A cottage garden might be difficult for well organized people who like everything in its proper place. I can't help it! I like my gardens in chaos with plants climbing and leaning on each other and so much colour my eyes bounce from one to another and back again.
I'd like to show you how a cottage garden evolves over the course of a growing season. I hope it will inspire you and give you some new and exciting ideas.
Spring: The gardens are just waking up. My gardens are filled with Tulips, Daffodils, Phlox subulata (creeping phlox), and Myosotis sylvatica (forget-me-nots).
They provide plenty of colour while the perennials are barely getting started. By the time the forget-me-nots are finished and gone to seed, everything else is big enough to take over. I just pull out the spent forget-me-nots (they barely have any roots), leaving plenty of seeds behind to start growing next year's plants. They will grow too; if you part the forest of perennials you can see baby forget-me-nots growing.
Next come the Digitalis (foxgloves), Lupinus (lupins), Aquilegia (columbine), Dianthus barbatus (sweet william), and early Papaver (poppies).
By the time they're winding down, all of the other perennials are kicking into gear.
By the time July appears, everything is growing tall and we have Rudbeckia, Monarda (bee balm), Stachys byzantina (lamb's ears), Echinacea (cone flowers), Silene coronaria (rose campion), Coreopsis (tickseed) and a host of others all in colorful bloom and vying for attention.
While all of this beauty is happening around me, I have a secret weapon stirring: annuals. Yes, your basic annuals. They've re-seeded themselves from last year and are growing in amongst the perennials. Cosmos, Shirley poppies, Nicotianna, Cleome, Asters and Delphinium (larkspur) are all quietly preparing to make an appearance. They will have their own show later in the summer when the perennials start winding down.
Meanwhile, the Hemerocallis (daylilies), Leucanthemum x superbum (shasta daisies) and tall Phlox are kicking in.
I rarely move anything. Occasionally I'll thin things out. Rudbeckia is such a rampant grower and re-seeder, it will eventually take over an entire bed if I don't resort to thinning.
When I buy something new I roam around my garden, looking for a bare spot. Those spots appear where I lost a plant over the winter, but often I'll rip out something I have plenty of. Tanacetum parthenium (feverfew) are good plants to have for this purpose. They're a good temporary filler for a bare spot until you find that perfect plant you've been looking for.
It's almost impossible to take a photo without getting another type of plant in the picture. That's what I love about cottage gardens; clematis growing in a potentilla bush, rose campions peeking through daylilies and feverfew. Everywhere you look, you see another surprise.
Later in the summer the Hibiscus moscheutos (perennial hibiscus) begin their show. The Helenium (helen's flowers) are beaming too, and somewhere in there you'll see Chrysanthemums waiting to produce that late fall blast of colour.
I also allow quite a few native wildflowers to grow in my cottage garden: Rudbeckia hirta (brown-eyed susans), Asclepias syriaca (milkweed), Daucus carota (Queen Anne's lace), and Bellis perennis (daisies), to name a few.
Below are a few random garden shots. They show different combinations and long shots of the gardens. You can also see how views change from year to year.
One word of caution: please bear in mind that my gardens are in Canada, zone 5, and some of the plants I've mentioned may very well be considered invasive in your area. A small bit of research via Google could help you avoid any unintentional planting of something you might eventually regret.
I hope I've given you some ideas on starting your very own cottage garden. Don't be afraid! The plants, and I've only mentioned a very, very few possibilities, pretty much do all of the work after you've put them in the ground. You need not worry about height, spacing, colour combinations, or anything else for that matter. The only thing you might have to pay attention to is sun vs. shade; living in the north as I do, it isn't something I'm very concerned about. I hope you have fun with your cottage garden!