Two Styles Of English Garden: Cottage and Formal

Yellow, apricot and blue cottage garden

If every garden (and every human) was the same, the world would be a pitiful place. These very different gardens seem to suit their respective home perfectly. Viewed together, each accentuates the other’s beauty.

The first, a private cottage garden in the grounds of Dorothy Clive Gardens, is super colourful, flower-filled and just a little laissez-faire. Flowers in shades of apricot, yellow and blue gaily tumble over each other above the unifying green, partly obscuring the view from the home and creating a feeling of privacy.

Formal garden with topiary cones

The second garden, Levels Hall in The Lake District, is grand, formal and manicured. Mullioned windows of a centuries-old stately home overlook topiary cones, tall yew hedges and garden benches. A stone urn acts as a centrepiece above a circle of bedding plants. Gravel makes the area pleasant for visitors to stroll through and continues along the same neutral vein as the benches and stone building. Our eyes, naturally alert to colour and variation, find interest in the different greens while noting the feeling of harmony and restraint.  

It’s tempting to frame these styles as opposites, but that would be missing the point. Styles don’t ever oppose, they are only more or less true to themselves. Casting never a backwards look, pure style revels in itself completely. By hedging its bets (no pun intended) style becomes diluted.

In these two gardens I seem to see wholeheartedness. A sense of what they are, and pleasure taken in being so.

As visitors to gardens, we never have to choose, not really. Even if we love formality and tidiness at home, we can suspend our inclinations long enough to appreciate the vibrancy of the wildest flower garden. And if our gardens tend towards the dishevelled, we can still admire control – while thanking our lucky stars we aren’t responsible for the pruning, watering and tending.

24 Replies to “Two Styles Of English Garden: Cottage and Formal”

  1. I think I like cottage gardens. Formal gardens feel a little sterile to me. I sort of like the wildness of flowers everywhere. 😀

    1. The more flowers the merrier for me. We recently stopped to take pictures in an old cemetery that was covered in golden coreopsis. I can’t imagine ever forgetting the sight.

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