Cottage gardens are known for their casual charm. They are filled to the brim with flowering plants and enclosed with a natural fence or wall. It is traditional to use old-fashioned flowers, flowering vines and to include at least one dwarf fruit tree. Cottage gardens are perfect for casual or lazy gardeners; they are planted so densely that unwanted weeds are hard-pressed to take hold. When you plan your cottage garden keep one thing in mind: Anything goes. Each cottage garden is unique, much like a fine painting.
Make a plan that doesn't look like it's a plan. Make a scale drawing of the area using graph paper and plot the position of plants and other garden features. Cottage gardens are casual looking. It should appear as though you're collecting different varieties of plants and putting them in wherever there is room. Plan to plant a few vines and dwarf trees, especially fruit trees.
Plan some type of enclosure. Cottage gardens were traditionally grown in small yards surrounded by picket fences. Other natural wood fences or stone walls also work well to enclose a cottage garden. Design an intimate area with an enclosure that blends in with the foliage rather than detracting from it. If vines are able to climb or wind around the fence, so much the better.
Plan narrow walkways of natural materials such as stone, wood chips or bricks. These walkways should be narrow to be in keeping with the scale of the garden. They should gently curve around the garden beds; avoid sharp, geometric angles.
Include a touch of whimsy as you plan your cottage garden. A small fountain, statue or even whimsical homemade stepping stones all contribute to the casual, unconventional feeling of these gardens.
Pick old-fashioned plants like hollyhocks, marigolds, daisies, delphiniums, roses, zinnias and foxglove. Plan to plant many more plants than you believe the garden can hold. Cottage gardens are chock-full of plants that spill over onto the paths and rub up against each other. In a well-executed cottage garden, you should not be able to see the ground in the planting beds. Consult seed catalogs for more specific information about flowers and their care, size and shape at maturity.
Plan to include the unexpected. Scour flea markets and yard sales for unusual planting containers and other decorative items to feature in your cottage garden. For example, an old stepladder can become a plant stand or a trellis for a flowering vine to twist itself upon.