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A Brief History: The English Landscape Movement

Jun 06 2013

You have probably heard the term "English Garden" but do you know where it comes from and what it means?

The English Landscape Movement: When, where and why the garden style originated

In the 18th century many disciplines in England, including art, philosophy and science helped to create the English Landscape movement.  It was also a backlash to the aristocratic formality of the Persian-inspired gardens before them, and drew inspiration from Dutch landscape paintings of the 16th and 17th century which presented an idealize view of nature.  The English Landscape Movement  includes gently rolling hills and water, ideally planned against a back drop of forest with groupings of trees in the background.  In the 19th century the movement grew to include the addition of shrubs and blooming perennials sweeping in a painterly fashion with winding gravel pathways.

This new style was fathered by landscape designers William Kent (1685-1738) and Charles Bridgeman (1690-1738).  William Kent believed that surroundings should be inspired by nature and complement architecture.  He often created sloping hills, winding paths, streams or lakes connected to nature.  Lancelot Brown (1716-1783) had a major influence in the English Garden movement, removing formal geometric structures and adding rolling lawns and panoramic views to create the illusion of a larger landscape.

Unique Characteristics  of the English movement  include:

  • Informal, irregular shapes and curved lines
  • A series of views
  • Open to surrounding landscape
  • Open lawns and border gardens

How to translate the English Landscape Movement into a suburban city lot

As with runway fashion, not every aspect of each landscape movement can be translated into everyday life.  Though we admire clothes on many catwalks, they simply do not translate to most of our everyday routines.  It's about finding out what you love most about each movement and selecting which aspects of the movement are the most practical and bringing these selections to life.  For example, bring the English Landscape Movement to life in your landscape by creating sweeping-curved garden beds around an open lawn.  If your lot opens up to green space, do not try to block out the view, instead, use the green space as a back drop to your landscape canvas.  Then, plant in clusters in a gentle painterly fashion throughout the border gardens.

Perennials which are excellent for English borders


Salvia nemorosa, Perennial Sage:  A favourite of butterflies and hummingbirds, prostrate spikes of purple, pink or white flowers bloom atop grey-green foliage.  Resistant to deer and rabbits, the bloom period of these already long lasting blooms can be extended by properly deadheading spent flowers.


Phlox paniculata, Summer Phlox: Available in a wide palette of colours, clusters of fragrant flowers sit atop medium green foliage.  Producing beautiful blooms which attract butterflies and are great for cut arrangements, repeated flowering can be encouraged by removing faded blooms.

Paeonia lactiflora, Garden Peony: A long-lived perennial favourite, and a must-have for a perennial border.  Available in an assortment of colours and single or double blooms, which are wonderful for cutting and resistant to deer and rabbits.  Stunning large blooms sit atop glossy green foliage in June, with the foliage adding interest to the garden well into the fall.


Striped Bark
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