England may not be renowned for its weather, but it is known for its beautiful gardens, whether they’re part of a grand stately home or a small country cottage garden. There are many features of a traditional English garden that many people will be familiar with; from classic roses to winding paths or stone benches and bridges. However, when it comes to designing an English garden, there can be a lot of work involved behind the scenes to make the final result look effortless.
There are actually two main types of garden that can be classed as a traditional English variety; the landscape garden or the cottage garden. Some features may overlap but they both have distinct beautiful styles. If you want to know more about the elements of either and get some top tips for designing a traditional English garden at home, read on for our handy guide.
A brief history of the traditional English garden
The first English gardens were planted by Roman conquerors in the first century AD and were characterised by formal hedges, stone ornaments and a kitchen garden containing fruit or vegetables. The focus on the garden increased during the Middle Ages, when monasteries tended elaborate kitchen and herb gardens used for food and medicine.
The style which many people think of as a ‘traditional English garden’ first began to appear in the 18th century and is believed to represent a revolt against the stiff and rigid designs of architectural gardens. The English landscape garden focused on incorporating human design with nature, rather than controlling it through artificial designs and shapes.
The main design feature of this ‘new’ English garden was irregularity, with a focus on meadows, grass, clumps of trees and asymmetrical lakes or ponds. It’s difficult to define exactly what an English garden is, as in many cases it’s open to interpretation. Below, we will look at two main styles of English garden – the landscape garden and cottage garden – and some of their respective features which you can incorporate at home.
The English Landscape Garden
This style of garden is characterised by an open plan design, curved lines, rounded lakes or ponds and a general unplanned, natural style. There are many beautiful design features of a landscape garden which you can include in your own garden at home, so see below for some ideas.
This style of garden is great for those who don’t have a lot of time or energy to dedicate to a perfectly manicured lawn and flowerbeds – irregularity is the whole point! Don’t worry about perfectly straight lines or manicured hedges and instead plant trees, flowers or plants in clusters wherever you like. Don’t worry about pruning back too much or making everything neat and tidy, the more natural-looking the better.
Stone structures are a big part of the traditional landscape garden; think stone garden benches, bridges, statues, stone balustrades and fountains. Many gardens also include larger stone structures inspired by classical Greek architecture, such as stone temples or archways. This isn’t really practical in a smaller domestic back garden, but you can still add features like an ornate stone bench, fountain or smaller stone statues.
Grass or meadows
Add to the informal, unstructured style with open patches of wild grass or meadow, again, this is one style where keeping the lawn neatly trimmed isn’t a requirement! In comparison to the cottage garden, this type of English garden uses relatively few bright flowers and colours, so think more natural grasses or wildflower meadow plants instead.
Natural lakes or ponds
It’s unlikely that many domestic homeowners will have room for a lake in their backyard, but you can easily add a natural-looking pond if you have space. Choose rounded shapes over a formal rectangular pond, and add clumps of trees to overhang if you have the space.
The English Cottage Garden
This is what many people picture when they think of a quintessential English garden; a cosy thatched cottage with gardens full of roses, brightly coloured flowers and fruit trees. If you want to add some of the magic of a cottage garden to your own home, see below for some ideas.
This popular flower is essential when it comes to creating an English cottage garden. Feel free to mix and match different types of roses too, from shrub roses to climbing roses and the classic rose bush. There are actually over 150 different types of rose, so you’re bound to find one that suits your garden style and climate.
Flowers and herbs
There are of course many other popular flowers which make up an English cottage garden, so try adding varieties like hollyhocks, lilies, marigolds, peonies, tulips or carnations, to name just a few. Flowering herbs such as lavender or rosemary are also very popular, and they’ll ensure your garden smells lovely all year round.
Fruit trees are another staple of the cottage garden and they make a wonderful ornamental addition to your garden at home, as well as providing some tasty treats. Traditional varieties include apple and pear, as well as shrubs like gooseberry or raspberry. Some more modern cottage gardens also include ornamental trees like crabapple or hazel, both of which produce beautiful blossoms.
Creeping or climbing plants and wooden trellises are a great addition if you want to create a traditional cottage look in a garden that’s on the smaller side. Make the most of the space with plants that can climb up walls or fences rather than large shrubs. Try plants like clematis, honeysuckle, climbing roses or jasmine.
There’s a big focus on natural materials in this style of garden, so incorporate wooden elements alongside materials like brick and stone. Wooden fences add some more privacy and security as well as being aesthetically pleasing. Adding a wooden arbour also works very well, especially if you’ve also included some climbing plants which can wrap around it.
Include curved, winding paths (rather than rigid straight lines) to increase the rustic cottage feel. Don’t worry if shrubs or nearby flower beds overgrow slightly onto the path, this actually helps add to the desired informal look. Many people like to include a winding path that leads to a hidden secret area with a bench or decorative ornament.
Add some fun to your garden with rustic decorations like old wheelbarrows, watering cans or buckets. If space is tight then incorporate them into the garden design by upcycling items like these into quirky planters. Like the landscape garden, this style of English garden also looks great with some stone ornaments or features. However, instead of a classical Greek style, go for decorative statues, roughly placed paving stones or a rustic stone wall.
If any of the ideas above have inspired you to add some traditional English elements to your garden, get in touch with the team at Wrights of Campden. Our experienced stonemasons are proud to offer a range of bespoke garden furniture crafted from the finest natural stone. Our stoneworks include benches, tables, sundials, fountains, paving and ornaments, so we have everything you need to add some classic English style to your garden.
If you’re looking for quality stonework for the rest of your house, we’re also proud to offer stone window surrounds, fireplaces, flooring, staircases and more. For more information about our products or services, give us a call today or see more of our stunning work on our website.