Cottage gardens are always associated with roses: shrub roses, climbing roses, and old garden roses with lush foliage. They may include the Gallica rose, Damask rose, Provence rose, China roses, Bourbon rose and Noisette rose. As well as a multitude of perennials. They seem to be the mainstay of the cottage garden and frequently have a "wild side" to them. Vegetables are very much at home in the cottage garden as are herbs. They can be intermixed with very little effort and blend in nicely.
Cottage gardens simply must have climbers; roses, honeysuckle, clematis, climbing hydranges, wysteria etc... They add height to the garden and help to create a charming effect..
HOW TO DESIGN YOUR COTTAGE GARDEN:
There are many ways to create a cottage garden in your already existing garden or you can start from scratch.
As you begin to plan your garden, take the time to evaluate how you currently use the garden space and/or how you would ideally like to use it. Keep in mind access to the garden from your house, driveway, sidewalk etc... You will want to create pathways that draw people into and through your garden space. The use of materials that are unstructured, such as flagstone, or gravel are a wonderful way to create meandering pathways through the garden or to a focal point, such as a birdbath or seating area. Cottage gardens typically have picket or simple wood style fences with possibly the addition of arbors and gates. These allow for the opportunity to have a place for climbers to grow as well as flowers to peek out between the pickets. Gates with arbors around them are a wonderful way to encourage visitors to enter into the garden.
You can also consider the use of hedges as fencing and for privacy. The traditional boxwood makes a nice exterior border, as do many other hedge type bushes.
The addition of birdhouses, birdfeeders, and birdbaths or fountains encourage beautiful birds to visit the garden and enhance the charm of the cottage garden.
As you plan your cottage garden consider creating areas for entertaining amongst the flower beds. A covered area for dining, or a fireplace or firepit make a nice location in the garden where you and your guests can enjoy the beauty you will have created.
PLANT AND FLOWER CHOICES:
In the cottage garden almost anything goes. The favorites, hollyhocks, daisies, old garden roses, phlox and many more require full sun. However, you can create a cottage garden in the shade as well. Hydrangeas, hostas, astilbe, ferns, bleeding hearts, hellebores, trillium and other shade loving plants create an enchanting wooded cottage garden effect.
Personal preference is to your advantage when choosing your cottage gardens flowers. Shrubs typically don't have a place in the cottage garden but Hydgrangeas, Wigelia, Lilacs etc.. fit in nicely and give it some "bones." A mix of free flowing flowers with those of the more contained style create a sense of balance. I prefer hardy wild looking flowers that have a long blooming season. Ground covers cannot be understimated in the cottage garden. Mosses (for shady areas), and sun loving ground covers look spectacular when growing between flagstone walkways, as well as ground covers filling in between perennials and companion plants. They help tremendously with weed control once they are established, on the down side some ground covers can be very invasive and must be watched after.
Starting a cottage garden is not for the faint of heart. They require diligence and constant attention; but once established have matured and filled in the work load will be much less. If your garden space is on the large side, you may want to consider creating individual beds slowly so that you don't become overwhelmed. I have been working on my beds for 6 years now, with 8 new ones being planted this spring all while maintaining the ones I have. Remember, if a plant is not thriving in its current location consider finding a more suitable space for it. I give mine one year. Also, patience pays off more often than not. If a plant seems to have expired give it some time and a bit of attention. More often than not it will revive itself. Woody perennials are the exception here, it seems as though once they die it truly is over for them.
Gardening is a costly hobby but can be done in a frugal manner by trying the following; starting from seed what you can, sharing plant divisions with fellow gardeners, waiting for the end of the season sales or shopping on-line for good buys from the larger suppliers. Once you have a few beds established you will be able to divide what you personally have and add to new beds.
I have never considered myself a patient person, but when it comes to my gardens I am very patient. It is very satisfying to see the results of diligence and hard work.
I wish those of you pursuing a cottage garden great success with loads of patience.