For the Love of Cottage Style

For the Love of Cottage Style

The mere mention of cottage gardens can arouse fancies of long-ago storybook romance. But the real bungalow grounds of yore were more edible than whimsical. While today's cottage landscapes tend to favor fashion over flavor, there's still plenty of love left for herbs and vegetables.

The cottage garden just may be the original home garden style. Throughout history wherever people had a small plot of land to call their own, every square inch was covered with something of purpose: cutting flowers, herbs and roses for culinary and medicinal purposes, vegetables and fruit trees. These were working gardens.

Today, flowers are more prominent in cottage style gardens, but herbs and even vegetables are making a comeback, being cleverly planted even in front yards with the added benefit of being useful in the kitchen. I’ve found French thyme makes a great mounding border plant. Next to a sidewalk it can take occasional foot traffic and reflective heat, too. It’s evergreen, cold hardy, drought-tolerant, the bees like its tiny flowers and it tastes great in stews.

Craving a cottage garden of your own? Keep these key features in mind: minimal or no turf, pathways and patios of flagstone, old brick, gravel or mulch, and picket or wrought iron fences. Also contributing to the cottage feel are trellises, birdbaths, gazing balls and a garden bench or two.

When planning your cottage garden, remember to keep the setting informal and include a variety of plants.

Small trees – such as fig, Satsuma mandarin orange, Texas mountain laurel, small crepe myrtle

Shrubs – wax myrtle, bay laurel, sweet olive, pomegranate

Spire and tall perennials – goldenrod, larkspur*, poppies*, gayfeather*, blue salvias like 'Mystic Spires' and 'Henry Duelberg', Mexican mint marigold

Mounding perennials – French thyme, lavender, black-foot daisies, sweet violet, chili pequin

Creeping and filler plants – sedums, frog fruit, creeping germander, lamb's ear, sweet alyssum, mint, ajuga, leadwort

Vines and weaving plants – climbing roses such as 'Old Blush', 'Sea Foam' and 'Cecile Brunner', coral vine, morning glories*, trumpet vine


* Denotes re-seeding annuals

Maintenance requirements are pretty basic. Prune some shrubs in fall or early spring and cut back non-evergreen perennials and vines in late winter. Remove re-seeding annuals after seed has been set (usually in early summer). Trim or pinch back herbs regularly — you'll want to use them for cooking anyway — and replenish mulch in fall and/or early spring. And, water by hand as needed.

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Dana Nichols

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Dana Nichols

As conservation manager at SAWS, Dana gets to spend her days promoting beautiful San Antonio landscapes that need little to no water while benefiting Texas wildlife. When she’s not working with her talented co-workers whipping up new landscape programs, she’s cooking up delicious dinners made with fresh herbs from her low-water-use garden or planning the next trip with her husband, Rick -- preferably to some exotic place that requires a passport.