What Are the Basics of English Garden Design?

Debra Durkee

Traditional English gardens are typically thought of as being unstructured, flowing gardens with an almost wild, informal appearance. Successfully creating such a garden requires as much careful planning as planting a garden with a more structured, formal feel, so planning ahead is a must. Carefully selecting complementing flowers and hedges is typically a good place to start, as well as deciding what elements of the English garden will be included.

Rose bushes are often found in English gardens.
Rose bushes are often found in English gardens.

The unexpected is an important element to English garden design. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to create one garden inside another. English gardens often have a sprawling, wild, and almost haphazard appearance, but typically include another more contained garden somewhere within the grounds. This can take shape as a section solely devoted to fresh herbs that can be picked for the kitchen, or several trellises of climbing roses offering privacy to garden benches and a few elegant rose bushes.

Complementing flowers and hedges are an important part of English garden design.
Complementing flowers and hedges are an important part of English garden design.

The trellis is another basic concept in English garden design, and this type of structure is often used throughout the garden. In addition to the trellis, a pergola or water feature can also serve to add another element of depth to the garden. Stone is common in English gardens, and can be used in benches and statuary as well as winding pathways through the flowers.

Color schemes in English gardens are often limited to no more than three or four colors. Careful choice of these colors will not limit the number of flowers that can be added, flowers of varying hues are often included in the garden. Many of the flowers traditional to English garden design have a wild, flowing look to them, and include as much greenery as any other color. Most of these flowers are perennials, although there may be other types strewn throughout the garden for variety.

Plants are typically put in very large blocks or circles to create sizable patches. Between these groups of flowers, winding, wandering pathways may double back on themselves if the garden is large enough. There are few if any straight lines in the English garden design, accenting the wild and untamed feel.

Elements such as pots, ironwork, mirrored balls, or other garden decorations typically share a common theme when used in an English garden. Colors often match those found in the flowers, although there may be many different shades of the same colors. Rather than terracotta or gray, English garden design often incorporates much brighter, more eye-catching colors. Fixtures and pots in an English garden are not just ways to display the plants that are the most important part of the garden; they are also an integral part of the garden themselves.

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