Organized cottage garden style
A little more than 10 years ago this charming cottage-inspired garden in Maine was a blank slate. Erin and Dan Clark had just added the 29×35-foot paver patio to their existing deck, but then Erin started dreaming of a garden. What inspired her? “I knew I wanted cottage flowers, but I’m also kind of a neat freak,” she says. “And my mum, Linda, has always had really sweet gardens and great style.”
Even though she had a sense of what she wanted, she mulled it over for years before landing on the horseshoe-shaped border anchored by a picket fence and arbor you see below.
Secret to a quick start
In late summer 2019 the couple built the fence and arbor and installed the plantings. It’s hard to believe that the perennials in these photos are only a couple of years old. The fast growth is a testament to how important starting with great soil can be.
Before they planted anything, Dan tilled up the planting area and spread 4 or 5 inches of biosolid compost purchased from a nearby municipality. Erin dug the compost in as she planted the catmint (Nepeta racemosa) and lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), divided and moved from the front yard, and the other small end-of-season perennials picked up at a local garden center.
The quick start has been this garden’s biggest surprise. Erin kept the plants’ mature sizes in mind when she planted and spread them out rather than giving in to the temptation to pack them in: “It hurt me. I had to keep telling myself, it’s going to look fine.” Now she’s glad she did.
In this zone 4 garden, you can’t count on frost-free nights until the end of May and can expect a frost by the end of September. Erin packs a lot into her short summers!
The flowers start in May with bulbs, such as tulips and alliums. Then the garden transitions into the blue, pink and chartreuse June palette you see above. By July, pinks take over, with coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), hollyhocks (Alcea rosea), garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), and pink-flowering annuals like zinnias (Zinnia elegans) and cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus), which Erin starts from seed in her portable greenhouse. Late summer brings Japanese anemones (Anemone x hybrida) and the annuals in all their glory.
Change of plans
No project comes off totally as expected, especially when the design calls for symmetry. Here, the ‘John Davis’ climbing roses on the south side of the patio are less vigorous than those on the north. Erin suspects the fence is shading them so she plans to move the smaller roses to the outside of the fence to solve this problem.
Sweet pea cottage
Once the planting was done, Dan and Erin turned their attention to building Sweet Pea Cottage at the back of the yard as a studio space for Erin’s painting and other creative endeavors. Next up on their project list? A path to the cottage and, of course, a flower bed. They started it late last year, and you can follow the progress as well as see the garden throughout the year on Erin’s blog, or on Instagram @Clark.Cottage.Gardens.
Erin’s cottage garden plant palette
Here are a few of the plants that bloom in June in this Maine garden.
A) ‘John Davis’ Climbing rose Rosa
Shrub; climber with lightly fragrant double pink flowers from late spring through fall; full sun; 6 to 8 ft. tall, spreading; cold hardy in USDA zones 2 to 9
B) ‘Thai Pink Jade’ Garden phlox Phlox paniculata
Perennial; soft pink flowers on mildew-resistant foliage in summer; full sun; 30 to 48 in. tall, 18 to 24 in. wide; cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8
C) ‘Walker’s Low’ Catmint Nepeta racemosa
Perennial; lavender-blue flowers rebloom from late spring through fall; full sun; 18 to 36 in. tall and wide; cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9
D) ‘Silver Mound’ Artemisia Artemisia schmidtiana
Perennial; soft, silvery mounds of foliage; full sun; 8 to 10 in. tall, 10 to 15 in. wide; cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7
E) ‘Vision Light Pink’ Bloody cranesbill Geranium sanguineum
Perennial; pale pink flowers start in midspring and repeat through fall, red autumn foliage; full sun to part shade; 9 to 12 in. tall, 12 to 24 in. wide; cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8
F) ‘Thriller’ Lady’s mantle Alchemilla mollis
Perennial; clouds of tiny chartreuse flowers top plants in late spring and early summer; full sun to part shade; 18 to 24 in. tall and wide; cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8
Spots to relax
Of course the garden borders are beautiful, but the more time you spend in this backyard, the more thoughtful details you notice. There are plenty of places to sit and enjoy the space in different ways.
One of Erin and Dan’s favorite spots to sit (when they actually do so) is under an octagonal gazebo on the deck just outside their back door. With comfortable furniture and lighting, it’s the perfect place to sit down with late afternoon coffee or duck into when rain moves in. And the view isn’t bad, either; you can see that above.
Add sparkle with outdoor lights
The circle of wicker rocking chairs in the center of the patio surrounds a portable firepit that beckons in the evening or even on a warm winter afternoon. Dan’s added enough lighting throughout the garden that it twinkles at night. The bistro lights that zigzag across the deck, the finial lights on tall posts in the fence and the chandelier in the arbor in the photo below are all on an automatic timer that comes on at dusk and turns off at 10 p.m.
Picket fence details
Erin is lucky. Anything she can dream up, Dan can build. She wanted a picket fence but thought that traditional pickets seemed rather plain. And she loves round shapes, which she’s repeated throughout the garden with mounded perennials and spherical finials. So inspired by a picket fence in a nearby botanical garden that had silhouetted cat cutouts, she asked Dan to build fence slats with circle cutout details. They cut every picket and drilled every circle with a hole saw themselves and carried the same circle details into the corner pieces of the arbor.
Repetition is an easy way to create unity in your garden. If you’re feeling like yours is a little hodgepodge, look for ways to repeat a shape, a color, or even a specific plant here and there. It’ll start to tie the space together.
As you wander this garden, you’ll find vintage chairs, old watering cans and copper tubs tucked in here and there, some turned into containers, and even an old rusty bicycle with flowers planted in the basket and the cargo box.
Charming cottage garden containers
Add a touch of whimsy with upcycled containers. If you’d like to use an old tub, watering can or basket as a container, it’s best if you can drill some holes in the bottom of the vessel for drainage. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, you might have to move it under the eaves of the house every time it rains so it doesn’t get waterlogged! Erin feeds her containers every week with water-soluble fertilizer to keep them blooming. Learn a few more tips and meet the plants below. These charming containers are just the cherry on top of this garden’s organized cottage garden style.