7 Cottage Plants for Your Farm Garden

If you lack time or energy for gardening, grow cottage plants. These low-maintenance, free-blooming plants require little care and bring lots of color all season.

by Jessica Walliser
PHOTO: Jessica Walliser

Most farmers are time- and energy-starved. So the more self-maintaining plants we can have in our flower gardens, the better. But, they have to look good, too. Cottage-style plants are excellent choices for most farm gardens because they’re casual and blousy and very low maintenance. Cottage plants are a tough bunch; they can thrive under average garden conditions and ask very little in terms of watering, deadheading, pruning and the like. Today, we’d like to share 7 of our favorite cottage plants to keep your garden smothered in color all season long.

While any relaxed, old-fashioned plant could be considered a good choice for a cottage-style landscape, not every plant on that list is the best choice. Some are prone to developing foliar diseases (we’re talking to you, hollyhocks and phlox) while others have a very short bloom time (hello, peonies). This list, however, contains 7 disease-resistant cottage plants with a long bloom time and delightfully colorful blooms.

1. Cosmos

Of all the annuals available, Cosmos lend a super airy and loose, carefree appearance to a garden. If pastel colors strike your fancy, go with C. bipinnatus but if you like bright yellows and oranges, C. sulphureus is a better bet. Both plants can grow up to 3 feet tall and are covered with lacy foliage and long flower stems. They’re both super-simple to start from seeds sown directly into the garden, and as long as you let a few flowers drop seed, they’ll return to the garden each year.

2. Purpletop Vervain

A tall annual with a very skeletal frame, purpletop vervain (Verbena bonariensis) is everything you want in cottage plants. Slender leaves and flower stalks produce purple, flat-topped flower clusters at the top that are adored by bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. It self-sows quite prolifically, so don’t let all the flowers drop seed unless you want a bundle of them next season. You can see right between this plant’s stems, so it looks great in the front of the garden or in the back.

3. Larkspur

With tall spires of blue, pink or white flowers, larkspur (Consolida ajacis) is a cottage garden favorite. Though the plants flower early in the season and then die back, they are well worth their relatively short season. Self-sowing and easy to care for, larkspur also makes a great cut flower, too.

4. Columbine

The fantastic color selection available in columbines (Aquilegia spp.) means this plant fits into every color palette. A true perennial, columbine (pictured above) also self-sows in the garden, making it one of the best cottage plants out there. The spurred flowers are favorites of hummingbirds early in the season. The plants bloom early, but if they’re cut back after blooming, most varieties will produce a second flush of flowers.

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5. Jupiter’s Beard

This once common perennial has fallen out of vogue over the past decade or two, but it’s time to bring it back. The carmine pink clusters of tiny, tubular flowers are spectacular and the plant (Centranthus ruber) is in flower from early spring until fall’s first frost, as long as you occasionally dead head it. But, if you don’t have time to dead head, there’s no worry because the seed pods are as spectacular as the blooms. White and fluffy, the seed pods make it easy to see why this plant is named Jupiter’s beard.

6. Gayfeather

A favorite of bees and butterflies, no list of cottage plants is complete without gayfeathers (Liatris spicata). These tall, purple flower spikes emerge from underground corms every summer and bloom their heads off for many weeks. Their flower stalks bob in the wind, lending an airy, meadowy feel to the garden. Plus, this perennial spreads nicely, too.

7. Tatarian Asters

Another perennial that’s a perfect cottage plant is the tatarian aster (Aster tataricus). This very late bloomer stands tall at about 6 feet in height, but the stems are sturdy and don’t require staking. Covered in small, pale purple-blue flowers with yellow summers in September, tatarian asters are a must for farmers looking to support pollinators, too.

Add some of these cottage-style favorites to your farm’s garden and get ready for a season full of color.

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