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What makes English gardens tick

Gardening By Hosea Omole

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English Style gardens are some of the most popular around the world. The ability to adapt them to suit just about any kind of space gives them an advantage over other garden styles.

Dating back to the 16th Century, English gardens have evolved full circle, transforming time and again to reflect changing cultural values and fashion. Be that as it may, modern English gardens have maintained much of their original character, evidenced by the use of certain elements that give them that traditional English look and feel. They combine an appealing visual blend of natural and groomed beauty embodied in certain characteristic elements and forms. Here are some of them.

Plants and lawn

Plants are the strongest elements in an English garden. The gardens are characterised by a huge assortment of plants that give them a natural look despite appearing to be well groomed and manicured. Topiary, trimmed hedges and clipped pot plants add a touch of formality. Color schemes are particularly important. Plants of different color and textures are incorporated and so are fruits and vegetable.

The lawn is part and parcel of the English garden. It should accentuate the flowers and not dominate. Lawns form a template upon which the garden is embedded. It connects different parts of the garden to form a coherent whole. Once in a while, an island bed interrupts the flawless lawn, again showcasing a huge variety of flowering trees, shrubs and ground covers.

Borders and climbers

Any English garden worth its name must have a bit of climbers. Traditionally grown over an arbor attached to the house, climbers tie the house to the garden. Climbers are also planted over other garden structures including pergolas, trellises, arches, statues and borders all to give them that touch of nature within manmade order.

Borders in English gardens overflow with plants. The hedge plants are placed randomly to avoid perfectly straight lines. Even in formal English gardens, the plants overflow beyond the straight line to make the formality appear less structured. Groups of three, five or seven plants are usually preferred to further emphasize the blend between nature and formal order.


English gardens have distinct forms defined by paths and plant arrangements. The form can be either formal or informal. Formal gardens are characterized by straight lines, geometrical forms and more often than not, symmetry. Traditionally associated with royalty, they exude order and class punctuated with ornate statuary and fountains.
Informal gardens on the other hand are curvier and incorporate round forms that look more natural and relaxed. Paths and plant arrangements meander and give the viewer time to contemplate the garden space. Pergolas and arches are often added and draped with climbers to add a bit of mystery and reduce the scale while subdue the man made element.

-The writer is a landscape architect

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