English Country Garden

Those of a certain age will remember the American singer Jimmie Rodgers who, in 1962, reached No. 5 in the charts with the folk song ‘English Country Garden’.

For readers younger than about 40, the song asks “How many kinds of sweet flowers grow, in an English country garden?” Jimmie starts by ticking off the usual suspects – roses, hollyhocks, daffodils – and then sticks his neck out with some rather more obscure suggestions like Lady’s Smocks, or Cordamine pratensis (which is really a meadow plant, but we’ll allow it for artistic licence).

After this, things start to unravel a little. I don’t know how many English gardens Mr Rodgers had actually seen. I suggest it’s not that many, as he then starts a role call of our native fauna, including those regular British favourites, the snake and the bobolink.

No, me neither.

Anyway, I’d not given this song much thought over the years, until I was approached in late 2012 by a client who wanted ‘an English country garden that’s easy to maintain’.

The existing garden (below) had a good size herbaceous border and a rock garden with a pond, but little else except a large lawn with a specimen Silver Birch in the centre. The brief was to create greater visual appeal, with more planting in a relaxed country style. Consideration was to be given to enlarging the patio and providing an additional seating area away from the house. One specific requirement was ‘no straight lines’ – the client wanted more traditional curves and hidden areas. Planting was encouraged to be full, almost wild in nature.

The 'before' shot

I have a soft spot for the traditional English garden style, from the herbaceous borders of Gertrude Jekyll to the abundant tapestries of planting at Great Dixter. The trouble with that style is that it tends to be high maintenance. I needed to devise something that wouldn’t need a team of full-time gardeners to look after.

My scheme features a much reduced lawn, and a larger gravel garden with plants set into it, which are encouraged to set seed. The specimen tree was kept, and under-planted with shade-tolerant plants and spring and autumn bulbs. Traditional herbaceous flower beds surround the gravel garden, and the rock garden and pond was enlarged, with a simple trickling waterfall adding movement and sound to the garden. A small seating area was included away from the house, encased in a stone semi-circular wall and planter feature. The shots below show the newly built garden and some of the initial planting.

Just built

Just planted

The garden is now starting its second full season, and here are a couple of shots of the planting and the pond from spring of 2014, with a quote from my client at the end.

Planting close-up

Rock garden pond

English country garden

And the answer to the question “How many kinds of sweet flowers grow, in an English country garden?” – in this one, we planted about 70.

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