. You need a rich soil with full sun (or partial in hot areas) and wind protection. Cutting back after flowering means you can get as many as three flowerings out of a plant.

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Variety to try: “Pacific Giants” in mixed colours

3. Snowdrops


One of the first flowers of spring and a beautiful self-spreading little gem in the garden. Tolerates most soils but does best in a rich, well-drained soil, does well in partial shade and is very easy to grow (becoming a weed if you are too nice to it). Grows to about 15cm in height, has gorgeous little green-white flowers and is a traditional harbinger of spring.

Variety to try: Galanthus Atkinsii, a taller, larger version of the common Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis)

 4. Stock (Matthiola Incana) 


Its plain name gives you no clue to the beautiful colours and fragrance of stock, a traditional annual cottage garden flower. Grows to about 1m highLikes the sun, not frost-hardy, well-drained soil.

Variety to try: Night-scented stock (Matthiola bicornis), barely detectable fragrance by day, glorious smell by night.

5. Poppies


A symbol of fallen soliders in New Zealand, the poppy is a sweet little flower the enjoys a sunny, well-drained site. Direct sow from seed and pinch out early buds until clumps form.

Variety to try: “Prinzessin Vicotria Louis”, old variety of salmon-pink blooms, profuse flowering and very hardy

6. Paeonies/Peonies


Gorgeous luscious perennial that need a sunny, well-drained site, preferably with a depth of fertile soil. Likes to be growing on its own surrounded by small annuals, rather than near trees or shrubs. Measure as you plant, because depth of planting is super-important.

Variety to try: “Rubra Plena” is a traditional favourite, but “Evensong” is pretty gorgeous too.


NZ Lifestyle Block This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.
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