Digitalis purpurea f. albifloraFoxglove

A classic cottage garden plant, the Digitalis genus consists of biennials and short-lived perennials. Their spires provide bursts of colour in early to mid-summer. Together with other self-seeders such as granny's bonnets, they add to a sense of jostling companionship.

  • Grow them: foxgloves thrive in fertile, moist but well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. Raise annually from seed.
  • Combine with: plants that foam at their feet, such as hardy geraniums or alchemilla.
  • Best for cottage gardens: the common biennial foxglove, Digitalis purpurea and improved selections such as Digitalis purpurea Excelsior Group can reach up to 2m (6ft); sIngle colour apricot hybrids or white forms are also available.

Lavender spilling over onto a pathLavender

A fragrant addition, Lavandula is particularly at home in cottage gardens. Shrubs lend themselves to front of borders or low hedges that edge pathways.

  • Grow them: lavenders thrive best in free-draining soils and full sun. They grow particularly well in chalky and alkaline soils.
  • Combine with: other aromatic classics like salvias and rosemary.
  • Best for cottage gardens: L. angustifolia ‘Hidcote' AGM is a compact hedge growing up to 60cm (2ft) in height, with purple flowers; lavadin varieties like  L. x intermedia 'Sussex' AGM flower later and are taller at around 90cm (36in).


Impressive flower spikes arrive in mid-summer. Cultivars vary in height and are generally categorised into two groups: the Belladonna Group, which contain smaller, branched cultivars that often repeat flower in late summer; the Elatum Group of taller cultivars to 2m (6½ft).

  • Grow them: in full sun and sheltered from strong winds. Most need staking. Once in the ground, protect from slugs. Cut back and feed to encourage a second flush of flowers in late summer.

  • Combine with: delphiniums are good at the back of borders, rising above lower-growing plants such as peonies, shasta daisies or iris.

  • Best for cottage gardens: there are no ‘wrong’ choices, but ‘Blue Dawn' AGM is a blue and purple-tinged selection to consider, while ‘Tiddles' AGM  is shorter and has pastel-pink blooms. Annual larkspur, Delphinium consolida makes a good gap filler and cut flower.

Philadelphus 'Manteau d'Hermine'eMock orange

Philadelphus are enjoyed for their clouds of early summer flower and overwhelming scent. Size varies from hummocky shrubs of 75cm (2½ft), to giants 4m (13ft) tall and wide.

  • Grow them: in full sun or partial shade. They do well in any soil type.
  • Combine with: the small- to medium-sized cultivars fit nicely into perennial beds with plants such as veronica or penstemon. Be adventurous and use a vigorous climber, such as Viticella group clematis, to grow through a larger shrubs, achieving a blowsy country effect.
  • Best for cottage gardens: ‘Manteau d’Hermine’ AGM  reaches around 1m (3½ft) with clusters of creamy flowers; P. 'Belle Étoile' AGM is a medium-sized, arching cultivar. Highly-scented, single white flowers have purple centres; P. coronarius 'Aureus' AGM  reaches 2.5m (8ft) with initially yellow leaves and creamy-white, strongly scented flowers.

Rosa 'Cerise Bouquet'Rose

Arguably, no cottage garden summer would be complete without roses and their perfume. Choose height and habit for the situtaion you have. But remember, the truly vintage-looking, old-fashioned roses, mainly flower once.

  • Grow them: roses tolerate a range of conditions but prefer full sun in moist, but well-drained soil. Fertilise and mulch in early spring. Deadheading encourages many to flower again.
  • Combine with: climbers can be grown up into trees; shrub roses can be fine additions to borders; groundcover roses are good for underplanting.
  • Best for cottage gardens:  'Madame Alfred Carriere'  AGM - a romantic cream climber that repeat flowers;  ‘Roseraie de l’Hay' AGM, an upright shrub for hedging with purplish-crimson flowers; ‘Cerise Bouquet ' AGM an arching, wayward shrub bearing clusters of rosette-like flowers for large borders.

More from the RHS

Garden design resources
Cottage garden design gallery

Gardeners' calendar

Find out what to do this month with our gardeners' calendar

Advice from the RHS

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.