Cottage Garden: 'Filler Plant' Suggestions?

bobby1973July 13, 2006


These photos are an area on the south side of my house that I've been tinkering around with throughout this past year as I became interested in gardening and landscape design. In general, I'm striving for a 'cottage garden' look: warm, welcoming, abundant, full, colorful. The problem with this section of the landscaping is that although there's a strong foundation presence (bones) with the various shrubs, there's not enough color to get the area to really POP! When I look at the area, I see an ocean of green, but I don't think the colors are really SINGING yet. It's almost there - I just need advice on tweaking it a little. Right now the contents are the following: 3 spruces, 3 burning bushes, 1 spire-shapes shrub, 1 hosta, 3 peonies, 1 silver mound, 2 silver choral bells, yellow asiatic lillies, pink impatiens, and 2 dark purple clematis vines on the trellises. I added the vines to function as a vertical element, which they do - but the dark purple flowers don't really stand out against the already dark background of the plant's foliage. One of the problem areas are the 3 peonies on the right side, which I have labeled in the next to last photograph. They didn't put out a very impressive show of blooms this year, although they managed to put out a lot of buds, and the some really healthy looking, lush foliage. It's possible that they need to be planted a little higher or maybe need to be divided. I'll do these things in the fall, but I've already decided to move them to a different section of my house. Anyway, the tentative solution that I came up with is to replace the 3 peonies with lavender coneflower perennials. And to help add more color vertically, I'm thinking about planting some sunflower seeds that will produce a variety of height plants to get a staggered look. I this will help 'fill-out' the area much better. In the last photograph I put together a quick simulation of what the area could potentially look like with the new plants. I'd love to get the feedback from my fellow gardeners on other possible solutions to brighten up this section. Any advice that you could kindly share with this novice (but eager to learn) gardener would be greatly appreciated:)

thanks so much! ~bobby

Image link:

Here is a link that might be useful: Need More Color

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Well, if you could see my poor little (170' long) "border" you would be dancing in the street. I've worked for two years on this thing and you can hardly tell it. Of course, it doesn't help that I'm gardening in pure sand (amendments disappear like snow in July) or that we are over 7 inches behind our average rainfall. Add to that problems with our well that have meant NO watering for a month and you can only imagine the devastation.

If my garden looked like yours I would swoon.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2006 at 9:09PM
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Hi Bobby,
As 'm from England, I'm not sure if you have these plants available in NJ, but have you thought about cottage garden pinks which form a nice sort of cushion, also scabious, uchera, pansies, or just planting clarkia, godetia or simple marigolds from seed? They come up very quickly. Another cottage garden favourite is night-scented stock which are also grown from seed.
I hope all goes well - Sunflower2.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2006 at 7:42AM
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Thanks! I'm going to look into those additional plants you named.


    Bookmark   July 17, 2006 at 2:31PM
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I think that bed is screaming for some roses. They add height and color. I would recommend Hawkeye Belle (light pink, lots of petals) Carefree Beauty (medium pink and loose petals that open to show stamens) and Carefree Sunshine (yellow, open rose). You would need to check to see if they are hardy in your zone but they certainly are disease resistant and all three make an excellent shrub specimin. To my could use the height along that wall.

Have fun!


    Bookmark   July 17, 2006 at 8:13PM
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I think some dark blue or purple would be pretty. You've got a lot of pink in those beds. Dark red would be pretty too. If you can attach a thin almost invisible trellis against the house (think wire on a think frame) clematis would be gorgeous.

Have fun!

    Bookmark   July 18, 2006 at 4:12PM
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memo(Zone 4B Nebraska)

Hi Bobby! I make my attempts at cottage gardening so I'll lend you my opinions for whatever they are worth to you.

Actually, overall, I think your south foundation bed is the most color poppin bed in your photo album. Here are some thoughts...

Make the bed larger on the east end near the backyard and include in it a small speciman tree. Your house is very tall and no matter what you do with perennials and annuals your not going to get enought height there to bring the bed into scale with the house unless you add something that is at least half the height of the house. A weeping cherry or a weeping red bud would be wonderful there.

On your trellis' I would make them larger or fill the gap in the center with another trellis. Then I'd add more clematis to them in white or very pale colors. The lighter colors will help the darker ones to show up. Be careful to add the same pruning type that you have there now because once they are intertwined you'll never be able to prune them correctly if they're different types. If you aren't familiar with clematis types do a google search. Another thought would be to add a repeat blooming rose. Roses and clematis get along famously together!

Personally I'd work with the peonies. I think they are wonderful cottage plants and the scent is worth the very short while that they bloom.

Hollyhocks, tall delphinium, tall shrub roses, veronica, lupines, more lilies, daylilies, birdhouses on tall posts would all give you some needed height in the bed.

Lastly...too much green, as you said yourself. You need lots more flowers of all colors or all pastels, depending on your personal preference, before you are going to get that lush cottage feeling. In addition to the colors...ADD WHITE. White flowers (daisy's are perfect) will help blend all the colors that you add and give the eye a place to rest between colors and they also make each individual color stand out more on it's own. When you are choosing your blooming plants look for things with foliage in verigated, grey tones, and blue tinged tones as well. It helps keep it all from looking "just green".

Having said all that I think you have done a good job with your shrub choices which will also give you some backbone for the garden when it is not in bloom ie during winter.

In time you'll end up like the rest of us cottagers, adding fencing, arbors and tons of draping roses lol.

You're off to a great start. Keep at'll get there.

PS Did you know there is a cottage garden forum with a gallery that is to die for and conversation section as well. Stop in. They are the friendliest bunch of folks over there!


    Bookmark   July 27, 2006 at 10:18PM
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Patricia43(z8 AL)

How can you have a cottage garden without roses? They are the very backbone of the cottager. Those two that Ronda posted are beautiful and easy care.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2006 at 2:21AM
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dearm MeMo,

thank you so much for taking the time to share all that thoughtful advice with me! you have armed me with some heavy-duty ammo:)i'm definitely going to take a stab at implementing some of your ideas into my gardens! and thanks for the heads-up about the 'cottage garden forum'.

we'll chat again!

    Bookmark   July 30, 2006 at 4:50PM
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