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Planting an English garden


Natural planting as opposed to that which is guided by the laws of geometry, is infinitely more pleasing in the majority of English gardens. The effective grouping of trees, either in the form of isolated clumps or boundary plantations, is a matter requiring great skill and artistic perception, and it is only right that the designer should have a hand in their disposal, even if they occur outside the strict boundaries of the garden.

A mistaken idea, prevalent among certain owners of property, is that garden design affects only that piece of ground which it is proposed to lay out with beds, lawns and walks. This is not so, for the beauty of certain gardens lies not so much in their own attractiveness, as on the distant views obtainable from them. Of course there are limits to this theory, as for example the hill gardens of Italy, with their extended vistas of rolling mountains and fertile valleys the hand of man is not responsible for scenery of this type.

But in English gardens, especially those which are set in a small park, or paddock, we expect that the same mind that designed the garden shall also have the direction of such of the surrounding property as is observable from it.

Unsightly objects, factory chimneys, ugly buildings, or workmen's cottages can usually be screened from view by suitably disposed groups of hardy trees. The attainment of some measure of beauty in the home landscape will also provide an excuse for the opening out of the garden, the reduction of boundary walls and hedges, letting in air and sunlight, without of course rendering the place wind swept.

In forming boundary plantations, there is seldom any need for making them continuous, a form of planting which becomes exceedingly monotonous, at the same time defining the limits of the property in an unmistakable fashion.

Privacy and shelter are of necessity considered, but if without defeating these objects we can secure a vista of distant country, rich meadowlands and purple hills, it would be waste of opportunity not to do so. As the outline of boundary plantations will in many cases cut the horizon, leaving the tops of the trees showing clear against a background of sky, great attention should be paid to making this outline as attractive as possible.

It is a mistake to use trees of only one kind, as this results in a level monotonous outline anything but pleasing. The tall spire of a poplar will give variety and point to a plantation composed almost entirely of trees with rounded heads; a graceful birch with its feathery outline would break the level of a smooth belt of shrubs. Colour too is all important, a judicious mixture of evergreen and deciduous trees is generally preferable to a plantation composed entirely of one class.

There is no need to make the boundary plantation straight on the inner side, whatever may be required on the outer, and the formation of well marked swells and bays will lend an air of charm and indefiniteness. It is usual to plant trees of large growth on rising ground, reserving dwarf varieties and bushes for the hollows, but this is a rule which must be modified according to circumstances.

By a continuous system of grouping the eye may be carried from the garden itself to the very outskirts of the property, and this is much more satisfactory than the plan of treating the outer plantation as a mere fence, quite independent of what may lie within it.

The indiscriminate dotting of specimen trees about a park or garden is much overdone, and in the greater number of cases irregular groups of trees having somewhat similar characteristics would be far more satisfactory. Certain trees, as the tulip tree, and the wych elm, are well adapted for isolation on the lawn, and are welcome for the shade they afford; but thorns, the flowering crabs, and the Scotch firs should always be planted in groups. As these smaller plantations are often required to hide some unsightly object, care must be taken when marking out the ground that the eyesore is hidden from every point of view.

This can generally be contrived by small subsidiary plantings, dependent on the main group. Having staked out an area of ground which when planted will hide the object from the principal point, proceed to view the site from all quarters, adding and remodelling as may be necessary. For this, and work of a similar character, the use of ranging poles of various heights is helpful. Supposing that it is desired to make a small plantation with the object of concealing an ugly building, the designer will take up his position at the principal vantage point.

An assistant will move the poles from place to place until the necessary width of the plantation is determined. To decide the class of trees needed, and their height, which should not be greater than absolutely necessary, poles of varying heights may be raised perpendicularly, noting the particular one which just clears the object. Supposing this to be twenty-five feet, then trees twenty-five feet high will be required, and knowing this it remains to select those which are most in keeping with the surroundings, or supply the special effects desired.