The Emerald Coast’s year-round temperate climate and long growing season offer an abundance of opportunities to get outdoors and nourish beautiful landscapes. In fact, lavish cottage gardens grace homes in many communities served by The Premier Property Group as residents find that these informal, diverse creations are a perfect fit for eclectic, laid-back coastal lifestyles.
Cottage gardens are areas of densely-planted flowering plants arranged in a relaxed, natural way, according to Master Gardener Karen Kirk-Williams. They feature a variety of ornamental and edible plants along with flowering shrubs and trees and are soaked in color and texture.
“Cottage gardens throw out all the strict rules of landscape design,” Kirk-Williams said. “They offer the freedom to mix plant colors, textures, and heights with abandon, so gardeners can create a unique area that reflects their personalities.”
Unlike traditional gardens with rules about color combination, height, and repetition, cottage gardens shun straight lines, rows, and coordinating colors, opting instead for gentle sweeping curves and seemingly random design. They also include hardscape features like benches, fences, gates, and arbors as well as paths to create structure among the foliage. Simply put, they strive to be relaxed, colorful, and fun.
“The overall effect is a cheerful, exuberant garden filled with flowers, along with flowering trees and shrubs,” Kirk-Williams said. “This gardening style is ideal for anyone wishing to include a few edibles in the landscape without having an entire garden area dedicated to herbs and vegetables.”
Typically, cottage gardens exist in pockets near the front porch, around the mailbox, or in other sunny areas that are visible from the house and the street. In the absence of a large yard, gardeners can use containers to create a cottage garden look.
Perhaps best of all, the diversity of plants in cottage gardens help defend against pests and diseases. At the same time, native plants provide food and shelter for the birds and butterflies that migrate through the area. Most flowering plants attract pollinators like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, so well-adapted plants that don’t require pesticides work best.
“Cottage gardens provide a beautiful focal point for homeowners and a beneficial oasis for wildlife,” Kirk-Williams said. “Your cottage garden will attract winged visitors, sometimes called flying flowers, that will benefit from the habitat, and from your hard work.”
Kirk-Williams currently has 63 varieties of flowering plants in bloom in her own cottage garden, and she said the variety means that she always has flowers to enjoy, even in the dead of winter. She hasn’t used insecticides or fungicides in her garden in 28 years.
“The key is to seek out plants that are well-adapted and will perform well without pesticides, and to avoid monoculture planting,” she said. “Monoculture planting, which groups clusters of the same plant together, is common in landscapes today, but it facilitates the spread of pests and disease.”
Her go-to favorites are climbing antique roses, Agapanthus, Russian Sage, Rose of Sharon, Confederate Rose, Guara, Gloriosa Lily, Plumbago, Hydrangea, Society Garlic, Crinum and Salvia.
To begin your own cottage garden:
- Start small with your cottage garden to minimize maintenance and expense.
- Blend in organic materials like compost or manure prior to planting to keep your garden healthy.
- If you design with perennials, divide them every few years. Use the new plants to broaden your own garden, or offer some to a neighbor.
- Plant flowers closer than recommended to create a lush look and reduce weeds.
- Choose Florida-friendly plants, and place them in areas that suit their growing requirements.
- Use mulch in bare areas to limit weeds, retain moisture, and act as a slow-release fertilizer.
- Websites available through the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences can offer help with plant selection and inspiration or recommendations for the local area. Additional assistance is available through your local county Extension office.
“Many of us fondly remember our grandparents’ gardens, filled with flowers and fragrance,” Kirk-Williams said. “Most of their plants were hardy pass-along plants shared by family and friends, and no one ever thought to spray for insects or disease. We can still have gardens like that and now have an even greater variety of well-suited plants available.”