Garden inspiration

Cottage garden design ideas

Modern Cottage Garden Design

flowers outside a cottage

How to Design a Modern Cottage Garden

Modern cottage garden design is possible to achieve, no matter what the size, shape or age of your house. Here is some inspiration and various ideas on how you can get started, based on our garden design and experience over the last twenty years!

First things first – the front entrance modern cottage garden design

Not all of us are fortunate enough to have a classic thatched Cotswolds cottage, however, it is possible to use ideas from a traditional style of garden to give a modern cottage garden design, no matter what house we have.  When it’s successful, the front garden should enhance the house and give a lift to the spirits. The front garden should have unity with the lines and materials of the house; the plants should be properly proportional to the space; and the character of the property should be reflected. In the above example the mill stones successfully lead the visitor to the front entrance, acting as a focal point.

Pathways for a Modern Cottage Garden Designcottage garden design ideas

Most modern cottage garden designs include a pathway and there are lots of ways you can work with this. Informality is the key. A gravel pathway in local shingle is a good material to use in an informal modern cottage design. In the above example we planted low growing herbs and grasses in the gravel to give a natural look. Try to avoid making the path go Straight from A to B, instead let it meander around the space and be as generous as you can with the width. Allow for two people to walk comfortably side by side. Modern cottage designIn a sunny garden, lavender planted at either side of a pathway, gives scent, colour and attract bees in abundance. To give a scented frame to a pathway, lavender is a good choice. One of the best varieties for creating a low hedge in a modern cottage garden design is ‘Hidcote.’ modern cottage garden design

An archway, with scented climbers over a path creates a great division and focal point, leading the eye of a visitor on and into the rest of a garden. Either metal or wood will work as an archway, the key is getting the plants right. In the above example, it’s the scented, pink climbing rose that stands out. 

Maintenance of a modern cottage garden designmodern small city garden

How much time have you realistically got to spend on maintaining your garden? If the answer is very little, don’t despair! We designed this low maintenance modern garden for the RHS Malvern show in 2022 to demonstrate that by choosing the right plants and materials you don’t have to spend hours to keep your garden looking good.

cottage garden designIf you’re passionate about plants and have the time, it’s possible to have a garden packed full of colour every season of the year. This charming Warwickshire cottage garden was designed and built by us for a retired couple who have the time to spend caring for their garden. Only one year after completion, the results of all the hard work speaks for itself!

Plants in a modern cottage garden designPlanting in a cottage garden

When choosing plants for your modern cottage garden design, remember all the seasons. The above planting scheme, using Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ Echinacea purpurea (coneflower) and Hemerocallis fulva (common orange daylily) looks amazing for late summer colour, over winter this foliage dies back so it’s important to include evergreen winter structure and spring bulbs for all year interest.


Before choosing a tree, there are various considerations to factor in. Think about the space available. You may well love the look of a glorious oak but if your plot is the size of a pocket handkerchief, your little sapling will eventually become an unwelcome intruder. It’s well worth investigating a tree’s eventual height and spread prior to making your purchase.

You should also give consideration to the function that you want the tree to perform. If you are overlooked, you may want a tree to give you some screening from neighbouring windows so something evergreen, that retains its leaves all year round, might work best for you. Once the preserve of grand estates, pleached trees, which are trained into various shapes and sizes have become a modern style statement and a great way to give instant screening without taking up too much space. Hornbeam lends itself to pleaching very well, but as the popularity for ‘hedges on sticks’ increases so the supply of various varieties, including evergreen species, has increased. Click here for more advice on trees to choose for a modern cottage garden design.

Water features in a modern cottage designwater feature

No matter what the space, water can always be incorporated into some sort of garden design. If you decide to add a water feature into your garden for the first time this year, the size and style of the house and garden will largely determine your choice. In the above example we used a small water feature to compliment the design to give a reflective quality. In the example below, attracting wildlife was important to our clients so it became the main focal point to the design read more about it here:

Wildlife in a modern cottage garden design

Food, water and shelter are the chief attractions for birds in a garden and even a small garden can offer all three. A living boundary between gardens, such as a hedge, is not only more visually appealing than a fence but make a perfect wildlife haven without taking up too much more space in a modern cottage garden design. A hedge can make a good nest site, particularly intruder-proof hedges such as berberis, holly or hawthorn. If a  fence is essential, clothe it with various climbers to liven it up and provide nesting areas. Plants that produce autumn berries, such as cotoneaster or pyracantha are easy to grow and a magnet for thrushes.

A place to sit in the modern cottage garden

garden seating area ideas

Planning the seating areas is as important as planning the plants, both are essential ingredients to the balance of the garden. It’s worth hunting around for pieces that are functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. garden seating area ideas

In a large garden there may well be space for several permanent seats for various times of the day. Ideally three seating areas are best; an east-facing spot for morning coffee in the sun, a large dining area, with some shade, for lunch and a west-facing seat to catch the last rays of evening sunshine. Most gardens are at their loveliest on fine summer evenings in the softer light, when many flowers give off their most delicious fragrance. If you only have space for one seating area in your garden, try to make it in a west-facing position and position the furniture on some permanent paving.

Don’t forget scent in your modern cottage garden


garden seating area ideas

The owners of this cottage garden place a container of scented plants (here some lilies) that can be moved according to the season. For the intensity of its late winter and early spring scent, grow Daphne odora ‘ Aureomarginata’ near your chosen seating area. In summer, some jasmine or night-scented stock will fill the air with perfume. If space is limited, try growing the annual tobacco plants to fragrance the air.

Special features

You may want to spice up your garden with ornaments and containers. If you have an old wheelbarrow, why not plant it up with some annual plants to give added interest?

Hammocks are always fun in a cottage garden, for a modern cottage garden look at alternatives to for a contemporary feel.

Contemporary garden

When dusk falls on balmy nights, use candles or lamps to extend the period of enjoyment in your private seating area. With a glass of your favourite tipple in hand absorb the sight, sound and scent of your lovely modern cottage garden!

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