According to the University of Texas, a cottage garden is "a place for the cultivation of flowers, vegetables, or small plants at or around a small, humble dwelling." With this in mind, keeping things simple, useful and attractive with a natural but whimsical feel is what creating a cottage garden is about.
Plan and create a sitting area near the center of the garden that can be surrounded by plants, shrubs and whimsical items. Use a comfortable bench or set of chairs as the basis for the area. Choose a set that looks as though it has been around for a while, perhaps recycled from something else if possible, but choose comfort and durability over style.
Mark out the center circle area of the garden by laying a garden hose out to form a circular but free-flowing area that is big enough to contain the seating and to walk around each piece. Place stones, pieces of wood or other natural-looking items around the hose as a border between the seating area and the garden. Continue these stones out on a curving path to the entrance of the garden. Create more than one entrance if space permits.
Fill the path and the center circle with the desired materials. Paths can be made of small stones, large stones that are set like a mosaic, mulch, sand or any material that you desire that can create a semi-solid base and that helps to keep weeds at bay.
Prepare the soil for the garden areas by making sure that the soil is rich and ready to plant. Clear out any roots, debris and rocks and add organic materials as needed to prepare for planting.
Plant shrubs, trees and large plants sporadically around the center of the garden area as a shield to the outside world. Once the plants have grown, they will help to block noises and sights of the world outside of your oasis and help to protect the relaxation area from outside intrusion.
Fill in the area between the shrubs and trees with smaller plants, but be sure to use plants that are showy and vibrant in color and fragrance. Plants such as climbing roses or clematis can be trellised and used for color and privacy. Bell flower, winter hazel, peony and dianthus are often used in cottage gardens for their show of color and ease of care. Low-lying pinks and mosses are effective groundcovers and work well around rocky areas of a garden.
Create an herb garden area within the garden or incorporate herbs into the plantings. They will attract butterflies and other beneficial insects, produce a beautiful and delicate show of flowers and add fragrance to the air during the growing season.
Distribute whimsical items throughout the garden and put plants in some of them. Teapots, old buckets, a pair of old boots, garden art or pieces of colored glass bring color and fun into the garden. Use your imagination and fill the garden with items that are representative of your personality. The more you surround yourself with items and plants that you enjoy, the more enjoyment you will get from the garden.