Plan easy curves. In Sweet’s garden, a brick pathway beckons the visitor with a bit of mystery. “Any pathway material will do, but the key is that the path curves a bit so you can’t quite see what’s beyond.” Planting beds that have gentle curves also look more ample and lush than ones with straight lines.
Use more flowering shrubs. Roses and hydrangeas are typical of cottage gardens, but Sweet also relies on bougainvillea, weigela, camellia, and other plants that provide rotating seasonal color. “Annuals are very typical of cottage gardens, but I use color from shrubs and perennials to make it more low-maintenance.”
Keep it informal and low-maintenance. Plants should get a bit out of bounds in a cottage style garden, lapping a bit over pathways and grassy areas. Close plantings help diverse types of plants belong together and minimize weeding. “I tell my clients that plants should kiss but not tackle each other,” laughs Sweet. The coziness of succulents planted with grasses and even groundcover roses can give even low-water gardens a lush feel.
Choose evergreens wisely. “Don’t snub the shrub,” says Sweet. “So-called boring evergreen shrubs are really the secret to keeping the cottage garden looking good all year.” Sweet recommends evergreen shrubs of various heights and leaf color to draw the eye up and all around, and pairing them with grasses and flowering shrubs to make the garden feel less formal.
Play up decorative touches with dramatic plants. Urns, arbors, barrels—choose objects with meaning and that suit the style of your home architecture, and pair them with unusual plant choices. In her own garden, Sweet pops succulents instead of flowering annuals into stone urns throughout the space. “It’s nice to have a bit of surprise here and there.”