9 Suggestions for a Low-Upkeep Cottage Backyard

I adore a wild and whimsical cottage garden. The natural order of things growing together creates a harmony that is seldom found elsewhere. There is a true beauty to a garden that is both ornamental and utilitarian. Making this type of garden low-maintenance takes a bit of work upfront. However, you will enjoy the results of that work later on.

This garden style originated among 14th-century peasants who couldn’t afford land to farm. They focused primarily on growing plants that the family could eat. The idea was re-styled in the 1800s to be more ornamental and less utilitarian. But the combination endures to this day. 

If you have decided you want an informal garden filled with blooms but don’t know if you have the time to maintain it, we can help. There are several ways to maximize your time and minimize your work in the garden. Here are nine ways to lower the maintenance work in your cottage garden

Start with a Manageable Size

Select a manageable size and space to avoid taking on too much at once.

We’ve all heard the cliche at one time or another that someone’s ‘eyes are bigger than their stomach.’ I think this often applies to garden projects, as well. At least, it does for me. I often have a much grander vision of things than what my schedule allows. 

When you begin planning, it is important to select a manageable space. This applies to both the size and accessibility of the space. Remember that in time, you can always expand your garden. Starting small makes it easier to achieve the goal without exhausting yourself in the process. 

When choosing your garden site, consider where you will most enjoy it. Do you want to walk through your garden every time you enter your house? Would you prefer to create this garden in the backyard, where you can include a more private outdoor living space? 

Since this space should feel a little wild and even a bit cramped, space is important. You want to select a space in which you can comfortably create your vision. We don’t want to get in over our heads. 

You will most likely be digging up the entire chosen space to create this garden. Consider how much prep work will be involved in different areas of the yard. 

Think about maintaining your plants, pruning, and such. Maintenance will be much easier if you can reach everything you plant. You don’t want to plant more than you can maintain, so choose this space based on your desired workload. 

Prepare Your Soil

Close-up of a gardener with a hoe preparing the soil for new plantings. The gardener is wearing dark brown trousers and brown sneakers. The soil is loose, dark brown.Start with soil testing and amend as needed for plant success.

Start on the right foot with your soil. Some plants are tolerant of poor soil. For most though, soil composition is as important as sun exposure and water. A soil test is a valuable tool when planting anything. 

At-home soil tests can give you some basic information about where you are starting out. These will give you an idea of your soil’s pH, the presence of basic nutrients, and what your soil needs for growing most plants. Local extension offices offer more comprehensive tests, but the results take longer. They are also harder to decipher.

Once you have a clear picture of what your soil is lacking, you can get to work on amending it. This may sound like a lot of work. But, a major aspect of creating a low-maintenance garden is in preparing for success ahead of time. 

Another step in preparing your soil is removing weeds and roots that might be left in there from previous plants. The clearer your soil is of these things, the better. 

Loosening and amending your soil will promote better root development and overall plant growth. By adding organic materials like compost or manure, you are enriching your soil in the long term. 

Organic fertilizers break down slower than synthetic fertilizers. By adding these to your soil, you cut back on the amount of fertilizing your garden will need in the future. Starting with healthy soil will give your plants the best start. 

Plan Your Space Well

 In the center of the garden there is a beautiful concrete path, on both sides of which there are flower beds with various flowering plants such as Alstroemeria, Helenium, Coneflower, Roses, and others.Planning a garden layout is based on space and desired elements, including paths.

You’ve chosen your space based on how much you want to plant and how much work you can invest. Now, it’s important to make a plan for the layout of your garden

A cottage garden is usually a slightly crowded space with a variety of different plants. Making a map of your space will expedite the planting process and make choosing plants easier. 

Consider the design elements in your plan. Your plan isn’t carved in stone. But, it is helpful to have some general spacing and ideas of where you want certain elements of the garden to lie. 

Plan out where your walking paths will be. Pathways in a cottage garden typically meander rather than forming straight lines. If you want to have an outdoor living space, include that in your plan, as well. 

Choose Your Plants Wisely

Various plants blooming in front of a white house with black frames and doors. The flowerbeds contain plants such as Nepta mussinii 'Catmint', Hollyhock, Roses, yarrows and others.Select plants suited to your climate zone to reduce maintenance and effort.

Choosing the right plants for your garden will play a significant role in how much maintenance it will require. The first thing you need to know is what climate zone you are gardening in. Your zone determines which plants will be perennial and which will be annual. It can also tell you that certain plants will not grow there at all. 

Choosing a majority of perennials will make your garden lower maintenance. Perennials return every year, so you don’t need to pull or re-plant them. Annuals still have their place in the cottage garden. But fewer annuals typically means less work. 

Another way to cut down on the amount of work you will have to do is to plant native. Native plants, or plants that naturally grow in your region, are adapted to your climate. This means that they require less tending and, usually, less watering. 

Using native plants in your garden is not only lower maintenance. It is also more affordable, and it helps to support local pollinator populations as well as other members of your local ecosystem. 

YouTube video

Use Weed Barrier

Close-up of blooming Viola cornuta 'Colormax Clear Orange' in a garden against a blurred background of colorful blooming Violas. It features compact clumps of heart-shaped, medium-green leaves and produces an abundance of striking, clear orange flowers with distinctive dark orange centers. The flowers have five petals and a slightly ruffled appearance, creating a charming and whimsical effect. Plants grow with weed barrier.Use weed barrier cloth to reduce weeding time and effort.

Weeding is one of the most time-consuming and physically tiring tasks in the garden. Eliminating weeds completely is a pretty big feat, but some things will help keep them to a minimum. 

Weed barrier cloth is a great tool for minimizing the work in a garden. It is especially helpful in areas where you want to construct pathways or use pavers or gravel. Weed barrier underneath these elements will keep your pathways clear of weeds. 

Using weed barriers in your flower beds is also very helpful. It not only keeps weeds to a minimum, but it can help the soil to retain moisture. Less watering means less work and less money!

However, if you plan to add more plants as you go or want to let them self-seed, weed barrier might not be a good option. Instead, plant densely so your flowers outcompete the weeds!

Use Mulch

Close-up of a woman raking mulch. She is holding a large rake in her hands. Mulch consists of tree bark.Mulch controls weeds, conserves moisture, and reduces soil erosion effectively.

Mulching has more than one purpose in the garden. While it looks nice and can contribute to an overall more cohesive appearance, it has practical use as well. 

Mulch helps to control weeds by depriving them of the light they need to grow, creating a lower maintenance cottage garden. To accomplish this, there has to be a decent amount of mulch. Make sure to create a layer that is about two inches thick. 

Mulch also slows the evaporation of moisture from the soil. By holding moisture in the soil, mulching your garden means that you won’t have to water as frequently. You have less work to do and are conserving resources at the same time. 

A third benefit to using mulch in the garden is that it reduces soil erosion. Soil erosion causes more than one issue in the garden. First, it leaves portions of root tissue exposed and vulnerable. It also washes away valuable nutrients that your plants need. 

Set up Driplines

Close-up of a drip irrigation system  on a blurred background. It consists of a black hose with orange spray nozzles attached at equal distances from which water is sprayed onto the soil.Save time by using drip irrigation or soaker hoses efficiently.

One of the more labor-intensive day-to-day aspects of gardening is watering your plants. Without an irrigation setup, I can spend an hour or more watering daily. Who has time for that? Not you, so how can we streamline that process for a low-maintenance cottage garden?

You could use sprinklers to water your garden, but this tends to present issues. For one thing, most of the water lands on the foliage of your plants and just evaporates. Water that sits on foliage can also lead to issues with fungi, like powdery mildew.

Powdery mildew is a white fungus that forms on plant foliage. It occurs as a result of moisture and lack of air circulation. Overhead watering is the leading cause of this disease

A better watering solution is to use drip irrigation lines or soaker hoses. These watering devices lay on the ground and deliver water where your plants need it most: their roots. The water goes directly into the ground rather than evaporating. 

By using drip line irrigation or soaker hoses, you water your plants more efficiently. Setting your hoses on a timer is another great time and energy saver. I can’t tell you how many times I have turned on a hose and forgotten about it. What a waste!

Go Vertical

In the background is a cute brick house with white frames and doors. In the middle of the garden there is a tall wooden trellis arch through which Dawn Pink Climbing Rose and Clematis climb. Multi-colored lilies of white, orange, pink and red, and soft pink Astilbe bloom in a flower bed.Enhance your garden with low-maintenance vertical accents like arbors and trellises.

Vertical accents are a great addition to the cottage garden. These elements, like arbors, trellis, tall plants, and even trees, bring the eye upward. They create interest and dimension to the garden. 

Vertical elements are easy to maintain. Plants that grow on an arbor or trellis have a small footprint. They don’t require much ground space, so they don’t require much weeding. 

Taller elements save energy as you can usually tend to them standing up. Try growing a gorgeous climbing rose or some sweet pea vines. These types of plants supply a lot of color and don’t require as many resources. 

By adding vertical elements to your garden, you can achieve a more dynamic appearance. These elements can also help to separate sections of the space. 

Relax and Enjoy

Radishes, various types of lettuce and cabbage grow in the beds. Red roses, Amaranthus paniculatus and Sedum spectabile Autumn Fire are blooming along the wooden fence. In the middle of the garden there is a path made of wooden planks.Embrace the relaxed charm of your outdoor space, allowing informality and personal expression.

One of the nicest things about this style is that you don’t have to tend to it constantly. It is ok for this type of garden to look a bit undone. In fact, it’s almost a prerequisite. 

Cottage gardens are meant to be informal rather than structured. Paths should meander. Herbs and vegetables should mingle with flowering plants. There are no hard and fast rules for this type of garden. 

The garden should reflect the gardener, so let your personality show. Above all, enjoy your space. Designing it to be low-maintenance will allow you to spend time in your cottage garden just taking in all the new growth and life that it brings to your yard.

Final Thoughts

A bit of preparation in the garden will go a long way toward creating a low-maintenance cottage garden in the long run. This style may look like a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be. Following these tips will help set you on the road to a beautiful and lower-maintenance cottage garden in no time. 

Leave a comment