When we first walked through our new home, the entire family fell in love with the spacious backyard! Our property sits on almost a full acre and our backyard was filled with opportunities.
Chris and I started dreaming up all of our plans for the backyard and started to prioritize. While Chris focused on replacing our fence and expanding the yard, I began dreaming up my plans for our backyard garden.
Our house has a very cottage-like feel with the cedar-shingled roof and german schmear bricks; an English garden seemed like the perfect fit.
Here is what the area looked like before we began building the English garden. When you stepped outside of the house into the backyard, the left side of the back patio had a large space that was completely enclosed by tall bushes.
We thought a hot tub may have been located there, but I guess the previous owners just let the shrubs grow super high. It was very odd and we planned early on to tear out the bushes and create a more usable space.
Before we could tear out the large shrubs, we had to address the rotting fence. We removed the old fence on one side of our yard and pushed it towards the street to gain even more square footage in the backyard. While the fence was removed, we took the opportunity to bring in some heavy-duty machinery and pull out the overgrown shrubs and their roots.
Once all of the shrubs were removed, our yard look 10x bigger! We spent the next few weeks pulling up remaining sod and raking the soil to get the ground as even as possible.
Now that our backyard is a clean slate, I am excited to share my process with you as I build my first English garden.
How to Build an English Garden
I had never created an English garden before but I had a vision! My friend, Jan, is an expert gardener and created the stunning garden below. This is what I want mine to look like!
To see more of this gorgeous English garden, check out the full tour of the Bosler House restoration.
Common English Garden Features
Through my research, I compiled a few features commonly found in English gardens that I planned to incorporate in mine.
- Abundance: The garden should feel full and host a variety of plants throughout the bed
- Native plants: Plants that look like they belong in the garden and are natural to the climate – For example, if your garden is located in Ohio, don’t add a desert plant that will not do well in colder weather and lots of rain
- Natural stone: Stone like pea gravel, cobblestone and brick paths are common
- Informal: There are actually many types of English gardens but one style is informal – I will be going for a more casual feel that is not super structured
- Benches & water features: Ponds, streams and even birdbaths are found in English gardens along with benches tucked that invites guests to sit and enjoy the view
Step 1 | Determine the Garden Location
For the location of my garden, I chose a space that was close enough to enjoy on the patio and was close to a water source. This location gets a lot of direct sun during the day which helped determine the plants that would go into the garden.
The area can be accessed right off of the patio and extends past the bay window of my office/guest room. I really wanted a beautiful view out of this big window for guests and while sitting at my desk.
Step 2 | Draw Out Your Plans
Once I determined the location of the garden, I began drawing out my plans. You can use drafting paper or a regular sheet of scrap paper to map out your ideas.
I came up with a design that included four garden beds divided by a pea gravel walkway separating them equally. The pathway that is perpendicular to the house allows easy access to the hose spigot, which is important for function. While English gardens are informal in nature, they are so pleasing to the eye because there is still some uniformity to varying plants.
A typical walkway is 4 feet wide. I found the center of the patio step and created a 4-foot walkway in the center of that step. For the perpendicular walkway that would intersect it, I marked a 4-foot walkway so that ran right up to the hose spigot on the house.
Here is the design that I sketched out. I added a list of plants I wanted to include in the gardens and roughly placed them on he paper. They are not in these exact spots but it was helpful to go through this exercise to think through the layout of each bed.
Step 3 | Edge the Flower Beds
There are many different products to edge flower beds, but we decided on the aluminum edging material found at Home Depot.
When the metal edging arrived, I spent a day digging a trench with a spade shovel, leveling the edging, and staking it in place. I made a small trench so the edging would be flush with the step from the patio. This is a dirty job that required moving around lots of dirt. I used a long level to make sure the edges were level throughout the flower bed.
Once the edging was in place, I used a rake to even out the soil in the beds. I did the same to the outside of the edging wherever the soil lines were low.
Step 4 | Fill the Walkways
Chris and I decided to use pea gravel for the walkway between the garden beds. To prep for the pea gravel, Chris and I raked dirt below the top of the edging so that a layer of pea gravel would be at the same level once it was put down. Once the soil was removed, we rolled out a weed barrier to prevent the inevitable weeds that will come!
Chris purchased 1 ton of pea gravel (full truckload) and it only cost $40. Isn’t that insane? My son, Thomas, is such a big helper and shoveled all of the pea gravel into a wheelbarrow for us to disperse. This was yet another fun project to tackle during quarantine! We ended up having the perfect amount of pea gravel for our walkways.
Next, we used a tamper to settle the pea gravel as much as possible. The gravel will never stay perfectly in place, but this helps to keep its form and structure.
Step 5 | Start Filling Your English Garden
I started adding plants to my garden before the walkways were even mapped out because my neighbor generously shared hers with me. Many of the perennials you find in an English garden are super hardy and can easily be transplanted and divided. Almost everything in my garden was divided or transplanted (and free!). This is a great way to save money while adding lots of natural beauty to your home. Once I fill each garden bed a bit more, I will add some mulch to keep in moisture and help to prevent weeds.
Here are a few plants that will give your garden an English garden feel:
- English Lavender
- Lambs Ear
- Bee Balm
- Peony bushes
For me, the informal garden design helps to take the pressure off of creating that “perfect” garden. This will be a continued work in progress where I can learn about each plant and move them around if something doesn’t feel right. I am looking forward to watching my garden blossom through the summer and begin planning changes/additions for next year.
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