Once upon a time along time ago, Cottage gardeners grew herbs (to treat common ailments), fruit and vegetables (fresh organic fruit and vedge to eat) and crops to feed the chickens ( fresh eggs for breakfast) Cottage garden and wild flowers seeded themselves everywhere (decoration and air fresheners for the cottage) . Pathways were laid between the planting areas widening now and then for wooden and some times local stone seats and benches to be placed to rest and take in the colour, feel the textures and smell the perfume in the air, relieving the day to day stresses of life ( natures anti depressants). Terra-cotta pots, old metal pails and watering cans were sometimes left to rust away around the garden. (we buy them ready aged nowadays)
Some gardening writers and a few garden designers will tell you that cottage gardens had no formality, no design or planting plan, the gardens I played in and explored did ! !. Paved areas to sit, pathways through the fruit and vegetable plots and on to the chicken run, duck pond and the pig sty. Even the compost heap and the ash hill were carefully sited. Some formality was essential because cottage folk depended on the garden for almost everything they ate, sold and swapped. They weren't second omes in they there days, were e'm me old butt" as a gardener even older than I am once said to me.
Today's cottage gardens need some structure too , pathways between the flowerbeds, herbs growing by your kitchen door in pots and tubs or in a bed, so they are close at hand for cooking and medicine. Some herbs will be planted in the vegetable patch for companion planting to combat pests (read my article). Paved seating areas to sit, relax and enjoy your garden from.
It will be be a full of colour, textures and scent. Herbaceous plants are planted wherever there is a space and left to self seed to shut out weeds. Hollyhocks and other tall plants look good growing near walls and fences - but also plant them anywhere in your borders not just at the back of the border . Fill gaps by sowing Snapdragons, Poppies and Cornflowers. Try not to include modern hybrids and double flowers they are not traditional cottage garden plants and offer wildlife nothing at all.
In late Autumn leave the seed spikes for the birds to eat the seeds and for the plants to self-seed . The taller spikes still add lovely autumn browns and orange colours to your garden, they also sparkle on a frosty morning and will eventually be taken down into the soil by worms, providing food for next seasons. Filling every little gap and leaving nature to do the rest will mean very little garden maintenance and weeding.
What I suppose I am saying is this. Don't be afraid to pre-plan your cottage garden. It will look better for it, Have a planting plan that will fill every gap with flowers, herbs, fruit and vegetables. Have path ways leading to paved sitting areas . Good planning and structure won't look formal. It will look completely informal and be a garden you, your guests, your family and our wildlife will feel comfortable in. Just like the real cottagers did, Once upon a time along time ago.
I am a landscaper interested in wildlife friendly garden design and build. More on my website http://www.flowerpotman.com