The Beauty of an English garden
In garden design, there is no philosophy more commonly admired, desired, or replicated than the English Garden. The very thought of the phrase conjures images of lush, manicured, and serene vistas brimming with beautiful plants in harmony. The English garden essentially is a combination of staunchly symmetrical French gardens and naturally-arranged Chinese gardens. The English philosophy relies on the juxtaposition of these two beautiful styles. Another keystone of the English garden is the incorporation of manmade structures set among pastoral landscapes. What makes an English garden my favorite is how easily these principles can be utilized in any garden, no matter how big or small. To best understand the English garden, it helps to know a bit about its origins.
In the seventeenth century and beginning of the eighteenth century, the French garden reigned supreme. Very formal and perfectly symmetrical, employing painstakingly manicured designs in shrubbery, ornamental flowers, and trees. Classically-French gardens are stunning in their grandeur and intricacyÂcentered around magnificent statues and fountains with clean, sharp edges and definition. The height of French garden design is displayed magnificently at Versailles. However in the early 1700s Europeans became enamored with the Far East, principles of Chinese design began gaining popularity in Western-Europe. Literature describing Chinese gardens in naturally-asymmetrical patterns set against natural ponds and streams began to inspire English garden designers. The designers given credit for the English garden movement are William Kent and Charles Bridgeman. Kent was also strongly influenced by his life in Italy, admiring Roman ruins and how nature grew around them. As an architect, he introduced the Palladian style to England as well as to the garden.
Because English gardens are defined by their arrangement and harmony with nature, an English garden can be created in any landscape. Our landscape here in Ohio lends itself beautifully to enhancing our gardens with English design. Even in the smallest of gardens can English principles be used to enhance the aesthetics. The most important thing to remember is you can pick and choose which elements to include depending on your garden. If your favorite use for your garden is to enjoy wildlife like birds, use birdhouses, feeders, and baths as your structural elements and landscape around them. English gardens are beloved for their whimsy, so place the birdbath in an unexpected place. Tucked among blooming shrubs, or off-center in a flower bed would be great and fun places to watch birds. English design can also be utilized in a vegetable garden.
Something as mundane as a tomato stake is an opportunity for design. Unnaturally occurring shapes like pyramids provide a gorgeous setting for a leafy tomato plant to grow against. Often vegetable gardens are thought of as purely functional, but that does not mean they cannot be beautiful as well. Instead of planting your vegetables in uniform rows, they can be planted in a less symmetrical succession for interest as well as increased air circulation around them.
In an ornamental garden, establish balance by planting a border of an evergreen like boxwood or holly. Add perennial points of interest in an asymmetrical fashionÂfor instance a lovely blooming tree like a magnolia on one side and lower blooming shrubs like roses on the other side. Multiple heights and colors against a level, evergreen border make for a beautiful and interesting English garden for any yard. If you are aiming to update your existing garden to a more English design, easy changes like curving the edges of existing flowerbeds and softening their lines add quite a difference with minimal effort. The gentle transition between planted flowerbeds and lawns is another hallmark of an English garden.
If you are looking to go even deeper into an English aesthetic for your garden, consider incorporating larger architectural elements like archways or pergolas and softening them with climbing roses, ivy, or wisteria. Quintessentially English icons such as lavender and Tudor Roses are also dynamic and beautiful additions to your English garden.
It is no surprise that English gardens are popular the world overÂas much for their beauty as their philosophy. Casual and elegant, the English garden was born by ‘breaking the rules’; which is one of the best parts of being a gardener. This timeless design sensibility works as well on an urban patio as it does an acre of rolling countryside.
Garden Series: Raised Beds and Trellises
Join the Delaware County Master Gardeners for our monthly garden series on Thursday, April 19 from 6:30–8:30 at the YMCA –Community Room, 1121 S. Houk Road, in Delaware. The workshop is open to the public at no charge and no reservations are needed.
Stephen Jones is an OSU Extension of Delaware County Master Gardener volunteer.