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Planting Styles


Many themes or styles in gardens can be traced back to 19th century Britain. The popularization of gardens occurred as the elements of famous garden places  were replicated and brought home. From bedding to herbaceous to mixed borders, gardens evolved and rules of planting and plants were broken. Today naturalized and minimalized gardens are popular. What is important for today’s gardens is a careful consideration to the environment and the sustainability of the components of your garden.

Please continue to read about the history of garden styles and how they evolved in Britain.


A range of tender and semi-tender plants are grown indoors to plant out after frost. Typical plants for this would include pelargoniums, snapdragons, marigolds, lobelia petunia and verbena to name a few. Often this style would include a spring bedding of biennials and bulbs planted in the fall. Over time this style evolved to include perennial shrubs and veggies. As a garden for today this style is water greedy and fertilizer and chemical dependent.


This style has been popular since the 1800s and a well done planting would ‘show off’ the grandeur of a homeowner’s property. This style requires exactitude, timing, patience, knowledge and skill. It was usually a long border in front of a wall or fence planted with summer perennials. Popularized by Gertrude Jeykll (1843-1932) who said “bedding as an all-prevailing fashion is now dead…the great fault of the bedding system…was that it swept over the country as a tyrannical fashion…that demanded the exclusion of better and more thoughtful kinds of gardening”. Jeykll evolved the style with the addition of annuals to lengthen the season. She spoke of color and form in the plants.

The herbaceous border followed an arrangement of shortest plants in front and tallest in the back. Thin texture plants could appear throughout. The arching plants were given space to allow form to be appreciated. Front plants needed to mask stems of plants behind them.


Popularized by Lawrence Johnston (1871-1958) at Hidcote, one of England’s great gardens. Small trees and woody plants add sculptural quality to this style. Success lies in the restricted and slow growth of these plants that are pruned and massed accordingly. Major crossing axises delineate space and create garden rooms. Others like Vita Sackville-West(1892-1962) at Sissinghurst continued in this style.


This style requires good planning to ensure that horticultural intervention appears to be in keeping with the natural order of the environment. Design here is simple and frequently en masse. Challenges are many as posed by natural elements such as large existing trees. Beth Chatto in her Essex garden, explains, “I try to follow Nature, not to copy her…putting together plants which have similar needs in a situation for which they are adapted”. Suitable plants for woodland style include aconites, snowdrops, hellebores, narcissus, ferns, cyclamen, hostas and bergenia to name a few. Open woodland planting incorporate woody plants like mahonia, hydrangea, dogwoods and others.


This style offers a huge number of benefits to native flora and wildlife. They can be naturally occurring in a garden or cultivated/introduced. Different locations will sustain different mixes from clay or wet soils thru to chalk. As a rule a meadow prefers impoverished soil. Maintenance and tending is imperative so no plant becomes dominant. Cutting and removing clipping at appropriate time of year is required. Naturalized meadows will have seasonal highs. Longevity of specimens benefit insects and increase biodiversity.


Pioneered by the Dutchman, Piet Oudolf , structure, texture and shape take precedent over color or height. This style breaks traditional border rules by using tall plants in front of border but making sure the texture is appropriate to the composition. Typical plants used are burnet, knotweed, filipendula, echinacea, astrantias and grasses. Plants are chosen for seasonal interest and structure after bloom stage, thereby given importance to seed heads, spent flower heads or stems. Planting is done in ribbons or blocks.


This style is more about the setting than a planting style. Often found in rural areas and benefiting from borrowed views and large space. Typically the garden has evolved over time with the homeowner. Often lawn delineates rooms or spaces. Linking features are used such as pergola and arches and dividing features such as hedges screens and walls.


Universally recognized, cottage style gardens have charm and simplicity. Historically associated with small timber or brick dwellings this style dates back to the 19th century (this dwelling was actually the home of the worker living on the property) . Main plant palette of this style was species such as hollyhocks, pinks, pansies, delphiniums, herbs, lupins and foxgloves to name a few. They were primarily grown from seed for economic reasons. The cottage style today is relaxed and unforced. There is often a plot for veggies and herbs. This style connects people to nature and it’s elements and seasons.


This can refer to plants of Europe, Australia, South Africa, central Chile or even coastal California. It has to do with growing conditions. These conditions are heat, poor soil and sporadic rain. Typical plants are lavender, sage, agave,and sempervivums. Often gardens are containerized. Also used are roses, bougainvillea and campsis to create shade on structures. This style is interesting and important in the age of water conservation.


This style stems from modernism of the early 20th century. Less is more. Spaces that have an intelligent response to the location based on a planned outcome from the creator. Often found in urban centers they are generally spaces of calm and intent. Plants are often used in repetition. Architectural features usually highlight space. Plants are equal components to other elements of stone, wood water, space/void. Workmanship of seating, planting, paving, water features etc. has to be of highest quality.


  • Beth Chatto’s, Woodland Garden:Shade-Loving Plants for Year Round Interest
  • Piet Oudolf, Designing with Plants
  • Tony Lord and Andrew Lawson, Encyclopedia of Planting Combinations
  • Gertrude Jekyll, The Beauties of a Cottage Garden