Soft lines, weathered materials, vintage detailing, heirloom plants and an artless unstructured look define the cottage style. Enjoy a kaleidoscope of hues and textures as flowers and foliage intermingle and jostle together, basking in the summer sunshine.

‘This is the beautiful chocolate box image everyone has of hollyhocks, roses and colour in a varied tapestry of planting that is very irregular. The use of old-fashioned flowers and even the odd vegetable dotted in as well,’ says Rosy Hardy of the renowned award-winning Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants in Whitchurch.

Great British Life: Award-winning Rosy and Rob Hardy (c) Leigh ClappAward-winning Rosy and Rob Hardy (c) Leigh Clapp

This family run nursery has grown from car boot sales of plants grown in Rosy and Rob Hardy’s home garden in 1988 to being recognised as one of the UK’s leading independent nurseries for herbaceous perennials, and along with multiple RHS Gold Medals they were awarded RHS Master Grower status in 2021. You’ll find a selection of 1200 varieties of herbaceous perennials, grown outside in peat-free compost on their 13-acre site, and as well they breed and propagate their own varieties. Some of the beautiful summer choices include achilleas, campanulas, coreopsis, hardy geraniums, monarda and salvias.

The vibe of a cottage style is relaxed, informal and joyous. There are no strict guidelines or set rules to follow, though as with any garden, you need to plan the initial layout and planting. Then you are in a partnership with nature, as you can’t totally control the evolution of the space, allowing plants to self-seed and become interwoven surprises, with your task of editing and augmenting as needed.

Great British Life: A cottage style is abundant with colour (c) Leigh ClappA cottage style is abundant with colour (c) Leigh Clapp

This traditional style evolved from utilitarian, practical gardens grown for food, medicinal and useful plants. It has remained popular becoming a mix of modern plants and old-fashioned favourites with an ethos of bio-diversity and a more resilient, holistic approach, combining edibles and ornamentals. The striving for sustainability and self-sufficiency echoes the original intent and remains an inspiration.

1 Wogsbarne Cottages in Rotherwick, open through the NGS is a traditional country garden, focused on produce and easy-care flowers, laid out from a listed chocolate box cottage with a cheery yellow door. Expect old-fashioned favourites such as hollyhocks and roses, prolific hanging baskets and an abundant kitchen garden. Home to brother and sister Richard and Sue Whistler, they are continuing the tradition of gardening in the family.

Great British Life: Talented artist and plantswoman Penny Burnfield (c) Leigh ClappTalented artist and plantswoman Penny Burnfield (c) Leigh Clapp

For a contemporary take on the cottage style visit the profusely planted Terstan in Longstock where owner Penny Burnfield, a textile artist and writer, has created a beautiful garden over more than 45 years from weed-infested rough ground. Visitors describe the garden as tranquil, with lovely planting combinations and surprises round every corner. Planted for year-round interest, from intermingling early bulbs, through vibrant poppies and scented lavender, to seasonal containers, every visit offers inspiration.

Great British Life: Richard grows a bountiful range of crops (c) Leigh ClappRichard grows a bountiful range of crops (c) Leigh Clapp

Long flowering plants are used to get the most colour through summer. ‘Penstemons work well for the front of borders, with ‘Garnet’ and ‘Hidcote Pink’ being very reliable. My favourite wallflowers are Erysimum ‘Bowle’s Mauve’ which grows to about 18 inches and ‘Constant Cheer’ with flowers in shades of orange and purple. Hardy geraniums will flower in summer and then again in autumn if you cut them back in August. Nothing beats dahlias for a burst of colour from July onwards, and the single varieties need less attention and are better for insect life. I grow the Sonata cosmos annuals, which will flower until the first frosts if you keep removing the spent flowers,’ she explains.

Great British Life: Cosmos attracts bees and other pollinators (c) Leigh ClappCosmos attracts bees and other pollinators (c) Leigh Clapp

Rustic detailing is provided by a vintage caravan, unusual sculpture, and reclaimed containers. Leaf and flower colours are important to Penny and she links colours across the different flowing areas of the garden for cohesion. Curvaceous shapes of circles and ovals are also repeated for uniformity, their form softened by effervescent planting, which blends into the open countryside beyond.

Great British Life: Sweet peas are a classic cottage garden plant (c) Leigh ClappSweet peas are a classic cottage garden plant (c) Leigh Clapp

Easy-going and easy-care plants are what you are after, with a mix of tough, reliable perennials and annuals, shrubs for structure, and don’t forget some bulbs. The top five cottage garden plants recommended by the RHS for ‘voluptuous planting and haphazard self-seeding’ are foxgloves, lavender, delphiniums, scented philadelphus and roses. Add to your palette with others that also epitomise the cottage look, such as nepeta, hollyhocks, phlox, hardy geraniums, love-in-a-mist, stocks, dianthus, cosmos, peonies, sweet peas, aquilegia, daisies of all kinds and wildflowers. Plant more closely than you would normally so everything knits together with a blowsy effect. ‘Include plants that flower repeatedly, really earning their place when space is limited,’ adds Rosy. This is definitely a style for the self-confessed plantaholic – have a go, and enjoy!

Great British Life: Hollyhocks epitomize the cottage story book look (c) Leigh ClappHollyhocks epitomize the cottage story book look (c) Leigh Clapp

Pay a visit

Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, Freefolk, Whitchurch, RG28 7FA

Opening times vary, see website for details

Events include talks and workshops run by Rosy and guest speakers

1 Wogsbarne Cottages, Rotherwick, RG27 9BL

July 9 and 10, 2-5pm

Admission £4

Terstan, Longstock, Stockbridge, SO20 6DW

July 23, 2-5pm

Admission £5

Rosy Hardy’s top flower picks

• Sidalcea ‘Elsie Heugh’ - spires of purple-pink flowers

• Geranium ‘Rozanne’ - lavender-blue flowers

• Crocosmia ‘Paul’s Best Yellow’ - freesia-like blooms

• Erigeron karvinskianus – prolific tiny daisy flowers

• Veronica longifolia ‘Charlotte’ – white tubular blooms

• Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Rubenza’ – deep reddish rose flowers

Great British Life: Lavender is a classic cottage plant to use for cut blooms, drying and culinary (c) Leigh ClappLavender is a classic cottage plant to use for cut blooms, drying and culinary (c) Leigh Clapp

Great British Life: The ever popular geranium 'Rozanne' (c) Leigh ClappThe ever popular geranium 'Rozanne' (c) Leigh Clapp

Great British Life: Cosmos 'Rubenza' flowers prolifically through summer (c) Leigh ClappCosmos 'Rubenza' flowers prolifically through summer (c) Leigh Clapp

Great British Life: Arbours add charm (c) Leigh ClappArbours add charm (c) Leigh Clapp