Every cottage garden is unique to its gardener, but all have some things in common. A cottage garden, though small, is chockfull of a mixture of planting materials, including annuals, perennials, biennials, shrubs, vines and even herbs, vegetables and fruit trees. Cottage gardens historically were intended to be useful as well as beautiful. Such a garden is not intended to impress the viewer from afar, but to charm anyone who steps inside.
Plant only as much area as you will have time to care for. Informal gardens still require all the usual gardening tasks, such as weeding, watering, mulching, deadheading and perennial division.
Enclose your garden for a cosy feeling. A white picket fence is classic, but you can achieve the same effect with a hedge or a shrub border.
Include a meandering path of brick, stone or wood chips around or through your garden. Bordering garden walks with plants that spill over onto the path softens edges and adds charm.
Add wooden structures, such as arches, trellises and arbors. They provide a framework for climbing plants, give the garden a vertical accent and also help provide a sense of privacy.
Prepare the garden bed. Amend the soil with lots of organic material in the form of compost or well-rotted manure.
Look in garden centres and catalogues for old-fashioned and heirloom flowers. Rambling morning glory vines are easy to start from seed.
Plan for variety in shape and size. Select taller plants to place at the back of the border. Balance tall spiky plants with those that have a round or spreading form.
Use flowers in dark, rich colours, such as maroon hollyhocks or deep blue delphinium, to keep the traditional pastels of the cottage garden from looking washed out and boring.
Look for plants that add fragrance and texture. Perfumed herbs, such as lavender and rosemary, are traditional cottage plantings. Lamb's ear (stachys byzantina) invites touch with its irresistibly soft, woolly leaves.
Consider adding one, two or more roses. Search out heirloom and species roses that have stood the test of time, and which often are very fragrant.
Underplant perennials with spring-flowering bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, to expand your garden's blooming time. Look for such old-fashioned or heirloom varieties as Narcissus Double Campernelle or Tulipa Clusiana, both of which have been around for more than 400 years.
Add some whimsy to your cottage garden though the judicious use of flea market finds. A rustic weather vane or an old watering can may be just what you need to set your garden apart from the rest.
Choose functional rustic accessories. Thatched-roof or twig birdhouses look right at home in a cottage garden.
Sit back and enjoy your flowers in an Adirondack, wicker or country-style metal-back chair. Mixing and matching furniture is fine in a relaxed setting.
Some old-fashioned flowers to include are garden phlox, black-eyed Susan (rudbeckia), delphinium, daisies, hollyhocks, snapdragons, cornflowers (bachelor's buttons), cosmos, foxglove, bleeding heart, peony, pansy and columbine. Avoid planting in straight lines or patterns. Encourage self-seeding plants, such as johnny-jump-up and alyssum, to grow in unexpected places.