Rustic cottage garden ideas – 7 tips for creating a stunning garden on a shoestring budget
Kathy and Stuart Pickering created their rustic cottage garden in a stretch of field.
And you can use the same techniques to turn an empty lawn into a haven of colour and scent, filled with butterflies and birdsong.
Their space is equivalent to a long, narrow town garden, measuring around 30ft x 100ft, but the ideas would work in smaller and larger spaces.
And they’ve done it all on a minimum budget, recycling second-hand finds and using virtually no hard landscaping.
Start with a plan
Kathy says she knew what she wanted to do, so didn’t have to think about it too much.
Cottage gardens are traditionally informal, but it makes sense to think about how you’re going to break up the space. There’s relatively little hard landscaping in cottage garden style, which makes it a good budget choice – Kathy’s seating area uses wood chip instead of pavers, the paths are grass and they made the arches themselves from hazel branches.
All the furniture and pots are bought from yard sales, car boot fairs or passed down by friends.
There’s more about cottage garden style and how to achieve it here.
Kathy marked out her garden zones with poles and paths. It starts with an open lawn area at the beginning.
Then the heart of the flower garden is a series of four borders on either side of a central path, going down to a second open meadow area at the bottom. If your garden area is long and narrow, this way of dividing it into zones across the space works very well to make it feel larger and blur the boundaries.
How to create a garden border from scratch
Kathy created her borders in the easiest way. She and Stuart marked out the areas of border by laying down poles and covered this area with cardboard. The cardboard blocks the light, stopping grass and weeds from growing. Then it slowly breaks down over around five months to improve the quality of the soil. By this time, the grass and most of the weeds will have died off.
Kathy and Stuart covered the cardboard with very well rotted manure immediately after laying it down. They have horses, so they used a very old pile of manure, which meant Kathy could plant into the bed just a few weeks later. (If manure isn’t well rotted enough, it could ‘burn’ the plant stems).
Kathy began planting these beds a few weeks later. This called ‘no dig’, and is a much easier way of creating borders than the traditional method of digging up lawn, meadow or weeds with a spade. You can find out more about No Dig For Flower Gardens here.
A rustic cottage cabin
The garden is a short walk away from the actual house, but all gardens feel right when they’re anchored to a building. So Kathy and Stuart have created a rustic cottage cabin which Kathy calls her ‘dacha’.
They made the cabin by building up an old hay wagon, giving it sides made of corrugated iron. They’d recently renovated the corrugated iron roof of their cottage, so they re-used the old corrugated iron to make the ‘dacha’. They also insulated it and painted it inside.
Kathy visits car boot fairs and yard sales, as well as second-hand shops. She also keeps a keen eye out for bits and pieces that are being thrown away. Spotting a set of Victorian glass windows and a door apparently discarded in a front garden, she asked the owner if they were throwing them out. ‘We’ve been waiting for someone like you,’ said the owners, happy to know that their windows and door would have another use in a different place.
It’s important to ask, even if it’s clear that something is being thrown away or is in a skip.
The cabin is raised up, so they built a verandah with steps. They’ve placed planters made of old boxes in front of the verandah, and there’s a wonderful view down the garden over the tops of the flowers.
Top cottage garden plants
But, as Kathy says, in a cottage garden it doesn’t matter too much what plants you have. You can see what likes growing in your garden and grow more of it. And if you haven’t spent too much money, it matters less if a plant doesn’t survive.
The main thing to check is whether a plant prefers full sun, partial shade or full shade.
Many cottage garden lovers don’t bother with a colour scheme, but Kathy has allocated a white theme for the first few borders (‘except for a few volunteers in other colours that pop up’). The central borders have blues and purples and then the last borders are more colourful.
Rustic cottage garden arches
There is a grass path running down the centre of the garden, with rustic arches placed at intervals. Kathy and Stuart made these themselves out of hazel poles. ‘Don’t use willow,’ says Kathy. ‘It roots too easily.’
They wedged the hazel poles fairly deeply in the earth, then bent them over and secured them with strong ties.
Upcycling and thrifting – the key to cottage garden style
Rustic cottage garden style isn’t about buying things. It’s about using what you’ve got or finding something that no-one else wants.
One of Kathy’s most innovative upcycling projects was turning an old sofa seat into a pretty, rusting trellis for the side of the shed. It was a sprung sofa seat, so all she needed to do was detach it from the frame, removed the padding and fabric and she had a metal frame to hang on the wall.
See this post for more tips on recycling, thrifting and upcycling in the garden.
See more of Kathy’s rustic cottage garden in video!
Take a stroll through Kathy’s rustic cottage garden in this video here.
Pin to remember rustic cottage garden on a budget
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