No Cactus Necessary: Cottage Garden Appeal With Xeriscape Techniques

Posted on: 14 July 2016

If the vision for your new home's landscaping involves lush flower beds and cottage garden style pizzazz, you might be surprised to hear your landscaping specialist suggest xeriscaping. Don't worry, your initial reaction will likely be familiar to the landscaper. After all, when the term xeriscaping started gaining public recognition it was often accompanied by pictures of rock gardens, cactus plants and gray-green shrubs in beds covered with crushed stone mulch. But the idea that xeriscaping is only useful in dry desert climates isn't quite accurate. The design methods developed for water conservation under hot, inclement conditions are delightfully applicable to your own landscaping project. By implementing these techniques, your property can have the abundant, joyful appeal of a cottage garden without wasting water – and without a single cactus anywhere on the property.

Pretty-As-A-Picture Garden Zones

In xeriscaping, the property is divided into zones defined by whether the plants have high, low or medium water volume requirements to thrive. These zones match beautifully with traditional cottage garden layouts.

  • High Water Use Zones. These include the area closest to your house and at the front where passersby will see your garden in all its glory. This is where you'll have an abundance of spring bulbs, colorful annuals and water-loving decorative trees like a lacy-leaf red maple or dwarf dogwood.
  • Low Water Use Zones. This area encompasses the outer perimeter of the property. Shade trees and shrubs that need little water after they're established go here. So does the classic cottage garden picket fence, which needs no water at all. Inside the boundary of fencing and tall greenery is where drought-tolerant perennials are planted in an informal array of color, height and texture.
  • Medium Water Use Zones. This is where the pretty meandering pathways go that are a hallmark of cottage garden design. Small areas of lawn or low-growing ground cover plants provide spaces for pets to frolic. Dwarf fruit trees also grace this middle area in many cottage garden designs.

Plant Selection and Placement

Near the house and in the front garden area, your landscaping service will specify an array of plants that are hardy in your particular climate zone. They'll be arranged to provide beautiful views from every angle. On most properties, an irrigation system will be installed in the ground to water the plants automatically so they stay green and gorgeous.

A second part of the irrigation system is often extended to the medium water use zones which require less frequent watering. Any grassy areas will be planted with a variety of seed that produces thick sod in your climate zone without needing a lot of water. Alternatives to grass, such as creeping thyme, are also selected to thrive in low-moisture conditions.

For the border beds and plant groupings in the low water use zones of your landscape, wildflowers, ornamental grasses and hardy perennials reign. The arrangements are informal and designed to create visual interest throughout the entire year. No irrigation system is provided, so in the case of extended dry weather or periods of drought, you may need to have the plants watered with a garden hose or sprinkler.

Eye-Pleasing Decorative Features

From whimsical to practical, the decorative features of a cottage garden are a large part of its charm. Birdbaths, garden sculptures and pottery add color and fun to the natural form and harmony of the landscape layout. In addition, classic xeriscape features fit perfectly into the cottage garden layout. These include:

  • Winding walkways made of stamped concrete to emulate the look of stone, slate or brick.
  • Mulch spread heavily around the plant roots to retain moisture and suppress weed growth.
  • Patios and small seating areas with hardscape surfaces such as decorative concrete or pavers, either of which reduce the amount of ground space that might need water.

With clever xeriscaping techniques, your landscaping service provider can create the cottage garden of your dreams that's both water-wise and beautiful to behold. For more landscaping ideas, check out websites like