Cottage gardens have charmed for centuries. If you’d like a timeless garden of your own, that’s easy to maintain, consider going native.
Taking inspiration from the classic English cottage garden model, you can create a beautiful informal tapestry of colour using purely Australian natives – mixing flowering shrubs, groundcover, grasses, bulbs, annuals and climbing plants.
Australian native plants are drought-hardy, easy to care for (they need little extra watering or feeding once established) and they attract plenty of wildlife.
Top tips to nail the cottage garden look with natives
- Plan ahead. For all its rambling appeal, your cottage garden should be carefully thought out.
- Factor in the seasons. Choose plants that ﬂower in different seasons so your cottage garden will look fab year-round.
- Mix it up but don’t go overboard. Go ahead and use varying colours and textures but try to stick to several plants of the same variety, rather than having tens of different plants, so the garden has an informal patchwork effect but is not ‘bitty’.
- Think watercolour painting. Choose soft shapes, with colours and foliage that blend rather than compete.
Before planting natives, all soils should have some compost added. Sandy soil should also be improved with the addition of clay and clay breakers must be worked into heavy clay, as most native plants prefer free-draining soil. Not sure what kind of soil you have? Take the one-step soil type test.
Use low-phosphorus native fertiliser, mulch after planting and do regular tip-pruning to keep your native plants looking good.
What to plant
Thomasia purpurea is a great shrub for a dry spot with dappled light. Growing just shy of a metre tall, it has vivid green foliage and clusters of striking bell-like purple ﬂowers from autumn to early summer.
This plant’s needle-like, grey-green foliage is similar to that of rosemary. But it’s the soft magenta, lantern-shaped ﬂowers in winter to early spring that make this low-growing shrub perfect for a native cottage garden.
Heart-leaf ﬂame pea (Chorizema cordatum)
For a pop of brilliant colour in your native cottage garden, you can’t go past this scrambling shrub’s spectacular hot pink and orange pea ﬂowers. It loves the shade, but can handle full sun with extra watering in summer.
This shrub’s bell-shaped, nectar-filled blooms are a particular favourite of birds, and with a great range of varieties ﬂowering throughout the year, you don’t have to stop at just one.
Versatile grevillea comes in many colours but for a pastel pick, try ‘Misty Pink’ or the creamy-yellow ‘Moonlight’. For red and cream flowers, we love ‘Little Drummer Boy’ and ‘Mt Tamboritha’. Read more about grevillea.
A scent-sational addition to your native cottage garden, thanks to sweetly-scented, bell-shaped flowers. Plant close to a pathway to make the most of the beautiful fragrance. Boronia also makes a great cut flower, so you can enjoy it inside and out.
Lechenaultia biloba’s stunning blue flowers may look dainty, but this tough plant doesn’t mind exposed, sunny spots, light frost and sandy and gravelly soil. Plant for stunning flowers in spring and summer.
Alyogyne huegelii ‘West Coast Gem’
Also known as native hibiscus, this fast-growing shrub features spectacular, large purple flowers from spring to autumn. It’s loved by birds and butterflies, is rarely troubled by pests and doesn’t mind being by the seaside.
Main image (right): Grevillea ‘Misty Pink’. Left hand images, clockwise from top: Guichenotia macrantha, Alyogyne huegelii ‘West Coast Gem’, Correa, Heart-leaf ﬂame pea, Lechenaultia biloba.
Pimelea ferruginea ‘White Solitaire’
Also known as rice flower, you’ll love the beautiful pom-pom-like, snow-white spring flowers as much as the butterflies. The small, glossy, dark-green foliage maintains a lovely compact dome-shape, so little pruning is needed.
A close relative of grevilleas and banksias, isopogon reveals its pink or yellow blooms in winter. This plant’s common name, Drumsticks refers to its globe-shaped flowers, which make for a unique addition to your native cottage garden.
If you need a plant to help break up all the greenery in your native cottage garden, the beautiful silvery foliage of eremophila nivea is your best bet. It’s complemented by purple, tubular flowers in spring and summer.
Banksia spinulosa ‘Cherry Candles’
From late spring, this compact shrub reveals attractive buds, which turn into impressive hairpin-like flowers from summer to winter. As a salt-tolerant plant, Banksia spinulosa ‘Cherry Candles’ is ideal for a coastal native cottage garden.
Geraldton wax (Chamelaucium uncinatum)
This beautiful flowering shrub will bring colour and fragrance to your native cottage garden from late winter to spring, with its sweetly-scented pink or white flowers. These can also be picked as a long-lasting and pretty cut flower. Read more about Geraldton wax
Leptospermum ‘Pink Cascade’
This spreading shrub has a weeping habit, so it’s great for any retaining walls you may have as part of your native cottage garden. In spring and autumn it’s completely covered in small pink flowers, and while drought-hardy, it also doesn’t mind soggy soils or humidity.
Kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos)
Taller-growing kangaroo paw are super hardy and push energy into a dazzling flush of flowers from mid-spring to summer and early autumn. For a variety that will flower all year round, plant Bush Pearl and Bush Pizzazz. Read more about kangaroo paw
Flannel flower (Actinotus helianthi)
The flannel flower’s daisy-like white flowers are velvety to the touch, hence its common name. Together with its silvery foliage, the flannel flower is a beautiful match with more colourful blooms in your native cottage garden.
Clockwise from top left: Kangaroo Paw, Geraldton wax, Isopogen, Pimelea ferruginea ‘White Solitaire’, Flannel flower.
Hardenbergia (Australian sarsaparilla)
Hardenbergia is a tough plant with deep-green leaves and pea-shaped clusters of flowers. While it can be grown as a climbing plant, it also makes a great groundcover. The violet, pale pink or white flowers appear late winter to early spring. Read more about hardenbergia
Native daisy (Brachyscome)
Also known as Australian daisy, this plant brims with cheery flowers for most of the year, with an extra big flush in spring and summer, making it an ideal mass planting pick for your native cottage garden.
Fan ﬂower (Scaevola)
Scaevola is a tough and impressive groundcover, especially when planted en masse. This spreading perennial has lush, bright-green leaves and for most of the year is covered in fan-shaped flowers in lavender, pink or white.
Also known as kangaroo lobelia, there are few blue blooms that can hold a candle to the blindingly-rich shade of indigo this plant reveals in spring and summer. Frost tolerant once established, this groundcover also doesn’t mind light shade.
Pink paper daisy (Rhodanthe chlorocephala rosea)
This fast-growing groundcover will add a pop of pink to your native cottage garden, from deep to pale pink shades and white – all on one plant. Planted in full sun to dappled shade, its flowers appear during warm, sunny weeks any time of the year.
Clockwise from top left: Pink paper daisy, Native daisy Brachyscome Mauve Delight, Dampiera diversifolia, Fan ﬂower, Hardenbergia.
Morning Iris (Orthrosanthus multiflorus)
Mix things up in your native cottage garden with the soft, strappy texture of this evergreen grass, which reveals tall stalks of beautiful sky-blue, iris-like ﬂowers in spring and summer.
While officially a herb, this plant’s strappy, narrow foliage makes it look more like a grass. Its common name, grey cottonhead, is also a little misleading, as the flowers – which appear from autumn to spring – are actually a cheery shade of yellow.
Native daffodil (Calostemma luteum)
Also known as yellow garland-lily, this native bulb stars stunning yellow blooms similar to jonquils and daffodils. It flowers just before Christmas, lasts through summer and will continue to flower for many years, if left in the ground.
Chocolate lily (Arthropodium strictum)
This native bulb certainly looks and smells as delightful as it sounds: on a warm summer’s day, the delicate, mauve flowers offer up the distinctive smell of chocolate. It enjoys full sun but isn’t fussy when it comes to soil type.
Brisbane Lily (Proiphys cunninghamii)
Also known as Moreton Bay lily, this native bulb features dark-green, heart-shaped leaves and fragrant white flowers that bloom in late spring to early summer. Perfect for a shady spot in your native cottage garden.
Swan River daisy (Brachyscome iberidifolia)
Create spectacular ribbons of colour in your native cottage garden with the mauve, purple, white or blue blooms of the Swan River daisy, which flowers in spring and summer and can spot flower at other times of the year too.
Everlasting daisy (Bracteantha bracteata)
The everlasting daisy comes in both annual and perennial form. Whichever you choose, you’ll love this plant’s colourful papery bracts (often confused for flowers) which appear from spring to autumn. It also makes a great cut flower.
Pandorea pandorana ’Snowbells’
If given support, this pretty plant will prove itself to be a vigorous climber. It’s also fast-growing, so is perfect for covering unsightly vertical spaces with its deep-green leaves and bright white flowers in spring and summer.[external_footer]