Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
September, 2006
Regional Report

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This lovely English garden has simple elements that we can use in our own Midwestern gardens.

Elements of an English Garden

Believe it or not, it isn't necessary to travel to the English countryside to enjoy those elements of an English cottage garden that are so appealing. We can bring fundamentals of these gardens to our own Midwestern gardens quite easily. Not only can we use collections of perennials, annuals, bulbs, roses, and climbing vines to evoke the feeling of an English garden, but there are other elements that we can include to give our gardens an English flair.

Plant Choices
Roses, delphiniums, and foxgloves are traditional choices for the perennial border, but use violas, Johnny jump-ups, and dianthus to border walks; lavender and dianthus at the base of roses; and honeysuckle, clematis, and climbing hydrangea for luxury on a trellis. You can even add a touch of formality with topiary and boxwood hedges. Use pastel colors that create a tranquil feel around benches for relaxation. Use bolder colors to enhance the drama of a perennial border.

Style of Perennial Borders
Traditionally English, these should overflow with seemingly randomly placed plants, becoming a gentle tapestry with plants interweaving among themselves. Dramatic borders have very tall plants at the back, with lower plants spilling forward to greet the garden visitor. Roses and shrubs are very much a part of perennial borders as well.

Climbing Plants
Although English gardens are well known for their cascades of climbing roses, we may have to do some adaptations since climbing roses are marginal in many areas of the Midwest. Use honeysuckle, hardy kiwi, porcelain vine, and clematis. Find a backdrop, such as a fence, wall, or arbor, and a good way to anchor the plant. You can even let clematis ramble up into a tree in the classic British style.

Fruits and Vegetables
These are very much a part of an English garden. Cottage gardens are filled with lettuce, chard, sweet peas supported on twig trellises, and plump cabbages that are beautiful in their own right. Add the herbs, such as purple leaf basil, lemon thyme, and garden sage, for cooking delectable dinners, and you have a true potager garden. It's a bit of heaven to wander down the garden path and find tempting currants or strawberries to taste as you walk.

English gardens always have plenty of pots, small statuary, and perhaps a rustic accent, such as a metal watering can peaking around the corner. Plant pots in groups of five or more to give a luxurious feel to the garden.

Gates, arbors, trellises, and benches are essential to the English garden ambiance. A bower festooned with fragrant roses is a delightful welcome into the garden. How about making a living arbor by training supple young willow, hornbeam, or apple trees in an arch over a path? A formal Lutyens bench or an informal bentwood chair give the gardener a place to sit and contemplate or simply enjoy the fragrance of the garden.

Meandering paths are meant to draw you into garden and occasionally give you a surprise view. Plant your paths with scented plants, such as chives, lavender, pinks, thyme, violas, and catmint, to brush against as you walk. Allow plants to sprawl onto paths to give the relaxed feel of an English garden. Let the plants seed themselves in among the flagstones.

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