Creating An English Cottage Garden

Text by Vicki Ingham / Photography by John O’Hagan

About a decade in the making, this front-yard garden just keeps getting better.

Betsy Fleenor hadn’t thought about taking out the carpet of grass in front of her Tudor-style home until she started working in the horticultural library of her local botanical gardens. Looking through the many books on English cottage gardens, she was gradually captivated, and the look was perfect for the house she shared with her husband, Michael. He was skeptical about filling the front yard with flowers, but the prospect of no more mowing won him over.

Because many of the plants typically found in English cottage gardens won’t survive in the South, Betsy looked for heat-tolerant substitutes with similar shapes, growth habits, or flower and foliage colors to create the
old-fashioned, exuberant look. She doesn’t use any chemicals, so plants have to be disease-resistant, too. Instead of finicky climbing roses, for example, she opted for native honeysuckle, pyracantha, climbing hydrangea, and Confederate jasmine.

Betsy’s training as an artist and graphic designer influenced the planting scheme she devised,but, she says, you have to respond to the plants and adjust accordingly. “If things get too tall, I move them. And with pass-alongs, you don’t really know what you’re getting, so you have to go with it. If it doesn’t work, you move it somewhere else.”

The key to a cottage garden is layers of lush abundance, but to keep the yard from looking chaotic, Betsy edges the paths with stone and defines the yard with rustic fencing. “I let things spill over into the paths,” she says, “but I try to keep a clean line showing somewhere along the way.” A touch of order is all it takes to play up the artful design.