Last Updated on May 10, 2023 by lindseymahoney
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. I immediately began dreaming up our very own backyard English garden that we could DIY.
Our house has a very cottage-like feel with the cedar-shake roof and German schmear bricks; an English garden looks great with the exterior style of our home.
Backyard Garden Area Before
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, the rotting fence had to be addressed. 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 looked 10x bigger! We spent the next few weeks pulling up the remaining sod and raking the soil to get the ground as even as possible.
With a clean slate in where the English garden would be located, I got to work designing and planning!
Backyard English Garden Inspiration
The Bosler House
I really started learning about English garden designs through my friend Jan. She is one of the most talented gardeners I know and her gardens are breathtaking.
Whenever I had a chance I would pick her brain on how she created these beautiful landscapes. This is the English garden in front of their home, the historic Bosler house, that was restored by her and her husband.
Ina Garten’s English Garden
This stunning garden belongs to Ina Garten! The climbing flowers and large limelight hydrangeas are my favorite part of this image.
Another view from Ina Garten’s backyard shows those same hydrangeas and climbing flowers. The natural wood pergola with the weathered bench gives the perfect cozy feel.
The Sanctuary Home Decor
Isn’t this garden from the Sanctuary Home Decor enchanting?! I love everything about this backyard and have been taking notes of the different textures and colors I want to incorporate into mine.
I love the variety of flowers here surrounding the stone paver walkway.
Another image that instantly caught my eye, was the English garden style around the pool. Our backyard has a pool and I love seeing how someone incorporated the design around a modern pool.
Rambling Flower Garden (HGTV)
This inspiring garden made me think of a secret garden that people of all ages would love. My backyard English garden is nowhere near this but I hope it will look as lush as this one someday.
I want my kids to enjoy exploring the garden we built together and all of the creatures that visit.
English Garden Gate
The gate, natural stone, and flowering perennials always catch my eye in our family friend’s backyard. I love how this backyard English garden has that casual feel to welcome everyone who visits.
Classic English Garden
I pinned these images because they represent the quintessential English garden style.
The variety of flowers and height differences throughout the flower bed are just lovely. So much inspiration from the stone pathways to the ivy climbing up the walls.
Creating Our DIY English Garden Backyard
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Common English Garden Features
Through my research, I compiled a few features commonly found in English gardens that I planned to incorporate in our backyard.
- 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 and arbors that invite guests to sit and enjoy the view
Step 1 | Determine the Garden Location
For the location of our 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 helps determine the plants that will go into the garden.
The garden location is next to 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 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.
I added a list of plants I wanted to include in the gardens and roughly placed them on the paper. When designing your own garden, remember to consider the amount of sunlight this location receives each day. Plan accordingly with shade plants or plants that prefer more sun.
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 requires 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 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
My neighbor divided and shared many of her own plants that are now in our backyard English garden.
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 (Check out tips for how to care for 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.
English Garden One Year Later
I am blown away by how much our English garden has grown in just one year!