We are incredibly fortunate in the UK to have one of the best climates for creating beautiful gardens, and the English country garden is renowned worldwide. Our clients often look for guidance on creating their own version – which needs to be functional and beautiful, blending harmoniously with its surroundings.
So, what makes for a great English country garden? In my experience, there are as many answers to this as there are gardens – however, there are some simple design ideas to which I constantly return.
1. Provide foundation planting
A garden design is only successful if it sits comfortably in its surroundings. By using planting at the base of buildings, walls and terraces, you can blend the boundaries between these ‘hard’ structures and the garden. This creates a softer, more pleasing effect which is more in keeping with the English country garden style than straight lines. In the title image shown, I have used foundation planting for both the house and terrace which merges the boundaries between hard and soft elements of the space.
2. Make magical views
English country gardens are inviting and attractive. It’s important to make functional elements of the garden (e.g. paths, steps, raised borders) a pleasing aspect rather than just a necessary feature. In the garden shown, a simple path becomes a sensory walkway by using a pergola and fragrant climbing plants. The whole effect is to frame the view and create a destination point.
3. Balance informal planting with structure
The English country garden lends itself to abundant and apparently informal planting. However, on its own and without structure this can look rather unkempt and haphazard for large parts of the year. I love to use naturalistic plants in combination with more formal planting – yew, hedges, domes and hornbeam for example – which provide a vertical element, sculptural form and sense of order. These all-year round ‘formal’ plants can be softened and framed with beautiful grasses such as Calamagrostis brachytricha & Deschampsia Bronze Veil, late flowering perennials (for example, Verbena bonariensis and Aster x frikartii Monch). Broadly speaking, grasses and perennials provide colour, texture and romance; trees and hedges provide order.
4. Create secluded retreats
When reflecting on design ideas and options, I consider carefully how the garden will make people feel, as well as how it will look. Quite simply, a well-designed garden with plenty of planting can help you to feel relaxed. With this in mind, it’s good to create intimate havens where people can feel completely immersed in the life of the garden. These spaces can often be created with informal planting; I like using plants that will attract bees and butterflies, enhancing the feeling of having escaped from city/town life. Some of my personal favourites are Allium Christophii, Nepeta Six Hills Giant, Penstemon Garnet & Salvia May Night.
5. Bring a kitchen garden into the ornamental space
Although you may have the space for a large vegetable garden at some distance from the house, it’s good to incorporate a carefully-designed kitchen garden closer to the house too. It needs to be aesthetically pleasing as well as practical! Pottering about in your own orderly kitchen garden before dinner and selecting a few home-grown herbs or vegetables can be a wonderful way to enjoy your country garden. It can help to engage your children/grandchildren too.
6. Construct a wildflower meadow
We are lucky at the Garden Company to be based on the edge of the Chilterns, an area of outstanding natural beauty. I love to construct spaces which reflect this ‘backdrop’. A wildflower meadow is a great way to achieve this. Meadows do take perseverance and several years to establish. However, once achieved, they are relatively low maintenance and require just 1 cut per year. Mown paths through meadows create enjoyable journeys. I like to embed seating areas or orchards within the space to draw people along. Meadows are the perfect foil to orchard or small meadow trees native to the areas in which we work, increasing wildlife habitats and biodiversity.
7. Find a way to include water
As well as its obvious benefits to a garden, water can add huge value to your English country garden experience. It provides a different habitat for many plants and creatures and has a cooling effect in the summer. It also adds a new dimension in the form of movement and reflections. Gentle sounds of moving water can also mask unwanted noise (traffic, neighbours). In this example, we converted an old, unused swimming pool into a formal pond with stepping stones. You can enhance a smaller garden with a simple pond or water feature.
In summary, I hope that the ideas outlined here have helped you to think creatively about your own garden. For more inspiration, why not get outdoors and look at some of the wonderful examples of gardens near you? The National Gardens Scheme is a great source of places to visit, and the garden styles are many and varied, from English country garden to urban chic.
Finally, to see how we brought a client’s dreams of owning their own country garden to life, please visit this case study.