Learn about Cottage Gardens

A well-designed cottage garden is a thing of quite mesmerising beauty. Whilst they may sometimes look a little unkempt, there is great planning amongst the busy flowers and vegetables.   
Learn what a cottage garden is, and how to apply the principles of this concept to garden design and garden renovation.
This is a course for:
  • Landscape professionals or garden designers who wish to broaden their knowledge
  • Home owners who want to learn how to design and develop a cottage garden 
  • Professional horticulturists or landscapers wishing to learn more about this subject

Nurture Your Talent for Garden Design

The term "Cottage Garden" means different things to different people'. Most people envisage images reminiscent of gardens from the 18th or early 19th century; an informal style, with lots of different types of plants and always a good measure of useful plants that can provide things to eat, use in crafts or be used as cut flowers.

Originally, the term "cottage garden" referred to the garden surrounding a cottage occupied by tradesmen who served a wealthy landowner in the 17th or 18th century, in Britain. A lord might, for instance, employ a blacksmith to work on his estate, and provide that blacksmith with a small cottage to live in. The blacksmith and his family would have the use of a small amount of land surrounding the cottage, in which they would grow mainly vegetables or other edible plants as well as some flowers to cut and bring inside.

The concept of a cottage has developed over the years, and today has come to a point which is not easy to give a clear definition to. Your idea of a cottage garden might be different to someone else's idea. This does not mean that one of you has the wrong definition. Both concepts can be right, even though they are not the same.


There are twelve lessons in this subject as follows: 

1. The Garden Environment 

2. Landscape Materials 

3. Using Bulbs and Annuals 

4. Landscaping with Trees 

5. Ground Cover Plants 

6. Walls and Fences 

7. Paths and Paving 

8. Treatment of Slopes and Other Problem Areas 

9. Garden Features 

10. Designing for Low Maintenance 

11. Development of a Landscape Plan 

12. Management of Landscape Projects 



On completion of this course you should be able to: 

  • Determine the resources required for a landscape development, including materials and equipment. 
  • Determine appropriate plants for different locations within a landscape. 
  • Determine the appropriate design and construction for landscape features, including walls, fences, pavers and buildings. 
  • Determine treatments for problem areas in a landscape, including slopes and hostile environments. 
  • Analyse maintenance requirements for a landscape. 
  • Develop a landscape development plan, in accordance with a client brief, and in liaison with the client. 
  • Plan the management of a landscape projects.

Things You May Do in this Course

  • Determine landscape materials readily available in the learners locality, including: soils, gravels, mulches and timbers. 
  • Differentiate between landscape applications for twenty different types of timber. 
  • Compare a range of materials in terms of function and aesthetics, including five types of mulches and five types of gravels. 
  • Determine applications for five different specific items of machinery in landscape construction including a chainsaw, an earth moving machine, a rotary hoe and a tractor. 
  • List minimum equipment required to construct two different landscapes in accordance with project specifications. 
  • Determine criteria for selecting plants to be planted in 3 specified locations. 
  • Explain the impact of trees in two specific landscapes, on both the environment and aesthetics of those landscapes. 
  • Determine twenty different herbaceous plants, to grow in three different specified locations within the same garden. 
  • Prepare a design for an annual flower display bed of 50 sq. metres. 
  • List five ground covers suited to plant in four different situations, including full shade, half shade, full sun and hanging baskets. 
  • Prepare a planting design for a 100 sq. metre area of garden, using only ground covers and trees. 
  • List ten trees suited to each of the following cultural situations, in your locality: waterlogged soil; sandy soil; heavy soil; saline soil; fire prone sites and near drainage pipes. 
  • Explain local government regulations which are relevant to landscape design and construction. 
  • Develop design criteria for different garden structures, in specified situations, including: a pergola, swimming pool, steps and a garden seat. 
  • Compare the design and construction of six different types of barriers, including walls and fences. 
  • Design a fence for a landscape designed by you, including: construction detail drawing, materials specifications and a cost estimate. 
  • Compare ten specific surfacing materials, in landscapes visited by you, including paving products, stone and gravel. 
  • Design a set of steps, including construction detail drawing(s), materials specifications and a cost estimate. 
  • Design a set of retaining walls, including construction, drawings, materials needed and a cost estimate. 
  • Compare different types of garden buildings observed by you, including sheds, gazebos, car ports and garages, in terms of cost, durability, aesthetics and maintenance required. 
  • Determine two different methods to treat a specified erosion problem. 
  • Determine landscape preparations required for different soil types including clay, sand, shale, rocky soil and loam. 
  • Describe four interim stabilisation techniques, including hydromulching and jutemaster. 
  • List fifteen plant species which will adapt well to problem situations. 
  • Determine ten plants suitable for each of a range of different soil types, including: clays, sands, acidic soil and alkaline soil. 
  • Develop landscape plans, including illustrations and written instructions, for three difficult sites. 
  • Determine landscape features that contribute towards the reduction of maintenance requirement on a landscaped site. 
  • Compare the weekly maintenance requirement of a specific low maintenance garden, with that of a specific high maintenance garden. 
  • Compile pre-planning information for a an existing landscape, which owners require to be redeveloped in order to reduce the maintenance requirement. 
  • Prepare a detailed landscape design to achieve low maintenance. 
  • Develop a ten week maintenance program, for a specific landscaped area visited by you. 
  • Compare copies of two landscape briefs for projects advertised in the tenders column of a newspaper. 
  • Develop a "client" brief, through an interview with a potential landscape client. 
  • Survey a landscape site to confirm details in a client brief. 
  • Develop three alternative concept plans for a landscape, in accordance with a client brief. 
  • Determine the preferred option, from three concept plans presented to a client at a tape recorded meeting. 
  • Prepare a detailed landscape design, conforming to decisions made during a discussion of alternative concept plans. 
  • Prepare a quotation, based on a specified landscape plan. 
  • Analyse the design of a landscape in comparison with the "Brief". 
  • Prepare a work schedule according to both specifications and plans. 
  • Monitor the progress of landscape work on a project, by keeping a logbook or work diary. 
  • Assess standard of work carried out on a completed landscape project, against landscape plans for that project. 
  • Select appropriate equipment, including tools and machinery, for a specified project. 
  • List occupational health and safety regulations when dealing with machinery and equipment, which is relevant to a specified project. 
  • Schedule the supply of materials and equipment for a project, in the logbook. 
  • Develop contingency plans for a landscape development which addresses different possible irregularities including bad weather, security problems, weekend watering. 
  • Explain how to finalise a specified project prior to handing over. 
  • Explain the importance of monitoring a contract, through a specified project. 
  • Develop guidelines for supervision of construction for a specified landscape project.


How do you Make a Garden Appear More Like a Cottage Garden?

Cottage gardens are one of the most enduring and well-loved garden styles, and with good reason. Cottage gardens are filled with colour and scent, and alive with bees and butterflies. They have a charm that is missing from many modern gardens, and evoke nostalgia for simpler, less complex times. 

It’s a style which is fairly adaptable to a wide range of situations and climates. You needn’t be limited to using ‘old-fashioned’ flowery plants in a cottage setting. Cottage gardens can be adapted to more formal designs, with straight paths, clipped hedges and symmetrical beds. Native and subtropical plants can be used alongside or in place of the more typical cottage flowers.

If you think a cottage garden looks like hard work you could be pleasantly surprised. Most of the work is in the design and initial plantings, and providing you choose the right plants and put them in the right spot and use such things as mulch and a dripper system, the ongoing maintenance isn't much more than that needed for other gardens. 

 There are lots of things you can do, for example:

Blurring the borders of paths and lawns (Do not have them with clean, sharp edges)

Mix your plants up.  Aim to have something attractive (flower, fruit, interesting structure) happening throughout the year.  Plan to plant heavily, to reduce weeds and to prevent invasion by other more vigorous plants.  Garden edges can be formal and edged, or flowing, with one bed running right into the next, depending on the "feel" that you want to achieve.

Use Period features.   Use seats, garden edging, statuary, arches, weather vanes, sundials, bird baths and other such ornamentation.  Traditional Victorian styles which rely heavily on iron and lattice work designs, are not the only option.  Modern furniture and sculptures, use of wood, and other exotic designs can create the feel and style you want.  A cottage garden doesn't have to be English, it can be Mexican, Egyptian or any combination reflecting the owner's personal taste.

  • Keep the style of features used consistent with the type of plants and bed shapes used.  A traditional design would favour pastel flower colours, formal bed edges and heavy cast iron furnishings.
  • Paths are the bones of the garden. They provide access throughout the garden, they divide beds and they give a sense of structure.
  • Hedges, fences and walls provide privacy, and also give the parts of the garden a sense of enclosure and structure. A cottage garden will commonly have lots of small spaces, each separate to the next
  • Keep the number of features in proportion.  Everyone loves an eye catching piece of furniture and unique looking plants, by overuse of these will detract from their ability to cause a real impression.  It is best to select your feature, and "accessorise", using plants and materials that will enhance that feature.


Opportunities After Study

This course may be studied by itself or along with other modules as part of a higher level qualification.

It is of value to people wishing to work in:

Garden design


Garden maintenance

Parks & gardens