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Cottage Garden Design

Course CodeBHT110
Fee CodeS3
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

Understanding What Makes a Cottage Garden

A "Cottage Garden" is not an easily defined thing. Originally, the term "cottage garden" referred to the garden surrounding a cottage occupied by tradesmen who served a wealthy landowner in the 17th or 18th century, in Britain. A lord might, for instance, employ a blacksmith to work on his estate, and provide that blacksmith with a small cottage to live in.  The blacksmith and his family would have the use of a small amount of land surrounding the cottage, in which they would grow mainly vegetables or other edible plants as well as some flowers to cut and bring inside.

Learn the skills and the knowledge to design beautiful cottage gardens

This is an ideal course for people with an interest in landscape design. Develop the skills to feel confident offering cottage garden design or restoration as part of your landscaping service.

  • Learn about the history, plants and hard landscape components associated with cottage style gardens
  • Learn to design a cottage garden
  • Broaden your landscaping skills and increase your business and employment opportunities

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction: Garden components, preplanning information, design principles.
  2. Designing a Cottage Garden: Landscape drawing (graphics), design procedure.
  3. History of Cottage Gardens
  4. Plants for Cottage Gardens
  5. Planting Design in Cottage Gardens
  6. Features and Components of Cottage Gardens today: Arches, furniture, lattice, sundials, barriers and walls.
  7. Cottage Gardens Today
  8. Designing a Complete Cottage Garden.

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Explain the concept of a cottage garden.
  • Prepare concept plans for cottage gardens.
  • Prepare planting designs for cottage gardens.
  • Plan the incorporation of appropriate non-living landscape features in a cottage garden.
  • Prepare a detailed design for a cottage garden.

What You Will Do

  • Explain the concept of a cottage garden, both in historical and modern contexts.
  • Explain the influence of one famous landscaper on cottage gardens.
  • Explain the relevance of garden design concepts to cottage gardens, including: *Unity *Balance *Proportion *Harmony *Contrast *Rhythm *Line *Form *Mass *Space *Texture *Colour *Tone.
  • Analyse the designs of three cottage gardens inspected by you.
  • Describe the steps involved, accompanied by a sequence of illustrations, in the planning process for a cottage garden.
  • Develop a checklist of pre-planning information required for a proposed cottage garden on a specific site.
  • Compile pre-planning information for a specific site, for a proposed cottage garden, through an interview with a potential client, and surveying the site.
  • Prepare drawings to represent landscape features on a cottage garden plan, including trees, shrubs, herbs, walls, rocks, buildings and other landscape features.
  • Analyse the designs of three different cottage gardens, inspected by you.
  • Prepare different cottage garden concept plans for the same site, to satisfy given design specifications and pre-planning information.
  • Prepare a plant collection of fifty-cottage garden plants, which includes: *A photo, drawing or pressed specimen of each plant *Plant names (scientific and common) *Cultural details *Uses/applications in garden design.
  • Prepare a planting plan for a garden bed of 20 to 30 square metres in a cottage garden style, including: *A sketch plan *A plant list.
  • Design a perennial border of 30 metres in length, in an appropriate cottage garden style.
  • Design a 50 to 100 square metre garden bed, which incorporates companion planting principles.
  • Evaluate the companion planting design in a cottage garden visited by you.
  • Design a colour themed garden, such as a white garden, for an area of 200 square metres or less, to suit a proposed garden redevelopment, on a site visited by you.
  • Describe briefly, different non-living features that may be included in a cottage garden, including: *Seating alternatives *Bird baths *Sun dials *Fountains *Statues *Pergolas *Gazebos *Fencing *Ponds *Weather vanes.
  • Determine criteria for inclusion of different landscape features in a cottage garden, including: *Gazebos *Ornaments *Arbors *Tub plants *Water features *Paths.
  • Compare the characteristics, including: *Suitability for a cottage garden *Cost *Availability *Longevity *Appearance *Maintenance, of different landscape materials.
  • Explain the use of plant sculpting, including topiary and hedging, in cottage garden designs; including references to: *Ways of creating it *Ways of using it *Maintenance.
  • Analyse, in a report including photographs, the use of different structures as features, in the designs of two different cottage gardens, visited by you.
  • Prepare cottage garden concept plans, one each for different specified sites, which incorporate different types of features sympathetic to cottage or heritage gardens.
  • Develop a brief for a cottage garden design, for the redevelopment of an established garden around an old building in your locality.
  • Analyse the designs of two different well established cottage gardens visited by you.
  • Compile pre-planning information for a specified cottage garden development.
  • Prepare detailed plans for a cottage garden (following industry standards), including:
    • *Detailed plans *Materials lists *Costings.
  • Explain the reasoning behind a cottage garden you designed.

Tips For Creating Cottage Gardens

What is a Cottage Garden?

Traditionally cottage gardens were a random mixture of useful and ornamental plants, with more emphasis being given to the useful plants which could be eaten, used for medicinal purposes, or as animal forage. The ornamental plants were an afterthought, using colourful and easily grown annuals, herbaceous perennials and small shrubs to brighten the garden, space permitting.

These days the best cottage gardens are carefully designed to give a pleasing arrangement of ornamental plants, herbs, vegetables, garden ornaments and accessories. Cottage plants are generally chosen with more forethought, although colour and abundance are still the most important features. Anyone can throw down a handful of seeds and within a few weeks have a wildly profuse and colourful bed of poppies, hollyhocks, nasturtiums and the like, but it takes rather more planning to create a cottage garden that looks charming throughout the year.

Broad Guidelines for Using Plants in Cottage Gardens

  • Dense plantings - using fast-growing annuals and herbaceous perennials will help to create the effect quicker.
  • Self-seeding plants – these are used to perpetuate the effect. Use plants such as Myosotis (Forget-me-nots), Escholtzia californica (Californian poppies), Alyssum, Lychnis coronaria (Rose Campion), Tropaeolum majus (Nasturtium) and Viola betonicifolia.
  • Scented plants – bring fragrance into a garden and stimulates the senses.
  • Contrasting foliage plants – provides an avenue to produce focal points and places of interest.
  • Lawns are kept to a minimum – this allows maximum use of flowering plants and garden ornaments.
  • Climbers – these are used to screen sheds, fences, other bad views, etc.
  • The front garden is designed to showcase the plants right to the street.

Within these broad guidelines, gardening styles vary greatly. Some cottage gardeners like neatly mulched beds with colour co-ordinated plantings; others like their garden to be functional, growing herbs and vegetables among the ornamental plants; and yet others prefer the romantic, slightly unkempt look which is easily attained with cottage plants.

Paths are an important structural component of cottage gardens. Paths leading to the front door tend to be straight, sometimes with an island garden bed in the middle. Other paths wind around the garden, separating and defining the beds.

The construction materials used for paths shouldn’t be visually intrusive - crushed gravel, old bricks or stepping stones are popular. Terracotta edging tiles or bricks are often used for edging paths and beds.

Garden Accessories
These are essential components of the cottage garden. They evoke the spirit of the traditional cottage gardens, and more importantly, when everything else in the garden looks bare and drab in winter, they give the garden a sense of structure and visual interest.


Cottage Garden Features

Arches - either metal or wooden, placed over paths and covered with climbing plants.

Arbours – usually covered with climbers, to cover garden seats.

Lattice – for screening sheds and fences and for supporting climbers.

Picket fences – low painted or plain pickets are popularly used as front fences.

Rustic ornaments – usually old, although reproduction pieces are readily available. Ornaments include stone troughs, cast iron water pumps, wooden casks, farm implements.

Garden furniture – Simple wooden or metal furniture including garden benches.

Pots – terracotta is very popular and within every bodies price range. Other pots can be made of granite, sandstone, etc.

Statuary – garden statues are very popular in cottage gardens. The placement of small figures (such as a concrete girl holding a basket) is important to generate a feeling of peacefulness and past times. There are hundreds of figurines and statues for garden owners to select from nurseries and garden centres.

Ornaments – weather vanes and sundials are frequently used in cottage gardens. When it comes to sundials, select one that is appropriate for your district otherwise it may not tell the right time.


Plants Commonly Used In Cottage Gardens

The possibilities are just about endless, but the following plants are commonly found in cottage gardens.

Althaea rosea (Hollyhock)
Antirrhinum majus (Snapdragon)
Calendula officinalis (Marigold)
Dianthus barbatus (Sweet William)
Digitalis purpurea (Foxglove)
Helichrysum bracteatum (annual forms) (Everlasting Daisy)
Helianthus annuus (Sunflower)
Lobularia maritima (Alyssum)
Matthiola incana (Stock)
Nigella damascena (Love-in-a-mist)
Oenothera biennis (Evening Primrose)
Papaver species & cultivars (Poppies)
Petunia cultivars
Primula malacoides, P x polyantha cultivars (Primulas)
Tagetes cultivars (Mariogolds)
Tropaeolum majus (Nasturtium)
Viola x hybrida (Pansies)

Alstroemeria cultivars (Peruvian Lily)
Amarylllis belladonna (Belladonna Lily)
Convallaria majalis (Lily of the Valley)
Crocosmia species (Montbretia)
Crocus sativa (Saffron Crocus)
Cyrtanthus species (Ifafa Lily)
Eucharis grandiflora (Amazon Lily)
Freesia species & cultivars (Freesias)
Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrops)
Gladiolus species & cultivars
Hyacinthus (Hyacinths)
Iris species & cultivars
Lachenalia species (Soldiers)
Leucojum species (Snowflakes)
Lilium species and cultivars (Lilies)
Narcissus species & cultivars (Daffodils & Jonquils)
Muscari (Grape Hyacinth)
Proiphys cunninghamii (Brisbane Lily)
Ranunculus hybrids & species (Buttercups)
Scilla (Bluebells)
Sprekelia formosissima (Jacobean Lily)
Tritonia crocata (Blazing Star)
Tulbaghia violacea (Garlic Flower)
Watsonia cultivars (Watsonia)
Zantedeschia cultivars (Arum/Calla Lily)
Zephyranthes candida (Storm Lily)

Herbaceous Perennials
Acanthus mollis (Oyster Plant)
Achillea millefolium (Yarrow)
Agapanthus cultivars (Agapanthus)
Anemone coronaria (Windflower)
Aquilegia vulgaris (Columbine or Granny’s Bonnet)
Begonia semperflorens (Bedding Begonia)
Brachyscome multifida (Brachyscome Daisy)
Canna indica (Canna Lillies)
Clivia miniata (Kaffir Lily)
Dianthus species & cultivars (Carnations & Pinks)
Hedychium gardnerianum (Ginger Lily)
Helleborus species (such as H. niger, H. orientalis)
Hydrangea species & cultivars
Hymenocallis species (Spider Lily)
Iberis species & cultivars (Candytufts)
Impatiens (Balsam)
Phlox (perennial types)
Salvia sclarea (Clary Sage)

Allium sativum (Garlic)
Allium schoenoprasum (Chives)
Anethum graveolens (Dill)
Angelica archangelica (Angelica)
Borago officinalis (Borage)
Carum carvi (Caraway)
Cichorium intybus (Chicory)
Coriandrum sativum (Coriander)
Echinacea purpurea (Echanacea)
Hyssopus officinalis (Hyssop)
Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm)
Mentha x piperita (Peppermint)
Monarda didyma (Bergamot)
Nepeta cataria (Catnip) & Nepeta mussinii (Catmint)
Ocimum basilicum (Basil)
Origanum majorana (Marjoram)
Origanum vulgare (Oregano)
Petroselinum crispum (Parsley)
Ruta graveolens (Rue)
Salvia officinalis (Common Sage)
Satureja hortensis & S. Montana (Savories)
Thymus (Thyme)

Artemisia absinthium, A. abrotanum
Azalea & Rhododendrons (all cultivars)
Buddleia davidii (Butterfly Bush)
Camellia (all cultivars)
Cistis species & cultivars (Rock Roses)
Convolvulus cneorum (Silver bush)
Dendrathema frutescens (Marguerite Daisy)
Echium fastuosum (Pride of Madeira)
Erica cultivars (Heathers & Heaths)
Erysimum chieri (Wallflower)
Euryops pectinatus
Fuchsia species & cultivars
Hebe species & cultivars (Veronicas)
Heliotropium arborescens (Cherry Pie)
Lavandula angustifolia (English Lavender)
Leptospermum ‘Aussie Blossom’
Loreopetalum cultivars (Fringe Flower)
Myrtus communis (Sweet Myrtle)
Phlomis fruticosa (Jerusalem Sage)
Raphiolepis species and cultivars (Indian Hawthorn)
Rosa species & cultivars (Roses)
Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary)
Salvia leucantha (Mexican Sage) and other species and cutlivars
Syringa vulgaris cultivars (Lilac)
Viburnum tinus (Laurustinus)

Food Plants
Actinidia deliciosa (Kiwifruit)
Citrus limon (Lemon)
Cydonia oblonga (Quince)
Diospyros kaki (Persimmon)
Eriobotrya japonica (Loquat)
Eugenia brasiliensis (Grumichama)
Feijoa sellowiana (Feijoa)
Ficus carica (Fig)
Fragaria x ananassa (Strawberries)
Litchi chinensis (Litchi)
Malus domestica (Apples)
Mangifera indica (Mango)
Mesipilus germanica (Medlar)
Morus alba & M. nigra (White & Black Mulberries)
Olea europae (Olive)
Passiflora edulis (Passionfruit)
Prunus amygdalus (Almonds)
Prunus armeniaca (Apricots)
Prunus avium (Cherries)
Prunus domestica (European Plum)
Prunus persica (Peach & Nectarine)
Prunus salicina (Japanese plum)
Punica granatum (Pomegranate)
Psidium littorale (Guava)
Pyrus communis (Pear)
Pyrus pyrifolia (Nashi)
Ribes species & cultivars (Black currant, White Currant , Red Currant, Gooseberry)
Rubus species & cultivars (Raspberries, Blackberries, Brambleberries, Dewberries)
Vitis vinifera (Grapes)

Clematis vitalba & C. montana cultivars
Jasminum species such as J. officinale, J. nudiflorum, J. polyanthum
Lathyrus odoratus (Flowering Pea)
Pandorea jasminoides & P. pandorana (Wonga Wongo Vine)
Phaseolus vigna (Snail Vine)
Pyrostegia venusta (Orange Creeper Vine)
Pelargonium peltatum cultivars (Ivy-leaved Geraniums)
Quisqualis indica (Rangoon Creeper)
Rosa – climbing types (Climbing Roses)
Tecomanthe hillii
Thunbergia species

Warm Tropical Plants
It is sometimes difficult to image the creation of a ’cottage garden’ in the warm humid conditions of the topics and subtopics but with careful planning it is possible to produce a ‘tropical version of the cottage theme’.
Some of the plants listed above are suitable however many of the plants are not.

Ideally select plants that grow well in your area then arrange them in the fashion typical of a cottage garden. This may involve using ‘non-traditional’ cottage plants such as gardenias, gingers, ixora, hibiscus, poinsettias, climbers like Ipomea horsfalliae, etc.


Opportunities After Study

This course may be studied by itself or along with other modules as part of a higher level qualification.
It is of value to people wishing to work in:

Garden design


Garden maintenance

Parks & gardens





Do you have any questions about the course or our other landscaping courses? 
   Click here to contact our tutors with any questions about our courses.


Meet some of our academics

Maggi BrownMaggi is regarded as an expert in organic growing throughout the UK, having worked for two decades as Education Officer at the world renowned Henry Doubleday Research Association. She has been active in education, environmental management and horticulture across the UK for more than three decades. Some of Maggi's qualifications include RHS Cert. Hort. Cert. Ed. Member RHS Life Member Garden Organic (HDRA) .
Diana Cole B.A. (Hons), Dip. Horticulture, BTEC Dip. Garden Design, Diploma Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, PTLLS (Preparing to Teach in the Life Long Learning Sector), P.D.C. In addition to the qualifications listed above, Diana holds City & Guild construction qualifications and an NPTC pesticide spraying licence (PA1/PA6). Diana runs her own landscape gardening business (Arbella Gardens). Active in many organisations including the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers.
Yvonne SharpeRHS Cert.Hort, Dip.Hort, M.Hort, Cert.Ed., Dip.Mgt. Over 30 years experience in business, education, management and horticulture. Former department head at a UK government vocational college. Yvonne has traveled widely within and beyond Europe, and has worked in many areas of horticulture from garden centres to horticultural therapy. She has served on industry committees and been actively involved with amateur garden clubs for decades.

Check out our eBooks

Trees & Shrubs for Small GardensGet it right the first time - choose plants for small places that will enhance property values, and that won’t become a costly nightmare later! This invaluable book covers trees for small gardens, balconies, verandas or courtyards; 46 genera of small trees, 80 shrub genera and hundreds of species. 74 pages, over 150 colour photos
WeedsA good cross section of of common weeds are illustrated and reviewed. These are plants that occur in many parts of the world, and some are not always weeds.
What to Plant WhereA great guide for choosing the right plant for a particular position in the garden. Thirteen chapters cover: plant selection, establishment, problems, and plants for wet areas. Shade, hedges and screens, dry gardens, coastal areas, small gardens, trees and shrubs, lawns and garden art.
Water Gardening This book is designed to inspire and educate presenting you with a wide range of possibilities and at the same time, raising your awareness and understanding of how water can be used in any size garden to add interest, coolness and life.