Posted by: marymarthatours | June 18, 2014

An English Garden in an American Yard

American gardeners are in love with the idea of having an “English Garden” in their own yards.  When people ask me how to achieve this, I like to answer, “What do you mean by an ‘English garden’?” 

Do you mean a Tudor era knot garden like that at Little Moreton Hall?


Knot garden at Little Moreton Hall









Do you mean a landscape park style English garden like Stourhead or Blenheim?

stourhead 07 mw1

Stourhead Garden

Or do you mean a garden of formal beds like the Victorian garden at Lanhydrock House?  All of these are great examples of garden styles developed in England.


Spring garden at Lanhydrock House









When I make these suggestions, I’m just being perverse.  I know that what American gardeners mean when they think “English garden” is the friendly jumble of plants found in rampant abundance in the yard of a cozy home – an English COTTAGE GARDEN.


Cottage garden at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

Although cottage gardens have existed in England across the centuries, it is only in the last 100 or so years that what was essentially the garden style of the peasant class became popular with more affluent homeowners.  The current-day cottage garden movement can be traced to William Robinson (1838-1935) who is called the “Father of the English Flower Garden”.  Robinson, in reaction against the formal gardens of the Victorian period, advocated the use of wild flowers, hardy perennials, and natural plantings.  These ideas were further developed in the early 1900’s by garden designers like Gertrude Jekyll and Vita Sackville-West who brought the popularity of the cottage garden look to the not-so-humble estates of the wealthy.

bord4   Sissinghurst, Klaus D. Peter, CCA2.0

Gertrude Jekyll designed garden at Manor House at Upton Grey and Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst Castle

Plant collectors and nurserypeople like Margery Fish in the mid-century saved many cottage plant varieties from extinction.  Many are plants that we use today.

Margery Fish’s cottage garden at East Lambrook Manor

So do you need a 300 year old thatched roof cottage to have a cottage garden?   Not really, because the important thing is that your house (whatever it’s style) and your garden (whatever its size) should have some consistency and that there is harmony between them.  There is no one-size-fits-all plan for a cottage garden, because the design should fit the surroundings, needs, and budget of the gardener her/himself.  Anyone can create a cottage garden if they have the time, energy, and love to give it.  The success of the garden is in the eyes and hands of the the one who plants and tends it.

In my next posting, I will continue this topic with a look at the elements of a cottage garden and how you can incorporate these into the garden at you own “cottage”.

(by Mary)

Photo credits:  Sissinghurst Castle copyright Klaus D. Peter and licensed for reuse by Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license; East Lambrook Manor copyright Ray Beer and licensed for reuse by Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 license; all other photos copyright Mary Wallace and Martha Liska.



  1. My fantasy English garden is one that comes with Staffing! The vision part I think I have. It’s the do-ing and the pay-ing that keeps tripping me up. My kingdom for a Head Gardener!

  2. Loved your article!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: