I recently visited the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, and I highly recommend it as providing several excellent examples of English garden design. Yes, I know Scotland isn’t England, but I believe we can broaden our discussion to include Scottish gardens!
Like most botanic gardens, this one is more like a park, with 70 acres of large mature trees and paved walking paths. Most plants have name tags, so you can improve your knowledge of plant identification.
But there are two areas that especially typify English gardens. Both gardens can be reached by going to the left as you go through the visitor center.
You’ll arrive first at the herbaceous border. Backed by tall hedges of hundred-year-old Beech trees, the herbaceous border is filled with a colorful array of perennials. This is exactly what we picture when we think of an English garden. (Unfortunately, this garden has been overtaken by bindweed, and is undergoing renovation at the moment. But you can still see the ‘bones’ of the garden, which is instructive in itself.)
Like many herbaceous borders that I’ve seen, this one has a foot-wide border of flagstone edging, with a beautiful swath of grass in front of that. The grass helps to ‘rest the eye’ from the overwhelming length of the herbaceous border (it is 150 yards long!)
Then carry on to the Queen Mother Memorial garden. This beautifully demonstrates several principles of English garden design.
First, the entryway is covered by an arbor, one of the classic elements of an English garden.
Second, it’s surrounded by a wall of hedges so you have a really nice enclosed, private feeling.
Third, there are numerous features that relate specifically to the Queen Mother. For example, the four corners of the garden represent the four corners of the world where she traveled extensively.
There are also stones carved with the names of various charities and societies which the Queen Mother supported.
The labyrinth in the center of the garden repeats the Queen Mother’s intial “E” and is made out of bog myrtle, native to Scotland.
Many plants throughout the garden were chosen because their names, such as Rosa ‘Queen Elizabeth’, have royal associations.
The stone pavilion is a focal point of the garden. Inside, it’s decorated with seashells collected by children from the area of Scotland where the Queen Mother lived.
All of this combines to make this a really personal garden. This is one of the most important ideas about an English garden, and one of the hardest to implement. People sometimes have trouble translating their own hobbies or interests into something that can be represented in the garden.
Visiting gardens like this one can help you get the creative juices flowing, and give you lots of ideas on how to add extra interest to your own English garden. And – visiting the garden is free!