How would you like a bit of old England in your Texas garden?

For centuries, the cottage garden has been a popular way to carve out a colorful, interesting spot when one has little space.

The informal, less manicured gardens have caught the eye of many an artist, most notably, Claude Monet. The impressionist painter spent the last years of his life painting a cottage garden he planted outside his home in Giverny, France.

However, many of the plants typically used in these European gardens are suited for milder climates and would likely wither in Texas when the weather turns dry and hot.

Fortunately there are many native and other plants that can serve as stand-ins. And being more resistant to drought, they can help you conserve water and won’t be a drain on your pocketbook.

Cottage gardens typically include a variety of plants of different shapes, sizes and colors, usually placed next to each other, densely filling the space with little or no room dedicated to turf grass.

Such gardens’ varied design reflect their roots centuries ago when they served a more pragmatic purpose. These gardens would include plants for food and herbs as well as others for medicinal uses. Over time they became more ornamental, including flowering plants such as roses, lavender, tulips, daisies and lilies, to name a few.

One might also include a path, though it should be more meandering to keep to the garden’s more naturalistic theme, says Randy Weston, who owns Weston Gardens nursery in Fort Worth.

Weston said trying to copy a European-style garden by using many of the plants used there could lead to disappointment for Texas gardeners.

“Seems like people have a bias towards a lot of plants they have seen in a coffee table book,” said Weston, whose nursery features cottage-style demonstration gardens. “Those plants might be fine in England, but they don’t work well in this climate.”

He suggested instead, using more hearty plants that can play a similar role as their more tender European cousins. For instance, one might use Black-Eyed Susan, a Texas native similar in appearance to daisies. For spike flowers you might consider Mexican bush sage. Ornamental grasses can also add interesting accents.

Another advantage to using native or other hearty plants is they aren’t as dependent on pesticides as more tender plants to rid them of hungry insects. That’s good news for those who like butterflies and hummingbirds to visit their gardens. Many of these native plants draw the winged guests, Weston said.

“It’s more about trying to co-exist with nature than trying to change it,” he said.

Here are some plants that can thrive in Texas cottage gardens:
Anchor plants/structural elements:
  • wax myrtle
  • red yucca
  • old garden roses
  • American beautyberry
  • bridal wreath spiraea
Foliage – accent and texture:
  • little bluestem grass
  • Gulf muhly grass
  • Lindheimer’s muhly grass
  • miscanthus “adagio” grass
  • Hameln’s fountain grass
Flowers – spikes and spires:
  • gayfeather
  • Mexican bush sage
  • big red sage
  • mealy blue sage
Flowers – daisies:
  • black-eyed Susan
  • purple coneflower
  • fall aster
  • oxeye daisy
Flowers – mass clusters/panicles:
  • Texas lantana
  • summer phlox
  • Texas winecup
  • native verbena

For additional information on the proper plants for your cottage garden, check with your county Agricultural Extension Service.