The English are passionate gardeners, and their public and private gardens are arguably among the most beautiful on earth. Visiting the UK is never complete without a stroll along lush green lawns, carefully manicured hedges, on winding pathways abundant with foliage and flowers. The great gardens of London are legendary, such as the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, Hampton Court Palace, Sky Garden and many more. Roses and peonies are my personal favorites, and I am currently busy creating a classic English garden at home.
A Short History of the English Garden
The long history of English gardens starts with the Romans, who conquered the region in the 1st century AD. These gardens were planted around the largest homes and palaces, and only a few remnants of these original gardens remain. The designs of the age include formal box hedges, gravel walkways, statuary, and lawns.
When the Anglo-Saxons claimed the region, the art of gardens languished, to be revived in the Middle Ages. The gardens of the age were small, enclosed, and featured turf seats and mounds. During the Tudor rule, from the 13th to the 15th centuries, knot gardens were the fashion. These gardens featured low flower and herb beds, with a pattern of intertwining lines created with low hedges and manicured herbs, surrounding fountains, ponds, enhanced by sundials and statues.
When the Stuarts gained control in 1603, formal Italian and French styles became the fashion among the aristocracy. These gardens featured a wide avenue from the home entry surrounded by formally clipped low hedges. The Dutch influence was evident, with flower beds resplendent with tulips and other perennials and topiary.
English landscape gardens were the fashion during the Georgian age, when a naturalistic feel was considered more beautiful. Treed parkland, temples, statues, and groups of trees created a more parklike experience. The tradition evolved to parklike gardens with wandering pathways along round ponds, with clusters of trees rather than the geometric designs of earlier times.
Victorian gardens featured masses of flower beds, bright colors, complex bed designs, and large green spaces. This was an era when public parks with gardens and public greens were established for the public to enjoy, which they do to this day.
Modern English gardens reflect the long history of gardening, now focused on color schemes, with a profusion of flowers and herbs fitted into every possible space, with trellises dripping with vines and flowers.
The English Rose Garden
Roses are a standby in many English gardens, and the rose was the symbol for the factions that were fighting for control. The white rose was the symbol of the York family, and the red rose the symbol of the Lancaster family, hence their years of struggling for control called “the War of the Roses.”
Roses were so valuable during the 17th century, that roses and rose water were considered legal tender, used in bartering for goods. Cultivated roses originated in China, making their way to Europe in the late 18th century. New varieties are cultivated every year, with roses in blue, deep pink, white and green, and even black. English roses grow in a shrub-like shape ideal for borders and combinations in flower beds to add a delicate charm and heady scent to any home garden.
I enjoy creating my own secret garden, and being able to enjoy it as it grows, changes, and gets added to over the years – an outdoor oasis of serenity where we can rest, breathe, and restore the spirit.