An English invention, the cottage garden developed during the 15th century and was at its most popular during the Victorian era. In the 21st century, the style still has its niche in the gardening world. Originally, a cottage garden was planted near a modest house and included vegetables, herbs, fruit trees and ornamental plants in informal arrangements. Randomness has always been an element of a cottage garden because of the "passalong" plants from other gardeners and the self-sowing nature of plants such as foxglove. Although creating the cottage garden involves careful planning and labor, gardeners in 2010 can evoke the spirit with or without the cottage.
Research the cottage garden style and suitable plants in reference books and online.
Select a site for your cottage garden. According to Cottage Garden, it is helpful to make a diagram of the area you wish to plant. Measure the area with the tape measure. The recommended scale is a yard of garden equals 1/2 inch on your diagram. Note on the diagram where the sun and shade occurs at intervals during the day.
Sketch on your diagram where you would like paths, fences, arbors or other garden structures. Indicate the planting areas by shading them in with the colored pencil. According to Henry Flowers of the University of Texas, flower beds should be no larger than 8 feet by 10 feet for ease of maintenance.
Choose plants for sun exposure requirements, bloom time and height and width at maturity and sketch these on your diagram.
Consider the traditional cottage garden plants such as fruit trees and roses. According to Valerie Strong, writing for Fine Gardening, fragrance is another hallmark of the cottage garden style. In addition to the roses, dianthus, lavender and peonies waft their fragrance throughout a garden.
Consider using more than one plant of the same variety. Alan Titchmarsh of the BBC recommends several methods of arranging plants such as rows, drifts and groupings of similar plants.
Turn over the soil where your garden will be, digging down to about 8 Inches with the pitchfork.
If you're planning to create a path, use a garden hose to delineate each side. Use the tape measure to keep the hose lines the same width apart . Dig down 3 to 4 inches in the area and tamp down with the tamper. Fill in with a 1-inch layer of sand and tamp it down, too. For a walk 10 feet by 3 feet, you will need approximately five 50-pound bags of sand. Cover with 2 inches of wood chips, approximately one-fifth of a cubic yard.
Install any hardscape features you've chosen such as a fence, trellis or pergola. Simple trellises and fences are available at garden centers and hardware stores, and are easy to install by tapping the stakes into the ground.
Amend the soil in the area where you will plant. If possible, use 3/4 yard of compost for an 8-foot by 10-foot area. Mix into the soil with the pitchfork.
Purchase your plants from online sources and local nurseries.
Planting and Maintenance
Set the plants out where you will be planting them, moving them around in different configurations until you find a design that pleases you.
Dig the holes for your plants. For perennials, vines, trees and shrubs, the hole should be twice as wide as the edges of the soil in the pot.. The depth of the hole should be 6 to 8 inches deeper than the bottom of the pot for perennials and a foot deeper than the container of the tree, shrub or vine. Place a mound of the soil mixture in the hole. For annuals, dig the hole about the same size as the pot the plant is in and 1 to 2 inches deeper.
Water the soil in the hole and let the water level rise halfway to the top of the hole and let the water drain. Tap the bottom of the containers to loosen the root balls of the plants and gently ease out the plants. For the plants wrapped in burlap, loosen the twine and ease the burlap away from the tops of the plants but do not remove entirely.
Loosen any roots that have wrapped themselves tight in the contours of the pot. For the plants wrapped in burlap, set the plants in the holes and gently ease the burlap out from under the root ball. Set the containerized plants in the holes and backfill. When you are finished, the soil should be even with the level it was in the pot.
Water the perennials with 1 to 2 gallons of water. The shrubs and trees require 2 to 4 gallons, depending on the size of the root ball. Water every day in this manner for three days if the weather is dry.
Keep the plants well-watered during the first season. Allow self-sowing plants such as foxglove to go to seed and refrain from weeding the area or using a pre-emergent weed killer. Accept any offers of "passalong plants" to fill any empty spaces in your garden.