How to Grow a Cottage Garden Border

Written by mackenzie wright
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How to Grow a Cottage Garden Border
Cottage gardens add charm and beauty to any type of home. (Ryan McVay/Valueline/Getty Images)

Think of a garden border as a frame. It surrounds your garden beds, lines your paths and helps your garden transition from one section to another. A successful border will complement your garden areas and draw the eye along from section to section. Cottage garden borders have an informal look, as though the land were left to flourish on its own. Despite its casual appearance, a cottage border requires careful planning and maintenance to achieve the desired look.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Graph paper
  • Stakes and ropes, or spray paint
  • Shovel
  • Rake
  • Soil testing kit
  • Soil additives (varies)
  • Compost
  • Seedlings

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  1. 1

    Measure your garden and draw a scale diagram on graph paper, marking out the border areas. According to the American Horticultural Society, the size of your border should be proportionate to the size of your yard. A large yard should have wider borders while a small yard should strive for a narrower strip.

  2. 2

    Play with your border size and shape on paper until you come to an attractive layout. Avoid making your borders too straight and even, as cottage gardens should have a more natural appearance. Make some edges wavy, curve your corners rather than squaring them off and have the borders taper rather than stopping abruptly.

  3. 3

    Research and make a list of plants and flowers that are native to your region. According to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, native plants, already well suited to your environment, are more likely to thrive. Using native plants can reduce the need for water, pesticides and garden maintenance work. Some longtime favourites are hardy plants that grow well in various climates, such as pansies, primrose, dianthus, peonies, delphiniums, hollyhocks, foxglove, calendula, cowslips and campanula.

  4. 4

    Decide on a colour palette for your garden and narrow down your list. Cottage gardens usually have a broad palette, as a monochromatic scheme, though beautiful, looks too contrived. However, you may wish to gear your selections to certain choices, such as bright primary colours, or you might want to stick to neighbours on the colour wheel like yellow, orange and red.

  5. 5

    Select a few taller-growing species for the back of the border to add height to your arrangements. Select some bushier plants and shrubs to make your garden look fuller with more foliage. Add shorter flowering plants, or plants that arc or sprawl, along the front edges. Include some herbs like rosemary and lavender for fragrance. Variation will give the border a more natural, casual look.

  6. 6

    Sketch out the plant layout on your border diagram. Don't crowd your plants; leave enough space for each plant to grow comfortably. Leave a little space for some additional decorations to create interest, such as a stone, tree stump or sculpture.

  7. 7

    Make boundaries in your yard to set off your garden border space. You can do this by using stakes and ropes to mark off the area, or using spray paint to draw the outline of the borders on the ground. Make any adjustments to the layout at this point if you are unsatisfied.

  8. 8

    Prepare the soil by digging it up before planting season. If you are unsure about the quality of your soil, get soil testing kits and follow the lab's recommendations for additives to improve the soil quality. Work in plenty of humus with a rake to prepare the soil.

  9. 9

    Start seeds in starter pots or purchase starter plants. Just before the plants are ready for transplanting, take them outside and place them on the plot according to your layout. Make any adjustments in arrangements. Allow the plants to adapt to their new location in their pots for a week or two, then transplant them permanently.

Tips and warnings

  • If you are uncertain about which plants to choose, ask advice from your local county extension office or staff at a reputable local nursery.

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