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Thursday - August 02, 2012

From: Chesapeake, VA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Ferns, Grasses or Grass-like, Herbs/Forbs, Shrubs, Trees, Vines
Title: Cottage-style landscaping for Chesapeake VA
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Dear Mr. Smarty Plant staff, I recently moved into a cottage style home that has a poured concrete/paver patio. I am trying to come up with ideas for plantings that would 1. give me a bit of privacy, and 2. be asthetically pleasing and lend themselves to a cottage type feel.I love flowering plants, and herbs. The shape of the patio is square leading into a rounded small firepit area. I can take a picture if needed. The soil is more clay than expected and in the backyard drainage is not that great. Would a picture be of use?


Thank you for offering a picture; we are no longer able to accept pictures on our website. We can offer you help in making plant selections by introducing you to our Native Plant Database. First and foremost, stay inside in the air conditioning and work with your computer for now. Late summer is not a good time to plant a garden in just about any climate, and Virginia, along with much of the rest of the nation, is deep in heat and drought.  Depending on long-range forecasts or experience, we would suggest you try to find mostly drought- and heat-tolerant plants. The first thing to cultivate is patience. The garden in your head is no doubt beautiful but it could take years to get it out of your head and into the garden. Let us refer you to a couple of our How-To Articles for some education on using plants native not only to North America, but to your own particular area.

A Guide to Native Plant Gardening - Especially note the paragraph on "Site Assessment Planning and Design" We usually suggest that you begin with mapping your property. You don't need surveyors instruments, just a fairly proportional sketch of sunny or shady areas, existing plants, the patio, driveways, walks, etc. As you search our database for appropriate plants you will want to know which plants take "sun" (6 hours or more of sun a day),"part shade" (2 to 6 hours of sun) or "shade." Note the sun/shade areas in your garden area over different times of day over several days, and determine an average amount of sunlight available to each area. You will also want to note the areas that are close to house foundations, driveways, curbs and other hardscape. One of the most frequent questions we get concern how close to one of those features a tree can be planted, or what to do about tree roots that are breaking up landscape features.

Caring for your New Native Plants In part, this repeats some of the above instructions, but where it says "Plant Now," think in terms of "Plant when it is appropriate in your area."

Now, you can actually start making your plans. In terms of a "cottage garden," this is often thought of as being an English or European garden, small and crowded with all sorts of plants. It would be pretty high maintenance in our present-day world, and this member of the Mr. Smarty Plants Team has no personal experience with them. We suggest you read these articles on the type of garden; you may decide that is not what you are really looking for. But, in all cases, for your conditions and maintenance time, as well as budget, you can find plants native to southeastern Virginia to give you the effect you are looking for.

Texas A&M Extension Designing the Country Cottage Garden

This Old House Cottage Gardens

Now, since we don't know exactly what kind of plants you have room for or are interested in having, we are going to teach you to use our Native Plant Database. Using the Combination Search on that page, select Virginia, the type of plant you are looking for, (Habit), the amount of light you have for that plant, the soil moisture, etc. Since you are selecting for Virginia, hopefully you will have the proper soils, but when you follow each plant link to our webpage on that plant you can check the soils and/or growing conditions to see if they are appropriate to your space. We are going to make you a sample list of each of the categories of plants we have listed, with the exception of succulents, which we really can't see in a cottage garden. Then, you are ready to make your own list, specifying expected heights, color and time of blooms, or whatever other choices you want to make. Remember, the more specific your choices are, the fewer choices (or none) you will get. Scroll down that webpage to Additional Resources and use the link to Google for more information on that plant. You will note that each time your sort on a habit, the top of the page will tell you how many selections there are with the criteria you have presented. So, don't worry about lack of choice in choosing native plants!

Herbs (herbaceous blooming flowers)

Anemone berlandieri (Tenpetal thimbleweed)

Claytonia caroliniana (Carolina springbeauty)


Amelanchier arborea (Common serviceberry)

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Kinnikinnick)


Acer barbatum (Southern sugar maple)

Aesculus pavia (Scarlet buckeye)


Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats)

Hordeum jubatum (Foxtail barley)


Adiantum pedatum (Northern maidenhair)

Dryopteris carthusiana (Shield fern)


Bignonia capreolata (Crossvine)

Clematis virginiana (Devil's darning needles)


From the Image Gallery

Tenpetal anemone
Anemone berlandieri

Carolina springbeauty
Claytonia caroliniana

Common serviceberry
Amelanchier arborea

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Southern sugar maple
Acer floridanum

Red buckeye
Aesculus pavia

Inland sea oats
Chasmanthium latifolium

Foxtail barley
Hordeum jubatum

Northern maidenhair fern
Adiantum pedatum

Spinulose woodfern
Dryopteris carthusiana

Bignonia capreolata

Devil's darning needles
Clematis virginiana

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