We have all seen it. The romantic image of the English country cottage garden filled with vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers. Birds nest in small fruit trees, bees and butterflies flit from flower to flower and dragonflies hover over small garden ponds.
I fell in love with this romantic image when I first saw it, on the top of a box of chocolates when I was a little girl. And when I grew up, I recreated this image in my own garden.
I planted foxgloves and hollyhocks, lady’s mantle and pansies in crowded beds, that burst with soft colors and swayed in the breeze. But, when I started to create a habitat garden, all those English flowers had to go away.
They weren’t native. And if I wanted to attractive butterflies to lay eggs and grow up to fly around in my garden, I had to plant native plants. And I had to give up my dream of a cottage garden, so I thought.
It took me a couple years to replace non-native plants, with those from my local ecosystem. In my garden, I planted coneflowers, goldenrods, asters, bleeding hearts and columbines. I added elements such as birdbaths, bird feeders and a garden seat. I had created a lovely place to be.
And my garden beds began to look cottage-y again. How did that happen?
Then it dawned on me, the original gardeners who made small, beautiful cottage gardens, were simple working people. They didn’t have money to spend on exotic plants and fruits. They transplanted flowers and shrubs into their gardens from the fields and woodlands close to home. And these native plants attracted native animals.
What to Plant
Cottage gardening is a style that does not demand specific plants. The plants that look best in these gardens are unpretentious and carefree. These words describe most native plants perfectly. This means that the cottage garden style can be re-created just about anywhere using the area’s local native plants.
In choosing want to add to a cottage garden, it is important to choose plants that provide nectar, pollen, fruit, seeds or serve as host plants for local insects and other animals.
North American flowers such as goldenrods, milkweeds, asters, bleeding hearts, coneflowers, and columbines are good examples of easy-to-grow, carefree plants that fit well in the cottage garden style.
Species of serviceberries, blueberries, grapes, and white mulberries draw fruit-eating birds like mockingbirds, robins and waxwings.
Nut trees such as acorns, hickories and hazelnuts attract Blue Jays, Red-bellied woodpeckers and squirrels. Oaks are host plants for hundreds of species of butterflies and moths.
Contact your local extension service or National Audubon Society chapter to find the plants that will work well in your garden.
Support Your Local Ecosystem
Cottage gardens can be wildlife gardens. But, no matter what your garden style, the addition of native plants, boosts the health of the local ecosystem.
You can support local nurseries and nature centers by buying locally grown native plants at their sales. And leave the plants in the wild for the animals that need them.
I am a writer and naturalist living in the beautiful Delaware River Valley of Pennsylvania. I write about natural history topics. I’m very grateful to be human and to have a beautiful abundant world to live in. I work, volunteer, write and blog, to call attention to those everyday joys and wonders, that make living here on planet Earth so good. By being mindful of what we do, we are not saving the Earth, we are saving life on Earth, including ourselves. Follow @donnallong on Twitter
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