How to create a contemporary cottage garden

How to create a contemporary cottage garden

Hints and tips by Debby Lockey Garden Design

I am in the process of designing a small courtyard garden in Lymington.  The client would like a classic cottage garden with a contemporary twist.  These few simple steps will show you how this can be achieved.

Define the planting area. Here box hedging has been used

Minimalist and uncluttered

Contemporary gardens are usually quite minimalist and uncluttered. This seems to be at odds with a cottage garden, where the look is more relaxed and plant orientated. To marry these two concepts, we are going to get the uncluttered look by using very simple geometric shapes in the garden.  In this case squares and oblongs rather than circles. In the areas of the garden where drainage is poor these will be produced by building raised beds made of wood.  In the rest of the garden, box hedging will define the shapes. 

Cottage garden planting

Within these defined beds there will be the classic cottage garden plants such as roses, honeysuckle, carnations and other scented plants. Their colour will be muted, to keep the cottage garden theme, and they will be positioned near seated areas so they can be enjoyed whenever there is an opportunity to sit and relax in the garden.

The client also wants to grow some vegetables in the raised beds, so again to achieve the cottage garden look, they will be interspersed amongst the flowers rather than grown in rows. 

The courtyard is surrounded by fencing, which gives it privacy and shelter. Normally in a cottage garden these fences would be swathed in climbers that would be allowed to romp away and do their own thing. But because the courtyard is small, such climbers could quickly become an eyesore and dominate the area. So instead we will attach trellis to the fencing, and then grow more sedate climbers that can be trained within this confined space. 

A strong design underpins the garden

Alternatively, shrubs that don’t mind being pruned could be judiciously spaced along the fence. The affect will be more contemporary and manageable, which suits our busy lifestyles.

Painted wood 

To add to the contemporary feeling of the garden, the wood used in the raised beds will be painted. There are so many interesting exterior paints and colours available these days that this is a satisfying way of adding year round colour to a garden. The painted wood theme will be followed through on wooden obelisks that will be used to add height to this small garden. However as in most things in design be careful not to go overboard with painting or it will distract from the design. Simplicity is the key to a contemporary garden.  But to give a nod towards the cottage garden look a muted colour will be used rather than anything bright and bold.

Large pots

We are also going to use pots in the garden. Here again the feeling will be more contemporary as just a few large pots will be placed strategically around the garden.  This is in contrast to a cottage garden where lots of little pots would be huddled together. The style of the pots will be simple and geometric to complement the geometric shapes in the garden and will probably be modern in material and design. The maintenance of large pots is also much easier as they don’t need quite so much watering and feeding as lots of little pots. 


To create the contemporary feeling a more modern paving material will be used. To contrast with the muted painted timber, it could be interesting to use a grey coloured paving material such as slate, York stone or the equivalent, rather than a sandstone coloured paving that is often used in cottage gardens. This will be laid in a random pattern to give the cottage garden feel, with setts to break up different sections of the garden. 

As drainage is a problem in this garden, gravel will also be used. Rather than the small sized pea shingle, larger grey coloured chippings will be used for the paths around the raised beds.  This will enhance the cottage garden feel to this section of the garden. 

debby lockey garden design logoA winning combination

The secret to creating a contemporary cottage garden is therefore to ensure there is a strong design underpinning the planting.  This makes it easier to see what needs to go where and provides the foundation on which to build the garden. Then within these defined areas the planting can be allowed to flourish in a relaxed way, as long as it stays within the boundaries established by the design. The garden then benefits from all the positive attributes associated with a cottage garden, e.g. scent, muted colours and attractiveness to wildlife,  while offering the positive attributes of a contemporary garden e.g more manageable and less labour intensive. In my opinion that is a winning combination in this modern age.

Article by Debby Lockey Garden Design



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