St. Louis Cottage Garden

A picture of a cottage garden.

The English cottage garden brings a charming intimacy to the home. Many plants that thrive in St. Louis offer the cheerful informality bursting with color that evoke the welcoming flare of the cottage garden.

By Abby Lapides

[This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener March 2018 issue.]

The English cottage garden brings a charming intimacy to the home. Many plants that thrive in St. Louis offer the cheerful informality bursting with color that evoke the welcoming flare of the cottage garden. Use some of the plants and tips below to create the St. Louis cottage garden.

Cottage Garden image
Cottage Garden

Create soft informal features with natural elements and curving edges. Wooden fencing, lattice and arbors make perfect backdrops and support for many of the larger or vining plants such as the large hollyhocks, Alcea, that bloom in bright colors. The new Halo series of hollyhocks are truly perennial versus the old-fashioned biennial and have showy two-toned flowers. A climbing rose is almost a requirement for a cottage garden. ‘New Dawn’ has long canes that will quickly cover a tall arbor. As a showy companion vine, Clematis will happily twine around the thorny stems of climbing roses. The masses of deep violet blooms of ‘Jackmanii’ clematis look beautiful next to the pale pink of ‘New Dawn’ rose.

When thinking of cottage gardens Missouri native plants don’t necessarily come to mind, but many fit right in! Missouri primroses, Onethera, large cheery yellow flowers bloom all summer. Plant these in front of the scented mounds of lavender to give excellent color contrast. The stately Joe Pye weed, Eupatorium, brings showy height to the garden and the airy purple flowers will attract butterflies. Tall garden phlox offer a long bloom of bright pink.

An image of Dianthus Pinball Wizard
Dianthus Pinball Wizard, photo courtesy Walter’s Gardens

Make natural-looking paths with stone or mulch, adding groundcovers and small plants to soften the edges. Pinks, Dianthus, add grass-like foliage and pops of color in whites, pinks and reds. ‘Pinball Wizard’ has long-blooming ruffled carnation-like flowers that look like they were tie-dyed pink and white. Creeping Jenny’s golden foliage will quickly cover any exposed surface, but won’t overtake anything that’s taller than about an inch. This flat groundcover creates an excellent weed smothering mat and spills beautifully over walls.

A photo of Monarda 'Blue Moon'
Monarda ‘Blue Moon’, photo courtesy Walter’s Gardens

Beebalm, tickseed and yarrow do excellently in our climate and add more summer blooms to the garden. ‘Blue Moon’ beebalm, Monarda, has bright lavender flowers that bloom early summer and are much-loved by hummingbirds and bees. ‘Blue Moon’ also has interesting foliage that casts a blue hue. The deep orange flowers with yellow-fringed edges of ‘Daybreak’ tickseed, Coreopsis, bloom all summer into fall. This short variety looks great towards the front of the garden. Yarrow, Achillea, now comes in a rainbow of colors, but I’m still partial to yellow. ‘Sunny Seduction’ has cheery lemon-yellow flowers that bloom robustly over ferny foliage.

An image of Buddleia 'Pugster Blue'
Buddleia (Butterfly Bush) ‘Pugster Blue’, photo courtesy Proven Winners

There are plenty of shrubs that suit the cottage garden look and require little maintenance. Butterfly bushes, Buddleia, bloom in vibrant colors and the new Pugster series feature large flowers on small plants, fitting perfectly into just about any sunny garden. Hydrangeas give large pops of color for those shadier spots. ‘Wee White’ smooth hydrangea’s petite size and giant blooms create an over-the-top show all summer. Shrub roses like the new highly scented ‘At Last’ freely give peach-colored flowers for a long period of time. A traditional aesthetic to a cottage garden are planted hedges. Use any of the above-mentioned shrubs to create a colorful wall or use boxwoods for an evergreen clean look.

Many other flowers may be used to create the relaxed colorful look of the cottage garden; coneflowers, blazing stars and anemones are just a few that come to mind. Be sure to plant closely with plants you love and have fun with it!

Abby Lapides is owner and a speaker at Sugar Creek Gardens Nursery in Kirkwood, Missouri. She has degrees from the University of Missouri, and is a member of the Landscape and Nursery Association of Greater St. Louis.