Balance and symmetry took on new meaning in the English landscape. Tired of the contrived geometry brought from the European continent, English landscape designers began to experiment with the idea of re-creating nature. Although early attempts at English garden design included formal parterres, evergreen hedge mazes, topiary, and knot gardens, the style most closely associated with the English is informal and natural looking.
Horticultural knowledge and a developing interest in the aesthetic arrangement of plants led to the distinct English style. Plants chosen for their form, color, texture, and size were grouped to imitate the English ideal of nature. Constructed elements such as gazebos and picturesque ponds were included in this ideal. Many different types of trees and shrubs planted along curving lakeshores and pathways characterize the typical English garden.
This style works well with a very large, gently rolling site. A flat site can also be used if you create mounds or build walls. Steep slopes don’t work well, since the English style requires an effortless flow of one space into another. Although the early English landscape centered around lakes and ponds, a large, irregularly shaped lawn can be substituted. Not a particularly functional garden, it does offer pleasant viewing points and a wonderful atmosphere for strolling.
A traditional English-style landscape requires careful thought about the placement and juxtaposition of plants. Arranging them according to height requires large, open spaces to achieve the effect of foreground, middle ground, and background. This type of landscape is well suited to the northern regions of the United States. A large lot and mature trees (if you are to enjoy the effect of the landscape in your lifetime) are required. Tudor, chateau, and large masonry homes are compatible with an English-style garden.
A great variety of native and exotic plants are appropriate, as long as the principles of loosely defined space and large lawn areas are considered. Weeping willow is often combined with evergreen hedges such as euonymus and holly. Coniferous trees especially suited to the English-style garden include fir, cedar, false-cypress (Chamaecyparis species), and bald cypress (Taxodium distichum). Native flowering shrubs such as red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis), rhododendron, and shrub roses can also be integrated into this style of garden.