How Can I Design a Small Old English Garden?

Written by lillian teague
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How Can I Design a Small Old English Garden?
Over time, flowers have become an emphasis of the Old English garden design. (English cottage garden image by Paul Hunt from

The Old English cottage garden utilises an informal design. Full of dense plantings and a mixture of edible plants, herbs and flowers, the Old English garden creates a graceful and charming landscape. Gardeners created the first Old English gardens for practical reasons, with an emphasis on useful plants. Flowers were used to add colour in between more important plantings.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Tape measure
  • Grid paper
  • Pencil
  • Plant encyclopedias, books and guides

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  1. 1

    Measure the area where you want to plant your garden. Most Old English gardens were small and densely planted. Start small and expand over time.

  2. 2

    Draw the layout of the area on graph paper. This gives you a visual place to plan your design.

  3. 3

    Start adding shrubs, flowering bushes and trees to the garden design. The traditional Old English garden was enclosed. Using shrubs to outline the garden will give an enclosed appeal. Roses, evergreens and flowering bushes with fragrant flowers are traditional plantings.Choose dwarf fruit and other small flowering trees.

  4. 4

    Add herbs and other perennial flowers to the garden design. Herbs were essential in Old English gardens. They provided fragrance and many culinary and medicinal uses for the gardener. Herbs add texture and interest to the modern version of the Old English garden. Consider lavender, rosemary, sage and basil as choices for your garden.

  5. 5

    Select a variety of vegetables to include in the design. Vegetables were an integral part of the English garden landscape. The colourful flowers of climbing pole beans, the red ripe tomatoes and a variety of leafy greens add texture, colour and utility to your garden design.

  6. 6

    Tuck flowers into the design where they fit. Old English gardens feature an abundance of vivid, lush flowers. Fragrant and colourful blooms stay true to the original design. Typical Old English gardens contain tulips, poppies, marigolds, geraniums, forget-me-nots and pansies.

  7. 7

    Identify vertical spaces that will handle climbing vines and creeping plants. Sweet peas, wisteria and ivy create a vertical effect adding elegance to the design.

  8. 8

    Begin planting your Old English garden, following the design laid out on paper.

Tips and warnings

  • A large variety of plants work well in an Old English design. Select plants that are adapted to the area, the soil and the light requirements of your garden.
  • Achieve a balanced garden by placing tall, medium and short plants within the design.
  • Many gardeners do not spend time planning specific annual flowers into the design of the garden. They simply leave space for the addition of annuals. This provides flexibility when shopping for plants.
  • Avoid overplanting the garden. While it is a dense garden design, plants require specific amounts of space, sunlight and nutrients from the soil. Take into consideration the mature size of the plants you choose. An Old English garden may not look full and lush until the third year after planting.

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