What makes an English garden so distinctive? It’s certain plants and finishing touches that give these quintessential spaces their irresistible style. Clare Foggett, Editor of The English Garden magazine, shares the top eight details that she believes no English garden should be without.
Clare Foggett is currently Editor of The English Garden, an inspirational monthly magazine that invites readers to admire some of the nation’s most beautiful classical and contemporary gardens through captivating stories and stunning photography. Available in both the UK and the USA, the magazine is a trusted source of inspiration on how to both design and maintain the perfect garden.
With 15 years’ experience in gardening magazines, Clare started her career as a trainee horticultural journalist at the Royal Horticultural Society’s members’ magazine ‘The Garden’. She has edited Garden News, Britain’s best-selling gardening magazine and written for Garden Answers, Landscape and Yours magazines, as well as broadcasting weekly on Northern Ireland radio station Downtown.
Clare is a keen gardener and trained in horticulture at Pershore College. She has a passion for plants and beautiful gardens and is a former Chairman of the Garden Media Guild.
Faithful evergreen Buxus sempervirens (common box) provides shape, structure and form in countless English gardens. But of all the shapes that box is cunningly clipped into, the box ball has sailed through changing fashions and styles to remain a much-loved component of classic country gardens or contemporary urban designs alike. For inspiration, visit Wollerton Old Hall in Market Drayton, Shropshire, which has just been voted the Nation’s Favourite Garden in Wales & The Marches by readers of The English Garden, and admire their inventive ways with this shapely stalwart.
Every English garden should have roses groaning under the weight of their sweetly scented flowers. For an authentically vintage display try growing a repeat-flowering old rose such as ‘Jacques Cartier’, with soft pink ruffled blooms, or the neat yet fulsome, strongly fragranced flowers of the delightful rich red ‘Rose de Rescht’, which dates back to 1840.
The icing on the cake when the rest of the garden has taken shape, a statue or sculpture turns a space from mere garden to art gallery. A carefully sited sculpture or piece of statuary can truly enhance outdoor space, adding character that subtly alters in different lights, weather conditions or seasons. Visit Haddonstone’s Show Gardens near Northampton to browse cast stone sculpture with fine details and excellent durability.
Nothing sets off borders full of flowers better than a velvet carpet of lush green lawn. Nor is there a better setting for an elegant picnic, sumptuous afternoon tea, or evening cocktails conjuring a mood of Brideshead Revisited or a Merchant Ivory film. A close cut creates an even surface, preferably with stripes – a cylinder mower with a rear roller is the essential piece of kit to achieve this.
Pergolas or archways dripping with flowers are such an essential feature, some English gardens have become famous for their examples – the laburnum arches at Bodnant Gardens and Barnsley House for example. Bodnant’s golden-flowered tunnel is 55m long, but even in the smallest garden a single arch can create the same magic without the need for acres of space. Just add climbers: roses are the classic choice; clematis have blowsy appeal. Try Vitis ‘Brant’ for autumn colour or ring the changes with a different annual climber each year.
Borders created solely with herbaceous plants are a luxury – by their nature, they are bare during winter, so they tend to be a feature of larger gardens that can devote the space to a border that’s dormant for half the year. But when they are done well, they are truly magnificent – spectacles of summer that offer lots of ideas for combining herbaceous perennials on smaller scales. At Northampton’s Coton Manor, recently crowned the Nation’s Favourite Garden in The English Garden’s competition, the herbaceous borders are gorgeously colour themed, refined over the years to provide an impactful display from spring through to early autumn. Also visit Waterperry Gardens near Oxford, Great Dixter in East Sussex, Cheshire’s Arley Hall or Yorkshire’s Newby Hall to discover and drool over more of the country’s best.
Weathered stone pots or urns have a beautiful patina and a timeless quality that make them hard to better – in the warm tones of Bath or Portland stone, the cast stone planters offered by Haddonstone will go with every plant combination a container gardener can dream up and make long-lasting decorative additions. If you need inspiration, head to the garden of container king, Alan Gray, at East Ruston Old Vicarage in Norfolk, where the containers are big, flamboyant and unforgettable.
Wherever possible, room should be found for a tasteful greenhouse. Its warm protection will stretch the seasons, allowing a wide range of edible crops and ornamentals to be grown, and it can present the perfect tableau for creating wonderful displays under glass. Chosen carefully, it can become the garden’s stylish focal point as much as an essential working space. Pick a style that complements the garden, whether that’s minimalist with fuss-free expanses of glass, or more ornate with details such as decorative finials.
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