First appearing in the early 18th century, the English garden is a distinct style of landscaping that can still be found throughout the world today. It is a romantic, pastoral style that carves out space in nature. It also idealizes people’s presence within nature. At first, these gardens were created around English country houses – mansions owned by the wealthiest. However, this style of landscape eventually became influential in the construction of public parks and gardens. One hundred years later, the English garden style started to emerge as popular concepts.
An English garden often has gentle, rolling hills combined with a water feature. A woodland grove often surrounds a pond or lake. Instead of a garden imitating architecture, the English garden was an idealization of nature and wilderness.
The English garden is an invention attributed to William Kent and Charles Bridgeman. Both men were accomplished landscape architects and garden designers. Wealthy patrons hired them throughout their careers. These highly educated art appreciators and patrons spent significant time in Italy. Inspired by their travels, these patrons wanted to include elements of the Italian countryside into their own estates. This led to the incorporation of “eye-catching” elements in the English garden. Architectural flourishes like bridges, ruins, grottos, and imitations of ancient temples became common features of the style. These additions are striking when placed within the serene, pastoral views of hills, ponds, and groves.
The Garden at Stowe House
In Buckinghamshire, Stowe is a renowned garden. This example of an English garden attracts visitors from all over the world, even back in the mid-1700s. Both Kent and Bridgeman worked on this garden. However, Bridgeman died before it was completed. Stowe House includes a Palladian bridge, a man-made lake, a villa, a couple of temples, statues, and strategically placed ruins, all on the sprawling estate centered around an English country house.
East Asian Influence
Before the English garden became popular, the landscape and gardening aesthetics of Europe were more strict. Up until that point, symmetry was the most important element of a European garden. When English travelers began to write about their experiences in the Far East, these aesthetics were challenged. The “unnatural” gardening styles of perfect symmetry came under critique. The “irregularity of design” was gaining momentum in the Netherlands, and there was a growing amount of novelty and exoticism around Eastern art, philosophy, and design. These shifts in thinking are a big part of why English gardens became popular. Eventually, the Anglo-Chinese garden became a movement of its own.
One of the largest, most quintessential English gardens isn’t actually in England at all. Instead, this garden is in Munich, Bavaria. It covers a 3.7. Kilometer stretch of land within the city. Englischer Garten was first created in 1789, it is actually one of the world’s biggest public parks. The total length of paths within the park is around 75 kilometers, with over 100 bridges and 50-60 different species of birds.
English gardens are an embodiment of the Romantic movement. Romanticism places a strong emphasis on emotions and individuality and glorification of the past and of nature. These gardens became a way to immerse oneself in those very elements. Many English gardens drew direct inspiration from Romantic-era paintings of landscapes and pastoral scenes.
Incorporating English Garden Techniques in Your Own Garden
The aesthetics of the English garden still shape our ideas of what a garden might look like. It is often a subtle landscaping technique that you might think happens naturally if it didn’t look so much like a painting. While most of us don’t have an expansive estate to plan a garden around, there are plenty of English garden elements that can take your garden to the next level. Try planting flower seeds around the edges of your beds and along pathways. Incorporate trellises and arbors for vines to grow across gracefully. Strategic places for benches and statues can make your garden more interactive and can be installed in ways to look like they have always been there. Have other ideas of how to incorporate English garden techniques into your garden? Let us know in the comments!