English Style Gardening:
Creating your own landscape
What is the typical English garden? You might describe it as the country parkland surrounding a great estate, or you might think of the intimate and overflowing gardens of a thatched cottage; pictures of the “garden rooms” installed in many of the best private gardens comes to mind, now public destinations. In other words, you might describe a large number of historical styles as “English”, but the national flavor is best thought of as a set of characteristic factors that compose a garden “in the English style”.
One of those factors is a feeling of abundance, whether seen in lush grass, stands of carefully chosen tree specimens and combinations, or floriferous borders. The climate is given to a fullness of burgeoning growth, although it takes alot of work and planning to give the best gardens their seemingly unstudied artistic abundance.
William Robinson, in advocating a more informal, permanent planting of hardy and native plants called his flower gardens “English”1. This introduces another identifier of the English style: trying to create a more naturalistic garden with plants that seem at home in their various gardened areas. Marina Schinz in her book ‘Visions of Paradise‘ puts it this way:
The key to the image of profusion and luxuriance that is the quintessence of the English garden is the extraordinary variety of plants – the flowering shrubs, the herbaceous perennials, the herbs, the annuals, the bulbs, the wild flowers, and the ground covers.
So even within Tudor knot gardens you may see a lush flowering vine peeking over a wall or glorious shrubs within a border, or perhaps only an urn that threatens to overflow with its exuberance of planting, but I think it is this great love of flowers, difficult to contain and restrain, which is the soul of English garden style.
Typical English Garden Plants, for American gardens.
The English gardeners have written prolifically on the details of what they consider the nuances of their gardens, and of their structure. A very important concept is the idea of there being a skeletal foundation to the garden as a whole, “the bones” of the garden. This is the hardscape and the visually stronger planting of trees, shrubs,and hedges. There are details such as “weaving” in which vining or sprawling plants lead the eye through the plantings and give depth, or long range views consisting of “drifts” of plants. All these are part of the steps in creating the full and generous delight of the English style of gardening.
The Cottage Garden is probably the favorite variation of the English Style.
For American gardens we have borrowed heavily from such famous landscapers as Repton and Capability Brown in creating a parkland-like feel with expanses of greenswards. We are also enamored with Cottage gardening, and our idea of the perfect rose garden depends heavily on those of the English garden examples. Using this style as a base for our own, we have also evolved in adapting our gardens to our own native plants and climate regions and developed what is identified now as “The New American Garden“. There will always be a place in our gardens for the English style to be a choice, but it is tempered with realistic notions of what our time, space, and interest will allow. English gardening will always require constant attention to a carefully cultivated landscape, that is what makes it so beautiful and intensely personal a style of design.
One of the most loved and appreciated components of the English Garden Style was the development of the flower border. Its epitome of form was probably embodied in Gertrude Jekyll’s designs, but there are modern day masters of this gardening feature. Many of them have written marvelous books with lessons from their magnificent gardens,
Christopher Lloyd -The Well-tempered Garden
Rosemary Verey – English Country Gardens
Beth Chatto, Graham Stuart Thomas, and more.
I have to confess that my favorite, for her sublime combinations, is Beth Chatto. Book: Classic Planting: Featuring The Gardens Of Beth Chatto, Christopher Lloyd, Rosemary Verey, Penelope Hobhouse And Many Others
Usually a perennial border is designed with either pale colors that Jekyll described as “tender”, or some combination of brights. In her book,”Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden“, Miss Jekyll described, in some detail, plans which used gradations of both types of colors. She also pioneered the idea of mono-colored gardens and advocated those for particular seasons of bloom. Many more modern garden experts suggest “mixed” garden borders inspired by her advice. These are rooted in the English garden style, but American gardeners such as Tracy DiSabato-Aust have developed the idea in inspirational ways. This is the style of border that I have most gravitated towards in my own gardens. It gives the garden its “bones” to have a mix of stronger plants such as shrubs, and extends the seasons range. It also lends itself well to the American “wide open spaces”.
Dooryard gardens are also a feature of English gardening, with an intimate space of plantings that welcome visitors to house entryways. If there are no other areas of flower gardening, a doorway with a vine or containers flanking the steps, or a lacing of flowers along foundation shrubs, all can give the charm of English gardening genius without lots of garden effort that full blown borders would require. It is the luxurious abundance that overflows and greets the eye that marks this style of the gardener’s taste.
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Garden Articles Of Interest on English Gardening …
A White Garden
Historical Herb Gardens
A Berkshire yard that recalls poetry, fiction, and drama
1ibid. ‘Visions of Paradise‘ by Marina Schinz