Step 1: Design themes
Several themes can be expressed in your cottage garden. You can keep it as simple or elaborate as you like! Cottage garden layout can be formal, geometric or rambling. The important key aspect that it’s more garden than lawn – in fact there may be no lawn at all!
Have you ever seen a garden that you absolutely ached to walk into? Why was that? You can create this response with your garden by not giving the whole game away from the outset. Your garden’s viewers and visitors are presented with a glimpse of what awaits when they walk through the gate or down the path, but – most importantly – they cannot see much without actually doing so. To do this well you will need to think carefully about plant heights, fencing, trellises and other structures.
This theme is concerned more with human spaces and objects than plants. An arbour at the front gate, or as a garden entrance can create a romantic feel – especially if it is large and includes seating. An intimate sitting area with a cosy two-seat bench or two-seat café table is a must. The immediate area can be planted with aromatic plants and herbs. A collection of rustic objects can add to the romance. Consider rusty old farm implements, cartwheels, millstones, wine barrels, or any interesting object from a bygone era.
If you have plenty of room, a maze of pathways can be a fascinatingpuzzle for those that wander in. Unusual objects can have them wondering and enquiring. Bizarre or unexpected plants can be captivating – a gnarly tree or large cactus for example. Fascinating objects can include boulders, sculpture, wells, mosaic paving, poems carved in pavement or walls, perhaps even a sword in a stone.
With a little thought you can create a real feast for the senses. All the senses can be engaged if your garden is full of life – butterflies, fish, frogs, lizards, birds, insects and spiders amplify the feeling of abundance and healthy life.
Sound. Go for subtle sounds that may not even be consciously noticed at first. Wind can create interesting sounds as it passes through some plants – she oaks make an eerie noise, while tall grasses and bamboo rustle. Chimes can be pleasant, but can also be annoying if too loud or consistent. Gravel can make a pleasant sound underfoot, and water can soothe. Take care with water features, as falling water can be quite loud, especially at night. Trickling or flowing water can work well.
Taste. Put the tasty stuff tantalisingly within reach of your garden’s visitors, and encourage them to pick and eat at will. Line the paths with strawberries, berry tomatoes, radish, snow peas, mint, and any other pick-and-chew plant that takes your fancy. Children find this especially wondrous.
Touch. If you have a small patch of lawn, make it soft and lush. Include a few plants within easy reach that just scream out to be touched. The furry soft leaves of “Lambs ears” are impossible to resist. An old manual water pump is irresistible. Visitors seem compelled to grab the handle to see if it works. Sculpture can have a similar effect, especially those with apparently working parts.
Sight. Well, this is the whole point of a cottage garden, so don’t neglect it in the quest for other senses. The concept of abundance can, if you’re not careful, be overridden by clutter and mess. By grouping plants you can generally create beauty and abundance together. At night you can use lighting to great advantage to create an entirely different visual feast of shape and colour.
Scent. Another obvious attribute of a cottage garden, but do consider seasonality when choosing scent plants. Apart from the obvious flowering scented plants, there are those with scented foliage such as geraniums and herbs, and if they are encouraged to spill out onto the pathways they’ll release their scent for passers-by. This is another fascination for children that can keep them busy for some time.