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How to Plant a 17th Century English Garden

Updated February 21, 2017

English gardens of the 17th century were marked by formality, balance and precision. From a bird's eye view, English gardens of this time looked almost mandala-like. Inspired by French gardens of the time, 17th century gardens across Europe romanticised nature through a highly manicured aesthetic. Create your own 17th century oasis in your back yard by planning an overall geometric layout and by choosing a variety of plants that lend themselves to formal design.

Measure the dimensions of your garden area and draw a scaled-down outline on a piece of paper.

Create a horizontal axis down either the vertical-centre or horizontal-centre of the drawn garden area. Preferably the ends of the axis will face an entrance and an exit. Mark this area as a main throughway.

Develop a symmetrical, geometric garden design, using the axis as the centre. Everything on opposite sides of the axis should mirror each other. Include flowers, trees, bushes, hedges and secondary paths. Make areas highly differentiated, with strong shapes and lines. Think about the way openings can frame other elements and how pathways and lines of vegetation can lead a person around. Bodies of water are optional, but were important in 17th century gardens to create reflection and a sense of even larger space.

Choose a variety of plants that are appropriate for the climate. Choose a mix of plants that grow organically, such as flowering shrubs, and plants that are pruned to have precise shapes, such as box hedges. Choose plants that grow tall, such as ornamental trees, as well as plants that remain short, such as flowers.

Choose locations for the plants where organic growers are juxtaposed with plants that are formally pruned. The combination of sharp and soft outlines will create visual interest. Plant plants of the same type together, not mixed with other plants. Plant bushes and trees in straight lines. Take advantage of different plant heights to create tiered levels. Consider planters, arbors, raised gardens and pond gardens, making sure that for every item placed on one side of the axis, another item needs to placed on the other side to balance the first.

Line pathways using cobblestones or pebbles.

Embellish the garden with garden ornaments that have classical or mythological themes.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Pruning shears
  • Garden ornaments
  • Cobblestone or pebbles
  • Water feature (optional)
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About the Author

Mason Howard is an artist and writer in Minneapolis. Howard's work has been published in the "Creative Quarterly Journal of Art & Design" and "New American Paintings." He has also written for art exhibition catalogs and publications. Howard's recent writing includes covering popular culture, home improvement, cooking, health and fitness. He received his Master of Fine Arts from the University of Minnesota.