30 English Garden Design Ideas We Love

By PEG ALOI
Peg Aloi
30 Elegant English Garden Designs and Ideas

With its temperate climate and verdant landscapes, the “green and pleasant land” of England has long been associated with beautiful gardens. From the formal gardens on the grounds of castles and grand estates, to the humble cottage gardens in villages, to the allotments popular in many urban areas, England is a nation of gardeners. Specific styles and methods of gardening are associated with England, including the widespread popularity of the herbaceous border, which is full of flowers through three seasons and usually has plenty of winter interest. It’s not hard to achieve the look of an English, though some knowledge of horticulture and design is helpful to help select plants suitable for your region and climate.

What defines the look of an English garden? A number of visual themes are seen again and again: large drifts of colorful perennials, color themes, and a fullness created by a wide variety of textures are all common sights. Authors such as William Robertson (The English Flower Garden) helped bring knowledge and techniques for creating herbaceous borders to the public in the 1800s, marking a modern trend away from the formal structure of classic European gardens. The legendary garden designer and author Gertrude Jekyll was celebrated for her bold approach to color, including single-color-themed gardens and the geometric diagonal shapes creating recognizable drifts of plants in borders.

Fortunately, with a bit of preparation and inspiration, the appeal of an English garden is not too difficult to achieve no matter where you live. Here are a variety of ideas here for you to create your own.

  • 01 of 30

    Drifts of Color

    Bright pink dahlias in herbaceous border in front of espaliered cherry trees on a brick wall

    Peg Aloi

    Large patches (what Gertrude Jekyll called “drifts”) of color in the garden create a dynamic design and are especially effective when covering a long narrow planting area. The vivid deep pink of these dahlias in the gardens at the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire are an eye-catching foil to the deep green espalieried cherry trees behind them.

     
  • 02 of 30

    Structure and Contrast

    Large topiary hegde behind colorful cottage garden flowers in an English garden

    @edenrowegardens / Instagram

    The use of hedges to create high or low walls in the English garden creates a strong structural element that contrasts with the looser, more organic shapes of cottage style plantings. The large topiary hedge in this garden in Oxfordshire is a dramatic, somewhat formal backdrop to the airy, delicate flowers in the borders, and the shades of pink, rose and purple create a complementary color palette with the deep green hedges and trees.

     
  • 03 of 30

    English Roses

    Garden with white arbor gate covered in climbing pink roses

    @thejardiniere / Instagram

    Is anything more English than the quintessential climbing pink rose? Gertrude Jekyll found roses to be essential in an English garden. This garden in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, has the mild spring and summer temperatures perfect for this climbing rose to flourish. We usually think of English roses as having luscious scents, and fortunately there are a number of scented pink climbers, including:

    • ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ (medium warm pink)
    • ‘Pearly Gates’ (light pink)
    • ‘New Dawn’ (very pale pink)
    • ‘Pretty in Pink Eden’ (medium to dark pink)
     
  • 04 of 30

    Evergreen Boxwoods

    Front of house bed with round boxwoods, ferns behind them and ground covers in fronter

    Peg Aloi

    Boxwood shrubs can be a very versatile landscape element, and in English gardens they are often used in very formal, elegant designs. But this front of house display is very simple and casual, with large ferns in the background and some simple annual geraniums in the foreground. Keeping the shrubs trimmed to rounded shapes is easy with an electric or battery-powered hedge trimmer. In autumn, the rich shades of green remain attractive, and the boxwoods remain evergreen through the winter.

     
  • 05 of 30

    A Pop of Color

    English garden wiuth gravel walkway, clay pots with boxwoods and large flowering catmint plantings

    @andrewduffgardendesign / Instagram

    This tranquil garden space is carefully planted to have jolts of color throughout the season. In this photo, the bright blue of flowering catmint (the cultivar is ‘Six Hills Giant’) and the pale blue iris create bold swatches of color that contrast beautifully with the more delicate pale pink and white blossoms and the neutral colors of the gravel walkway and earthy clay pots.

     
  • 06 of 30

    Geometric Vegetables

    Vegetable garden with neat rows meeting at a diagonal point

    Peg Aloi

    Formal design in English gardens isn’t just limited to rose gardens and herbaceous borders; one often sees geometric shapes and tight plantings in vegetable gardens. This early autumn garden at The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew in southwest London features an array of delectable greens and herbs. This space-saving technique makes for a stunning design and can be implemented in large or small spaces.

     
  • 07 of 30

    Filling the Space

    Garden with narrow gravel path full on both side with lush plants

    @edenrowegardens / Instagram

    A narrow walkway need not mean skimping on plants. In true English fashion, this walkway has full, lush plantings on both sides with trellised vines, shrubs, trees and tall perennials filling up the space and creating an inviting path through the garden.

     
  • 08 of 30

    A Garden Meadow

    Meadow grass with white painted metal bench

    @andrewduffgardendesign / Instagram

    It’s not uncommon to see a large English garden that keeps some lawn areas unmowed to create a wild meadow. Many wild grass varieties are known in England as “rough grass” that grow quite thick and suppress weeds while still allowing some wildflowers to seed and spread as well, attracting pollinators and wildlife. This tranquil seating area with its metal bench is right on the edge where manicured lawn meets wild meadow.

     
  • 09 of 30

    Vertical Cottage Blooms

    Brick wall with blue door and vines near garden bed with foxgloves, salvia and asters

    @thelaundrygarden / Instagram

    It’s hard to pick a must-have flower for an English cottage garden design, but certainly tall vertical blooms are necessary for that striking, dramatic look and to add depth and height. Foxgloves, salvias, lupines, delphiniums, monkshood, asters and daisies are but a few taller perennials that lend a classic cottage garden look. 

     
  • 10 of 30

    Formal and Wild

    Formal and Wild

    @edenrowegardens / Instagram

    The grand manor house (on the site of a former abbey in Oxfordshire) and stately hedges stand sentinel beside this lovely field of wild flowers with cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus) in many colors glimmering in the spring sunshine. The contrast is breathtaking, making for a sublime vista that showcases the light at morning and dusk.

     
  • 11 of 30

    Espaliered Fruit Trees

    English walled garden wiuth espaliered fruit trees on brick wall, perennials and short boxwood hedge in front

    Peg Aloi

    Many English gardens feature espaliered fruit trees, a French technique that trains the tree to grow flat against a wall or fence to save space and create a decorative backdrop. These espaliered apple trees on the brick garden wall at the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire showcase the property’s diverse mix of flowers and fruit trees (a small orchard lies beyond the wall).

     
  • 12 of 30

    Soft Autumn Color

    English garden in autumn with long grasses and shrubs with country house in distance

    Peg Aloi

    This Grantchester garden near Cambridge has a somewhat wild look, with soft late season color and many seed heads that haven’t been deadheaded yet. This is a practice one sees with many English gardens: not trimming things too often and letting plants go to seed through autumn to provide food for wildlife as well as create a natural, slightly unkempt look with overflowing textures and colors.

     
  • 13 of 30

    Drama, Formal and Informal

    English garden with tall boxwood topiary in background and large clumps of perennials in foreground

    @edenrowegardens / Instagram

    The large boxwood topiary shapes in the background of this garden in Kent are a solid presence behind the gentle, organic shapes of perennials. Large plantings provide dramatic (yet low-maintenance) swaths of color and texture; the yellow tansy, red and yellow coreopsis and silvery artemisia add a warm-cool balance to the garden’s palette of greens.

     
  • 14 of 30

    Layers of Color and Texture

    Garden with bright pink echinacea in front of blue veronica and pale lavender alliums

    @thepsychgarden / Instagram

    The English cottage garden is often overflowing with flowers in different shapes, textures and heights, beckoning the eye across an expanse of color. The echinacea in the foreground may seem like the stars of the summer show here, but note how their bold, hot hues of purple are balanced with the cool tones of sky blue veronica, silver artemisia and lavender alliums. The round shapes also contrast with the vertical shapes and lacy textures behind them.

     
  • 15 of 30

    Urban Jungle

    Small urban backyard garden with mis of perennials and tropical plants

    @tradchap / Instagram

    England’s temperate climate allows for a mix of hardy and tender perennials and even some tropicals for most of the year. To get this lush urban look, this London gardener brings together a diverse mix of tropical and hardy plants, with plenty of huge-leafed glossy greenery, intriguing textures and bright blooms. Planting tropical plants in containers allows them to be overwintered more easily if necessary.

     
  • 16 of 30

    Overflowing Edges

    Lush flower garden with flowers spilling over onto walkway

    @edenrowegardens / Instagram

    Some herbaceous borders are neatly edged and manicured, but one often sees English gardens with plants spilling over their edges and onto the walkway. This garden in Belgium embraces this approach, allowing these late spring perennials to escape their beds with lush abandon. Many perennials lend themselves to this approach, especially clumping flowers like salvias, phlox, perennial geranium, and coreopsis. The huge peonies get in on the act too, leaning wherever their heavy blooms take them.

     
  • 17 of 30

    A Riot of Purple and Pink

    Perennials in shades of purple and pink include cosmos, asters and foxgloves

    Peg Aloi

    English gardens often feature color palettes that are closely related. Late season color needn’t be limited to a warm autumn palette. This garden at King’s College, Cambridge has a delicious array of pinks and purples including asters, anemones, cosmosnicotiana, and foxgloves, all spilling together and creating an explosion of color.

     
  • 18 of 30

    Almost Symmetrical

    Stone octagonal building in background of English garden with grass path and parallel beds full of perennials including purple alliums

    @tradchap / Instagram

    Formal symmetry is a common feature of English gardens, but notice how having the symmetry slightly off-kilter still lends an air of harmony and intentionality to this National Trust garden. Both sides of the path have herbaceous borders with purple alliums, but the full cottage style is delightfully informal. The mature wisteria trees also lend an element of symmetry but are definitely not symmetrical; not that the only twin elements here are the spiral-trimmed shrubs in the ceramic pots at the entrance to the stone building. In this case, the similar elements lead the eye on a journey connecting shapes and colors.

     
  • 19 of 30

    Green Steps

    Stone steps in garden with sedum growing between cracks and yellow daylily by steps

    @ladylandscape / Instagram

    “I saw some grass growing through the pavement today” say the lyrics to English band Jethro Tull’s “Jack in the Green” (about the indomitable spirit of growing things). English gardens are often places of uninhibited growth where nature is allowed to run a bit wild. Creating stone steps with plantings (here with creeping sedum) is one way to achieve this slightly overgrown look. This garden also has more ground covers (more sedum and euphorbia) planted in the walkway, and plantings of daylilies, ivy and grasses to fill in various surface areas.

     
  • 20 of 30

    Bold Cottage Containers

    Entrance with containers of purple dahlias and red and pink geraniums, flagstone pavers in gravel

    @tradchap / Instagram

    Using containers is an easy and versatile way to achieve a cottage garden look. The bold colors of the ‘Thomas Edison’ dahlias and red and pink variegated annual geraniums really brighten up the neutral house tones. This entryway also has a clean yet rustic look with the flagstone pavers and natural gravel, which is now a very popular feature in many urban landscapes.

     
  • 21 of 30

    Green Textures

    Garden enclosed by hedges with many green plants of varying textures, with gravel walkway and bench

    @andrewduffgardendesign / Instagram

    While color is an important element in the English garden style, one also sees special attention paid to shapes and textures. The mix of textures on display here accentuates the many subtle shades of green in this lush garden.

     
  • 22 of 30

    Hanging Garden

    Pub exterior with overflowing window boxes and hanging baskets of colorful annuals

    Peg Aloi

    Hanging baskets of annuals are a surefire way to add some drama to a three-season garden. Many English pubs adorn their outdoor beer gardens and exteriors with bright baskets and window boxes. Here, the overflowing pots of begoniasimpatienspetunias and trailing ivy give a fairytale look to this old thatched roof pub in Cambridgeshire.

     
  • 23 of 30

    Let It Grow

    Garden with overgrown hedges, arbor doorway with vines, and stairs with creeping groundcovers

    @edenrowegardens / Instagram

    Many English gardens contain tightly clipped topiaries and hedges but just as many have an overgrown, wild look to them. This English style garden in Connecticut is delightfully unbound. The boxwoods here are neatly trimmed, but the arbor has a sprawling vine full of blooms, the shrubs and trees left unpruned (for now) and the stone stairs are covered in colorful creeping groundcovers. The contrast in texture and shape is dynamic and unexpected. Trimming can still be done anytime, but isn’t it nice for the garden to let its hair down sometimes?

     
  • 24 of 30

    Rustic Containers

    Spring garden with tulips blooming in clay urn containers and in beds

    @thepsychgarden / Instagram

    A common sight in the English cottage garden is old stone planters. These may be harder to come by in the US, but luckily there are many resin and plaster containers available that provide a vintage, rustic look. This garden uses the containers year ’round (for the evergreen boxwoods), and even in spring for colorful tulips and other early season blooms like woodland phlox.

     
  • 25 of 30

    Pollinator Paradise

    Outdoor garden seating area with arbor with orange trumpet vine, and container plantings

    @ladylandscape / Instagram

    Even if you don’t have space for herbaceous borders, you can turn your patio into an English cottage-style haven for pollinators. The arbor has a lush trumpet vine that attracts hummingbirds, and the container plantings include colorful dahlias and delicate white gaura (also known as wandflower). So many pollinator friendly plants invoke the cottage garden look, and you can create endless combinations. Annual varieties to try in containers include flax, cosmos, zinnias and calendula, and perennials like flowering catmintanise hyssopsalvia ‘May Night‘ and flowering herbs like lavenderborage and oregano.

     
  • 26 of 30

    Airy Terrace

    Terrace garden with potted ferns and flowers and wooden table with wicker chairs

    @andrewduffgardendesign / Instagram

    English gardeners love to spend time in their gardens at all times of the day, all season long. What better place to enjoy coffee or tea in the morning or a light supper than this open terrace area? The tall hedge provides privacy and a wind barrier on chilly days. Container plantings can be moved around to create a fresh perspective and a flexible floor plan.

     
  • 27 of 30

    Wall of Color

    Flower bed with pink roses and spirea and white astilbes

    @thejardiniere / Instagram

    Making the most of a small space is a task well known to the English gardener. Planting perennials in layers so that taller plants are in back and shrubs and flowers overlap one another creates a full border of color and texture. Using one or two dominant colors gives an especially pleasing impact, as seen here with the pink roses and spirea both blooming simultaneously.

     
  • 28 of 30

    Late Season Color

    Herbaceous border with low boxwood hedge in front and brick wall behind, with red and yellow mums

    Peg Aloi

    The English architect William Kent (1685 – 1748) once said “All gardening is landscape painting.” The true English garden is a year-long work of art. Even in October, these herbaceous borders at the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire are awash in color. As many of the perennials are going to seed or fading, bright spots of color are still on flowering mums and some still have buds just getting ready to open. The low boxwood hedge in front stays evergreen year ’round.

     
  • 29 of 30

    Graceful Gazebo

    White metal gazebo in garden with gravel patio, herb plantings and blue flowered potato vine

    @thelaundrygarden / Instagram

    This metal gazebo makes a beautiful yet understated place to relax and enjoy the garden. Its delicate shape and structure are perfectly complemented by the lacy blue-flowered sweet potato vine (Solanum crispum ‘Glasnevin’) and the pastel blooms of plants like flowering catmint and pale pink alliums. The potato vine is a tender annual, but other flowering vines could be planted for similar effect, such as clematis.

     
  • 30 of 30

    Winter Interest

    Garden in winter with gravel path down middle of two beds full of foliage

    @thelaundrygarden / Instagram

    Because winters tend to be mild in England, many gardeners leave plants untrimmed and leave clean-up until spring letting the foliage and stems remain for wildlife shelter or winter interest. Cold morning temperatures turn the remaining plants into a crystalline fairyland, and the garden feels both dormant and magically alive beneath the frost.

The English garden style is one of the most recognizable and well-loved in the world. Using a few basic design and horticulture principles, you can create many different English garden looks that are appropriate for a variety of landscapes and climates.

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