THE sight of majestic delphiniums, conical lupins and soft, scented roses mixed with colourful clematis climbing up wicker wigwams and sweetpeas filling the air with their fragrance, always conjures up an image for me of the idyllic cottage garden.

It's amazing how many traditional cottage garden plants also attract bees, butterflies and other wildlife. Neatly upright lavender and sprawling violet catmint are a magnet for bees, as are foxgloves, wild geraniums and campanulas.

While a cottage garden may seem a glorious mixture of traditional plants nudging and overlapping each other in a seemingly random display, the overall effect will be more successful with some planning.

Heed these tips if you're planning to create your own cottage garden:

Keep colours in harmony

The colour scheme should be in harmony - traditionally soft purples, blues and pinks - with height created by climbers which clamber up obelisks and archways, or scented plants situated near old wooden benches or painted wrought iron seats to add to the romantic feel of the plot.

Choose evergreen backdrops

Select backbone evergreen plants such as holly or yew to create a framework, accented by perennials with strong architectural value such as alliums and irises - which can be repeat-planted within the border, mixed with plenty of old-fashioned favourites including aquilegias, foxgloves, pinks, hollyhocks, Michaelmas daisies and poppies. Include plants that self-seed, which will often pop up in just the right place.

Naturalistic-looking grasses can be planted in swathes to create softness and movement, dotted with wild flowers, to create a vague structure to the overall informal scene.

Plant a tree or hedge for birds

Consider making the most of an existing tree or planting a hedge, providing food and shelter for many birds. Don't forget berries - fruiting hedges could produce crab apples, blackberries and rosehips, again attracting many birds. Cottage gardens shouldn't appear organised - but the best ones are, without the visitor even noticing.

For a classic touch, add roses

Roses are a cottage garden favourite. Make sure you choose a fragrant variety. I love the David Austin rose 'Desdemona', with its soft pink buds emerging creamy white, or plant the deep pink 'Gertrude Jekyll' with the subtle white Clematis 'Henryi'. Roses enjoy the same situation as clematis - rich soil, in full sun or light shade, plenty of plant food and lots of water until they are well established.

For a bold look, try alliums

The giant lollipop flowers of alliums provide a brilliant accent in the border. Some plant them at the front of borders lining gravel driveways, but you can just as easily include them in a cottage garden border to add structure and a talking point to the scene.

Among the most popular is A.'Purple Sensation', a mid-sized sparkling purple type, but you can also get them in white if you want a cooler look. It's best to plant alliums with ground cover which will hide their strappy leaves, which wilt, discolour and become unsightly before the glorious single round-headed flowers emerge. Ideal candidates to mask the allium leaves include hardy geraniums or a flowing grass such as Stipa tenuissima.

To add height, consider lupins

Among the earliest of the impressive cottage garden summer perennials, lupins, from the pea family, come in all colours and in varying heights, and are actually really easy to grow from seed - especially if you soak the seed for 24 hours before sowing. They produce dense spikes of pea-like flowers often up to 90cm tall above palmate leaves. They also benefit the soil by taking nitrogen from the air and storing it in their roots.

For a delicate look, plant foxgloves

These self-seeding statuesque spires of wildflower seen on railway banks or in overgrown country lanes also look impressive in the cottage garden. The delicate-looking bell flowers of these majestic biennial favourites are also a magnet to bees, which will climb into the tubular bells to seek out the pollen. Leave the flowers to drop their seeds in the autumn and you should get flowers two years on.

For some colour, add nepeta

Along with lavender, nepeta (catmint) provides an impressive swathe at the front of a border, thanks to its clouds of tiny mauve flowers on gentle spikes, which flower from early summer to autumn. The most widely available is 'Six Hills Giant' which grows up to 90cm and can be a bit unruly. A less slouching type is be N. racemosa 'Walker's Low', which is more upright and reaches about 60cm.