Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Native Cottage Garden

Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii
What do you think of when someone uses the term cottage garden? A collection of colorful flowers, informally arranged, with some structure like a fence? I like Wikipedia’s description: “English in origin, it depends on grace and charm rather than grandeur and formal structure.” My friend Julie recently moved to a new house and declared that she wanted to create a cottage garden with a picket fence, using native plants. That sounded like a wonderful challenge!

Echinacea purpurea

While Julie got the existing landscape removed and the hardscape installed, we put our heads together to come up with a list of plants to include in what would be long space beside the driveway.  The fence replaced a privet hedge – how awesome to install native flowers instead of privet!

We wanted to include plants that were native to Georgia, would have a seasonal assortment of blooms from spring to fall, and that would be reasonably available from her existing plants, or be available to purchase locally, or were donated by friends. 

Once we composed the list of potential plants, we grouped them in a plan on paper, with careful arrangement of taller plants in the back and part-shade plants in an area that gets afternoon shade. Some plants would overlap seasons, of course. After an informal consultation with a landscape designer, we sprinkled the seasonal plants throughout the span but created groups of some plants (for example, sections of cardinal flower plants together) for more impact.

Coreopsis with Penstemon in late spring
Coreopsis major, late spring

Here are the lists we developed to get started. She was in time to shop the spring sales for items that she didn't have or for new inspirations. Not all the plants in the plan made it into the cottage garden (some went elsewhere in her new spaces because she ripped out pretty much everything but the trees!). Some plant sale finds worked their way in.

Spring (March to May)

Mouse-eared coreopsis (Coreopsis auriculata), beardtongue (Penstemon smallii and P. digitalis), red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), baptisia (Baptisia sp.), fleabane (Erigeron pulchellus), copper iris (Iris fulva), dwarf iris (Iris verna), sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa), blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium), spiderwort (Tradescantia sp.), rain lily (Zephyranthes atamasca), goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), green n gold (Chrysogonum virginianum), geranium (Geranium maculatum), coral bells (Heuchera americana), foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), creeping phlox (Phlox subulata), bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata), lyre leaf sage (Salvia lyrata), celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum).

Summer (June to August)

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea), stokes aster (Stokesia laevis), summer coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata, C. grandiflora, C. major, C. verticillata), hyssop (Agastache foeniculum, not native to GA), milkweed (Asclepias sp.), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), sneezeweed (Helenium sp.), Iris, blazingstar (Liatris sp.), beebalm (Monarda sp.), summer phlox (Phlox carolina, P. paniculatum), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia sp.), Scutellaria, rosinweed (Silphium sp.), Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum), partridge pea (Chamaecrista sp.), blanket flower (Gaillardia pulchella), narrowleaf mountain mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium).

The garden is long and narrow
Silphium asteriscus feeds bees and birds

Fall (September to November)

Goldenrods (Solidago sp.), asters (Symphyotrichum sp.), Boltonia asteroides, turtlehead (Chelone glabra), Joe pye weed (Eutrochium fistulosum), boneset (Eupatorium sp.), perennial sunflowers (Helianthus angustifolius, H. atrorubens), white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima), Georgia savory (Clinopodium georgianum), blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum), white wood aster (Eurybia divaricata), ironweed (Vernonia sp.), downy lobelia (Lobelia puberula).

The area was planted in the spring. The spring plants bloomed well, but there were many spaces in between them. These pictures are from early-June and mid-July. The plants have grown, filling in many of the spaces. The plants have been blooming right on time. The butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is on its second flush of blooms even as seed pods are forming on the very same plants. Now is the time to take notes about which have done well, which have done TOO well, and other considerations such as which would benefit from staking or relocation.

This corner echoes the other side of the driveway
Aside from the cottage garden, the rest of the landscape is just as native and just as interesting. A sunny area across the driveway echoes many of the plants from the cottage garden. Shade areas are full of ferns and shade-loving perennials. An assortment of native azaleas and other shrubs anchor the foundation under tall oaks. New young trees stretch their roots throughout the landscape.

Asclepias tuberosa (second flush in July)
and bumble bee
The local insects seem happy: bumble bees were visiting many flowers and a passionvine (Passiflora incarnata) on the fence had been stripped of leaves by Gulf Fritillary caterpillars (and that’s a good thing!).

Julie’s garden is a welcoming oasis for critters, full of native plants and absent of pesticides. I look forward to watching the garden throughout the seasons and throughout the years.


  1. I love it. I have too many that have done too well and it's time to edit them!

  2. Was actually looking for a list of GA native blooming times. This helps when I move things around my garden this fall.

  3. This is a VERY helpful list! Thanks!

  4. Thank you so much for this list, it's helping me in my decisions for this year's garden. I live in Cumming, GA and am gonna start planting real soon. Thank you.