Answer: Don't despair! To look at things on the bright side, at least you know there are some plants that do very well in your yard even with little or no care. To help you evaluate what you have you might want to look at a book or two which discuss some basic horticulture and design principles. One I like is "Gardening for Dummies" by Michael MacCaskey, ISBN 1-56884-644-4. Other books in the series may also come in handy as you decide which approach to follow.
It is amazing what a difference a little care and maintenance can make. Perhaps the best thing to do is to tidy up the plants that are there, take stock of what you have, see what could be moved or what would have to be removed (sometimes removing the one biggest offending thing is enough to make the remainder bearable) and try to work with the existing plantings as much as possible. Many shrubs and perennials can be successfully transplanted and with a little practice; it is fairly easy to propagate many plants by seed, division and cutting so the expenses can be reduced greatly.
You will find that although many cottage gardens are disorganized they can be pulled into shape visually by adding a few simple elements such as a regularly surfaced path and the repetition/repeated use of one or two keynote plants. Good luck with your project!
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