Landscaping: How to create your own English-style garden

Johannes van Graan Johannes van Graan
Naturgarten-Samen aus Leipzig Garden Plants & flowers
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garden is never just a garden – it is an aesthetic extension of your personal style and taste. And very much like your interior spaces, it is a terrific opportunity for décor and design.

But if you are one of those people who hit a brick wall when it comes to deciding upon a look or theme for the garden, this article might just be for you. Have you ever considered turning your backyard into an elegant English garden? English gardens (also called cottage gardens) were especially popular during Victorian times, but style never goes out of fashion, right?

An English garden requires an abundance and variety of plants, and knowing which ones to pick will allow you to enjoy a wide variety of plants, both useful and ornamental.

Luckily, homify is here to help!

What plants are in a cottage garden?

Retaining walls and steps Barnes Walker Ltd Rustic style garden
Barnes Walker Ltd

Retaining walls and steps

Barnes Walker Ltd

English gardens are typically informal and composed of a wide variety of plants and herbs. Herbs such as basil, thyme, oregano, and rosemary are often included, along with flowers. Traditionally, cottage or country gardens were kept close to the house or cottage for easy access.

In addition, shrubs and small flowering trees are often planted as well. Both annual and perennial flowers are included, and plants are grouped closely together and spill out onto walkways and other areas. This type of garden is a bit messy and gives a feeling of wildness and abundance.

Sound good to you? Let’s continue!

Include some herbs

The ideal site for an herb garden is a sunny, open but sheltered spot with well-drained fertile soil. Most of the herbs that we can successfully grow in South Africa originated in the warmer climates of the world where they grow in full sun. Therefore, we must recreate these conditions for our own herb gardens to be successful. 

Remember that the minimum requirement of daily sunlight is four to seven hours, so don’t opt to have your herb areas near or under huge shaded trees. 

A small formal herb garden is always appealing. Formal designs are based on geometric patterns, and can be framed by low hedges and paved paths. For a striking impact, have each bed planted with one kind of herb, giving bold blocks of colour, texture, and scent.

For more information on kick-starting your own herb garden, be sure to check out: Have your own herb garden at home.

Remember the classics

Your English garden won’t be complete without those traditional “old-fashioned” flowers. Of course, any plant can be used as long as it is not too exotic or hard to grow.

But consider the following selections: cone flowers, cosmos, lavender, hollyhock, iris, daisies, carnations, sunflowers, dianthus, zinnias, and snapdragons. These are some well-known florals that can typically be found in a cottage garden.

Of course you cannot ignore the classic rose, which adds vibrant colour to any space (white, orange, yellow, pink and lilac to name but a few). But our favourite is most definitely the standard red, and these beauties come in varying shades, which also carry different symbolic meanings. For example, a bright red rose signifies romance, while burgundy means a love that has yet to be realized.

Pattern your colours

Your English garden needs to have a sense of balance and harmony, and one of the most effective ways to do that is through colour. Your colour palette can be bold and playful or restrained and modest.

When combining colours, remember the rule of repetition: a design will look too busy unless you repeat colours and shapes throughout the composition. So, choose several dominant colours and accent them with subordinate colours. You do not want those floral tones to clash or compete with each other for your attention. 

homify hint: Bright colours work well in full sun, but may fade in intense sunlight. Colours that would be bright in part-shade can look glorious in full sun. And remember that those dreamy pastels will fade to a greyish white in bright light.

Bring on the birds

Want some life and music in your cottage garden? Then include a birdbath and bird feeder to lure those feathery friends. A variety of birdbath types and styles are available on the market, but consider the following before you buy: 

• Size: Small birdbaths are easy, but the larger models can accommodate more birds without causing territorial conflicts. Or include more than one.  

• Appearance: Choose a bath that blends in with your garden décor, personality, and style preferences to ensure that it looks stunning even without birds. 

• Bird comfort: The best birdbaths are designed with the birds in mind. A narrow lip offers a more comfortable perch for small birds, and its texture should make it easy for tiny talons to grip. The perfect depth is about 2.5 – 5 cm, with some models including shallow and deep areas.

Include a trellis

Terraced Courtyard Garden Design homify Classic style garden

Terraced Courtyard Garden Design


Adding a trellis to your garden will give it a more striking feel. Plus, growing your plants upwards is a great way to save some ground space. And what could be a better flower for that trellis than roses?

When selecting a trellis, consider ease of access for pruning time, as well as the trellis’ ability to hold the weight of a bunch of fully grown roses, especially in wet and windy weather. Make sure that the trellis’ support is strongly anchored into the ground. 

Ask a gardening expert at your local nursery for tips on how to go about starting up that delightful rose trellis.

Scatter some veggies

Some gardening rules state that flowers should be planted in the front yard, with the vegetables housed at the back. But some rules are made to be broken.

Including some veggies with your colourful flowers is a great way to spruce up a garden. Plus, with your cottage garden so close to the house, making a salad will be much faster with the fresh tomatoes and cucumbers (and whatever else you wish to plant) being so close! 

Combining flowers and vegetables is sure to attract a lot of bees, butterflies and other pollinators, which will definitely boost healthy edibles. Just remember that your veggies still need their special care, regardless of whether they’re growing amongst flowers or not. Those tomatoes will still need space and sunlight, while your lettuce will still require some protection from the harsh summer sun.

Add some charm

Who says a garden is just about the plants? Spice it up tremendously by including some quirky objects found around the home or at flea markets. 

What would an old dresser bursting with colourful flowers look like in your garden? Or an antique bicycle with a flower pot in the basket? You can even use some oversized teacups or an old pair or rain boots as planters for some unique charm in your garden. Just be sure to allow for drainage. 

homify hint: What good is a whimsical garden if you don’t have adequate seating space to enjoy it? Add some benches, hammocks, or even swings so you (and your guests) can have a comfy sit-down while enjoying that special garden of yours.

Include a winding path

A path will provide additional interest, and it can be formal and straight, or informal and twisty. Including a winding path throughout a long garden will reduce length. 

But don’t just settle for any material to decorate your path. As with all garden features, the path should match the overall style. If your garden has a more wild and natural look, wood chips can be a good option for the paths. And if you want a more formal garden, consider fieldstone, stone, or brick. 

Remember that your garden path should be wide enough so that two people can comfortably stroll along it, or at least provide enough space for a wheelbarrow.

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