How to create a cottage garden using indigenous South African plants

Life Landscapes, a division of Life Green Group, has decided to explore - how to create an indigenous cottage garden using South African plants, with a strict focus on traditional English cottage garden features.

History of the cottage garden

The cottage garden came about as a response to space. English labourers of the working class had small plots and limited time to tend to gardens. So they planted veggies and herbs ad-hoc; scattering insect repelling flowers among them, and that was the beginning of what we call the cottage garden.

As society industrialised, people felt the need to touch nature again, city folk began to envy the country lifestyle and the cottage garden became a well-known landscaping design.

how to design a cottage garden

Shakespeare's house © Richard Peat

Features of a cottage garden:

Overgrown archways and winding, narrow pathways make for common cottage garden features. You need to be thinking of the Shire and Hobbit gardens.

Veggies and useful plants are also features of traditional cottage garden, rosemary, lavender, artichokes and cabbages are all attractive edible plants that can be incorporated in your overgrown cottage garden. Don’t forget to scatter herbs and insect repelling plants like: marigolds, nasturtiums, petunias, mint, lemon thyme and basil.

Creepers and vines should be grown up archways and palisades. Bare walls are a no go. Birdbaths, sun dials, beehives, benches placed at ‘random’ in flowerbeds are a cottage-garden must have.

Flowerbeds are a prerogative and there is little space for much else. It all about mystery and exploration and loads of mis-matched flowers, planted in bulk.

Things to remember when landscaping

A cottage garden in South Africa can lend itself to a bee garden or a scented garden. Studies show that bees prefer blue and yellow flowers, they also like flowers growing in close proximity to each other. Something you may want to consider in your selection.

When planting a cottage garden, position the plants slightly closer together than normal to get that overgrown effect. Because the plants are competing for space the soil quality in a cottage garden needs to be kept healthy. Life Landscapes recommends Bokashi, worm farms and a viable compost heap to keep the soil nutrient-rich.

Despite a cottage garden looking overgrown and unstructured, some thought process needs to go into the plant placement. Taller plants like the shrubs and larger flower go at the back and smaller daintier plants along pathways and in the front the flower bed.

To keep the garden alive and vibrant at all times of the year, mix and match winter and summer flowering plants. 

traditional cottage garden

English cottage garden © Garry Knight

South African plants for a cottage garden

Trees and shrubs

A cottage garden, is traditionally not large, so if you want to plant trees keep them small. Shrubs, however, are a messy rambling alternative, and ideally suited to a cottage-style. Here is a list of indigenous shrubs (and trees) to consider for a cottage garden:

• Dwarf coral tree – stunning scarlet flowers
• Forest pink hibusicus (Hibiscus pedunculatus) - wonderful pink ballerina flowers. For more pink flowering shrubs click here.
• Freylinia (Freylinia tropica) - popular garden specimen
Grewia species – great for attracting fruit-eating birds
• Kruidjie-roer-my-nie (Melianthus comosus) – brings the sunbirds
• Mackeyabella - Excellent for a garden with a white planting palette
• Pink mallow (Anisodontea scabrosa) – Cottage garden must have!
• Plactranthus ecklonii - smell like mint
• Puzzle bush (Ehretia rigida) - stunning busy specimen
• September bush (Polygala myrtifolia) - hardy pioneer shrub
• White bauhinia (Bauhinia Natalensis) – great for butterflies
• Wild bush petunia (Barleria greenii) – great flowers and not very big
• Wild dagga (Leonotis leonurus) – Wild and wonderful
• yellow bauhinia (Bauhinia tomentosa) – small and flowers a lot. For more yellow flowering shrub click here.

south-african-shrubs-for-a-cottage-garden

Creepers

For the walls and archways
• Black-eyed Susan - Thunbergia alata – flowers prolifically
Bushman’s pipe (Ceropegia ampliata) – its phallic flowers act as a conservation starter
• Cape grape (Rhoicissus tomentosa) – Large so good for over a patio or up a large wall
• Christmas bells (Littonia modesta) - great for a pot unique looking blossoms
• Flowering ivy (Senecio macroglossus) - fast growing and not ugly like true ivy
• Forest senecio (Senecio brachypodus) - succulent-like and brings butterflies
• Wild jasmine (Jasminum angulare) – hardy and sweetly scented

bushmans-pipe-life-landscapes

Bulbs

Plant bulbs among the flowers. They will pop up unexpectedly every now and then. 

  •  Blood lily (Scadoxus multiflorus) - for more orange flowering plants, click here.
    • Ground lily (Ammocharis coranica) – flat leaves and large flowers investment. Grow somewhere you can see.
    • Yellow star (Hypoxis hemerocallidea) – gets cute yellow flowers middle front of the bed.
    • Lantern flower (Albuca shawii) – evergreen and dainty great for among the grasses and keep in the fore.
    • Natal gladiolus (Gladiolus dalenii) scatter in the middle of the bed
    • Small red iris (Freesia laxa) – plant near pathways or in the front of the flowerbed
    • Watsonia transvaalensis – plant near the middle of back of a bed
how to make a cottage garden

Traditional cottage garden © Tony Hisgett

Perennial flowers for a South African cottage garden

We have focused on non-hybridised flowers. 

• Angel wing jasmine (Jasminum angulare)
• Arum lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica)
• Carpet geranium (Geranium incanum)
Feather duster (Clematopsis scabiosifolia)
• Gerbera daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
• Kingfisher daisy (Felica amelloides)
• Kooigoed (Helichrysum petoilare)
• Mona Lavender (Plectranthus Mona Lavender)
• Rose-scented geranium (Pelargonium capitatum)
• Terracotta gazania (Gazania krebsiana)
• Trailing mauve daisy (Dimorphotheca jucunda)
• Wild garlic (Tulbaghia violacea)

flowers-for-a-south-african-cottage-garden