Herbs and old watering cans can add function and charm to your aromatic cottage garden: Photo Copyright Sharon Falsetto, All Rights Reserved
Herbs and old watering cans can add function and charm to your aromatic cottage garden: Photo Copyright Sharon Falsetto, All Rights Reserved

As I continue my journey of establishing an aromatherapy teaching garden of aromatic plants, I found myself considering the style of my garden. For me, there simply was no doubt; a traditional English country cottage garden! However, how do you create an aromatic cottage garden in the high Arizona desert? If you have been following my series of aromatic garden articles, you will probably enjoy this article which discusses the basics of designing an aromatic cottage garden. Over the coming months, I will also share the successes (and failures) of how I achieved an aromatic cottage garden here in Arizona!

What is an Aromatic Cottage Garden?

A traditional cottage garden breaks all the rules of garden design in that it creates the illusion that there isn’t any design; flowers are planted together in such a haphazard way that they look like they are naturally wild and unattended (a good excuse not to pull the odd flowering weed!). This is a romantic and sentimental notion of what a traditional country cottage garden should be, although the origin of cottage gardens may have been of a more practical purpose.

The Origin of Cottage Gardens

There is some debate over the origin of English country cottage gardens, although they were not exclusive to England; there was some form of country “cottage gardens” throughout Europe. Originally, country cottage gardens may have been created as a local source of fruit and vegetables; herbs were also prevalent in cottage gardens. Cottage gardens were just that – the garden of a country cottage, created for necessity and not for ornamental purposes; however, eventually large estate houses had “cottage gardens” too.

Today, the term cottage garden is used to describe any informal garden design of sprawling plants and may not necessarily contain traditional English cottage garden plants; indeed, the garden of the artist Claude Monet (1840 – 1926), at Giverny in France, has been described as cottage garden style by some, due to its sprawling nature; it is made up of water gardens, various plants and colors, not true to original cottage gardens.

How to Create an Aromatic Cottage Garden

The focus of my project, is to create an aromatic cottage garden, although I do admit to planting some plants simply for their vibrant colors! Many herbs are fragrant but do not produce the vivid display of color that some ornamental plants do.

An aromatic cottage garden had no need of a lawn; although my current garden does have a lawn, I may eventually add thyme as a “lawn” cover, a style reminiscent of “original” lawn styles. There was usually a path winding its way through the mass of plants and flowers, allowing access to tend to the plants; my garden certainly has the potential to grow in that area!

To create the characteristics of an old-fashioned English country garden include some of the following:

  • old style fencing and a gate/arbor for climbing plants, particularly roses, to climb up.

  • “antique” pots for plants; in lieu of original antique-style pots, I love to use terracotta clay pots. They are cheap (compared to other clay-style pots) and you can add your style and color by painting them if you wish.

  • old style watering cans either for watering or to plant flowers in; I have a few!

  • re-cycled earthenware, old drainage pipes, old pails or even chimney pots can create an authentic appeal to the traditional cottage garden; I am always on the lookout for something “different” to add to my garden.

  • an old wooden bench will provide a place from which to enjoy the garden. I plan to create several cozy corners for the weary gardener (aka me) or visitor to the garden to rest a while.

Traditional Cottage Flowers for a Country Garden

Traditional aromatic cottage flowers were discussed in Traditional Cottage Garden Flowers for an Aromatic Cutting Garden and Introduction to Aromatic Plants, Herbs, and Climbers for a Scented Garden, but here is a recap of some of those aromatic plants:

  • roses – old fashioned or climbing roses such as the Gallica or Damask rose will add fragrance and authenticity to a cottage garden.

  • lavender – a popular aromatic herb and flower, lavender would have originally been used in the cottage garden for its medicinal and aromatic properties.

  • climbing plants – in addition to climbing roses, cottage garden climbers include honeysuckle and, in a more modern cottage garden, clematis, both fragrant and beautiful to look at in the summer months.

  • tall plants such as delphinium*, foxglove* and hollyhock will add depth and color to a country cottage garden.

  • perennials – carnation, peony, lily, crocus, wall flower, marigold, tulip and sweet william.

  • annuals – stock, pansy and violet.

* Note that both of these species are poisonous so take care if your garden is frequented by pets or children.

Other Plants Found in a Cottage Garden

Originally, fruit trees, for example apple, would have been found in a traditional cottage garden and used to make things such as cider; smaller fruits, such as raspberries and gooseberries, would also have been found in the cottage garden. Elderberry and hawthorn not only provided hedging in the cottage garden but the leaves, berries and flowers would have been used to make wine, tea, and medicinal lotions. Today, you maybe able to infuse some of these plants for aromatic oils, or make flower essences.

Learn More About Aromatic Plants with Sedona Aromatics

If you’ve enjoyed this article on aromatic plants and would like to learn more, take a look at the Sedona Aromatics Certificate in Holistic Aromatherapy.

The bottom line on aromatic cottage gardens: Let your creativity and individual style flow! You will end with a beautiful, colorful, and fragrant garden – with medicinal, aromatic, and culinary benefits!


  • Author is a UK-certified aromatherapist with over a decade of experience and practice, published author in aromatherapy, an approved education provider for the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), an aromatherapy business owner, and Chief Editor for the NAHA Aromatherapy Journal.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email