Four Favorite Cottage Garden Plants

Meadow Rue

Thalictrum aquilegifolium or meadow rue blooms from late spring through early summer. I love this plant. It’s as tall as I am, has delicate leaves and airy purple flowers that begin in May and last for weeks. They look good in a vase with roses or phlox.  It practically takes care of itself, only needing deadheading when the stems begin to fall from the weight of the flowers. Interestingly, it has hollow stems. The foliage remains nice until frost, turning a soft yellow in fall. The only thing it’s missing is fragrance. I think all my plants are Thalictrum aquilegifolium ‘Black stockings.’ This refers to their dark stems that are useful for juxtaposition in my borders. Thalictrum is Latin for meadow rue and aquilegifolium means ‘with foliage like columbine’ (aquilegia).


Phlox has a diverse plant profile, and fills many garden needs. It comes in both perennial and annual species, varying in size from a few inches to four feet high, usually with pastel-hued flowers. The shorter species make good ground covers. The taller species of phlox provide visual transition between ground hugging plants and taller shrubs and trees. Blooming in midsummer, phlox offers continual bloom and variation of texture and form.  A Native American plant, its sweet fragrance attracts butterflies, bees, and moths making it an important pollination plant in the wildlife garden. Phlox ‘David’ was the 2002 perennial of the year; it has pure white flowers.


I’ve come to appreciate this quiet back bone plant for the garden. A legacy plant on my property turned out to be Geranium maculate or wild geranium. It developed into a large mounding plant that became a favorite architectural element of the border. It blooms with single purple flowers and provides neat green foliage all summer and fall interest as its leaves turn reddish. I’ve had little trouble with these carefree plants. Geranium ‘Rozanne‘ was the 2008 perennial of the year.

 Lady’s Mantle

Alchemilla mollis is popularly known as Lady’s Mantle because its large leaves are shaped like a woman’s cape. Alchemilla was used in many Victorian and cottage gardens. It forms a pleasant, weed-suppressing mound and panicles of chartreuse flowers. I’ve heard some say they deadhead it because they grow it specifically for the leaf form and it will self-sow profusely. I don’t deadhead it because I like to use the flowers as a substitute for baby’s breath in arrangements and seedlings pull out easily. I’ve grown it both in sun and part-shade situations. I recently bought Alchemilla alpina, a charmingly, tinier version.


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