Don’t Google “famous English gardens” unless you have enough money for the airfares to the UK.
Pictures of Sissinghurst, Tresco Abbey, Stourhead and the Beth Chatto Garden will have you trawling discount airfare sites on a daily basis, then wondering whether you really might need a larger piece of land when you get home.
In New Zealand, many of us tend to think “cottage” when English gardens are mentioned, but the original type that emerged in the early 18th century usually included a lake, sweeps of gently rolling lawns set against groves of trees, and recreations of classical temples, Gothic ruins and bridges, all designed to recreate an idyllic pastoral landscape. Possibly quite hard to fit into a suburban section in, say, Tauranga.
Unless you live in a castle, you’re probably not going to be able to dig up an architectural relic around which to base your garden, but if you have a large space to fill, you’ll certainly be able to incorporate some elements of the classic style.
Interestingly, most of the information about this type of garden appears on US websites, but helpfully it mostly concurs with knowledge from the UK.
It’s generally agreed that two integral components that define English gardening style are the landscape garden and the herbaceous border.
In the 18th century, designers in England began to focus their efforts on designing what is now referred to as “the landscape garden”. On large estates, hills, meadows, lakes, and grottoes were created with the intent of emulating nature. They had to be walked through to be experienced, and visitors were directed from one “picture” to the next by a series of paths.
This took the English garden away from its previous formal style, but by the end of the century, strict geometric areas planted with flowers were reintroduced. Perennials, annuals, and sometimes shrubs combined to form masses of colour.
Gertrude Jekyll, a trained painter, designed gardens like this all over England. The herbaceous borders at some of the best known ones, such as Sissinghurst, are reminiscent of the trends she started.