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The traditional garden in the United States is perfectly organized by flower types and coordinated by colors and in tidy rows. The traditional English Garden is a chaotic and informal cluster of many different flowers and colors.
They both have their place in the world depending on your taste. If you are willing to move outside the box of traditional landscaping, English Gardens are absolutely beautiful and natural looking. Some of the benefits of an English Garden include:
- Plant all sorts of flowers together.
- A natural look in your garden.
- A mix of colors in smaller areas.
- Many fragrances in small areas.
- Attract all sorts of butterflies & birds.
- Flowers blooming all season long.
- Easy to care for.
- Does well in all hardiness zones.
Each One Unique – English Gardens are unique from garden to garden. They all have heir own personalities and character shaped by each gardeners taste. Once you’ve begun an English Garden, it can forever be evolving, tweaked and improved.
History of English Gardens
Several hundred years ago the English really didn’t have a national style of gardening. Like all cultures, they borrowed from others at first until their own identity formed into what is today known as uniquely “English Gardens”.
As part of the English Garden developing, English homes typically only had a small amount of land for gardening and food was a good distance away. The result was a garden near the home with colorful flowers and herbs for seasoning (there would also be areas for vegetables). The goal was both beauty and functionality so there was a real mix of al sorts of perennials and annuals.
England borrowed from the French, Dutch, Chinese and Japanese. The formal arrangements came mainly from the French and Dutch and the recognition that you can work outside of formal boundaries came from both the Chinese and Japanese. There is a lot more to the history of English Gardens than this and it makes interesting reading for another section.
Starting an English Garden
Since English Gardens are a style, you can begin one wherever you live. It doesn’t matter how big your garden is, what the terrain looks like, or the hardiness temperature zones of your area. There are flowers, shrubs, and plants available that will work great. It’s a bonus if you can incorporate traditional English Garden flowers but certainly not required.
Follow these steps to get started:
Location - Choose the area for your garden. English gardens can be put on hillsides, in rocky areas, close to your home, and in small locations.
Flower Mix - Consider a whole mix of flowers as a starting point. Some options are listed below but there are so many others you’ll have plenty to choose from.
Hardiness Zones – Do consult the temperature zone maps as you choose flowers.
Blooming Cycles – If you plan your flowers “right” you can have blooms all season long. Plant a mix of flowers that bloom at different times of the season so as one variety goes away another is blooming to take its place.
Perennials versus Annuals – With perennials you have flowers that essentially come back year after year. Annuals of course require re-seeding or re-planting each year. It’s a fun idea to have both but focus heavily on the perennials you love and want to see each season.
Action – Plant away. It’s not going to be perfect right off so just get started. Some flowers will take a season or two for adapting and performing well. Each season may bring new ideas as well so you have the freedom to make those additions and changes to constantly tweak your English Garden.
Classic Flowers for English Gardens
English gardening is a style of gardening so you can use virtually any flower that stirs your imagination. Below are listed traditional flowers used in English Gardens for centuries in England.
Aquilegias – Columbines: These English garden favorites are also called Wild Columbine or Grannies Bonnets. They are a very hardy perennial that grows in clumps to 36 inches and produces pink, or purple/blue flowers.
Aster: This is also known as Starwort by traditional English gardeners. These flowers grow to 2 feet in height, have a star-shaped flower, like partial shade, and bloom at different times depending on the variety.
Black-Eyed Susan: As the name implies there is a sort of black eye in the middle of yellow flower pedals. They are hardy annuals that grow to 3 feet in height and will thrive in most climates.
Cornflower – Bluebottle – Bachelor’s Button: These flowers are blue colored annuals that grow to 30 inches in height and are great for attracting butterflies. They have been a tradition in English gardens and at one time were used to make blue food coloring.
Carnation: These flowers have been in English Gardens for centuries and have become a tradition for corsages worn both by men and women. Carnations are annuals that grow to a height of 2 feet, have reds and oranges for flower color. Carnations are perennials in warmer climates and cross-over to annuals in cooler regions.
Catnip – Catmint: This is the well known treat for cats that drives them crazy when they eat or smell it. This flower is a hardy perennial and does well in cold regions. Catnip grows to 18 inches to 3 feet, likes partial shade or sun, and does better in well drained sandy soil. Note: It attracts cats but can repel rodents.
Christmas Rose: This flower has a cup shaped white flower, that is also sometimes flushed with pink, and grows from 12 to 16 inches in height. It is a perennial (does best in zones 3-8) likes the shade, and thrives in well draining fertile soil.
Cotton Lavender: This shrub has been a tradition in English Gardens for 500 years. They are hardy perennials, grow to 32 inches, and have silvery grey green leaves and small button-like flowers for several weeks. They like well drained soil, sunlight, and can be tolerant of drought conditions.
Cup & Saucer – Bellflower: Known also as “Cottage Flower” it is a tradition in English Gardens. They have blue or purple flowers shaped like cups sitting on a saucer and grow up to 2 feet in height. They are annual or biennial depending on the region and thrive in well drained but moist soil (they also do well in sun or shade).
Daisy: They are hardy perennials that grow from 3 to 6 inches in height and do well in sun or shade. Daisies are a member of the Aster family of flowers and have what’s known as “Day’s-Eye” where they open in the morning and close in the evening.
Day Lily: These are short lived but have very pretty flowers with different shades of yellow, orange and red colors. Each bloom only last a day or two but this plant is hardy, easy to grow, likes partial shade, and moist fertile soil. There are many types and varieties of Day Lilies available.
English Lavender: This is a herb with a great fragrance and a beautiful purple flower. There are several varieties of this tall flower (can grow up to 24 inches) and they are used to make pot pourri, scents for perfumes, as well as used as a favorite in weddings.
English Sweet Violet: This is native to England and has a highly fragrant violet blue flower. The blooms are tiny and used for weddings & bridal bouquets. This hardy perennial grows from 6 to 12 inches in height, are easy to cultivate, prefers partial shade (will tolerate full sun), and likes fertile well drained soil.
Feverfew: This flower is a bushy perennial that has small clusters of white flowers with flat yellow centers. They grow from 18 to 24 inches in height, prefer sunny locations with well draining soil, and can live through a mild winter if in a sheltered location.
Forget Me Not: It typically has beautiful blue flowers but is also available in white or pink varieties. They have small 5 petal flowers on a thin stalk, prefer partial shade (will tolerate full sun if watered), fertile soil, and grow from 8 to 12 inches in height.
Foxgloves: These are really neat looking flowers that cascade down the stem with pink tubular/bell-shaped flowers. They are native to Europe, grow fro 3-5 feet in height, and are hardy biennials. They like full sun (will tolerate partial shade), and well drained soil (prefer sandy soils).
Bleeding Hearts: These hardy perennials have been grown in English Gardens for over 200 years. They are easy to grow (doing best in zones 3-9), and will reach heights of 2-1/2 feet. The blooms are heart shaped with each flower having 2 outer deep pink or rosy red petals surrounding narrow inner white petals. There are other varieties that differ in colors.
Hollyhock: This flower comes in a variety of colors including pinks, reds, and whites. They are a traditional English Garden flower and act as perennials or biennials depending on the variety and temperature zone. They do best in sheltered and sunny locations and prefer fertile soils.
Honesty: This flower has many alias’s and is known also as Silver Dollars, Silver Pennies, Silver Plates, Moon Flowers, Money Flowers, Penny Flowers, White Satin Flower, and Pricke-Sangwoort. It has purple flowers and blooms for many weeks once it starts. It will grow in partial shade or sun but needs well drained soils and grows to a height of 30 inches. Great for attracting butterflies and bees.
Ice Plant: This flower produces a tiny flowers with rosy pink, rosy red, or white depending on the variety. These hardy flowers are easy to grow, reach heights of 12 to 24 inches, and do well up to zone 6. They are used for floral arrangements and attract butterflies and bees to your garden.
Lilly of the Valley: This flower is also known as Lady’s Tears or Mary’s Tears to reference when Mary wept at the Cross and her tears turned to flowers. They are hardy perennials with scented, delicate white bell shaped flowers. It grows up to 6 inches (18 inch spread), prefers shaded or partial shaded locations, and likes moist but well draining soils.
Marigold: This pretty English Garden favorite grows to a height of 1 foot with yellow flowers. It was used as a herb, food garnish, and food dye. Marigolds prefer sunny locations and fertile soils.
Peony: This has been a traditional English Garden flower for centuries. It is a hardy perennial that grows up to 2 feet in height. Their flowers come in white purple, pure white, and pink depending on the variety. Peonies prefer fertile & well draining soil and sunny locations (will tolerate light shade). Be patient with their performance because they can take up to 3 years to become established and don’t like being moved.
Primrose: This hardy flower grows to 9 inches and spreads into clumps up to 14 inches wide. Its flowers are pale yellow and fragrant and they naturally grow in sloping meadows or edges of woodland. They prefer well drained and fertile soil, partial shade, and do well with organic matter placed in the soil.
Winter Aconites: This has been in English Gardens for 500 years. It is a perennial with a yellow cup shaped flower that does best in temperature zones 4-7. They thrive in partial shade conditions but will do alright in direct sun if watered.
Others: There are many other English Garden flowers that can be considered, among them being all sorts of perennials and annuals. Look at the flowers you like, consider your design ideas, and check the hardiness zones they can survive in.