Our English Garden Project

Towards the end of April, we’ll finally get to undertake the most fun step of replanting our English garden—the actual planting part!  This much anticipated step comes after months (and in this case, years) of planning, collaborating, and pencil and papering until the step of planting into the ground arrives.

 Why are we replanting? Because over time gardens have a tendency to drift away from their original forms–this sort of evolution is natural. But, also, English gardens represent hundreds of years of development and changes. To tell a meaningful story about English gardens, we needed to help ours become more true to form and represent a specific style of English garden.

The past fall, Isaac and volunteers cleared out many of the plants in the back of the garden and found new homes for them in other garden installations. In the original plans from 1989 there were dozens of different species in the English garden, in 2023 he found less than half remained.

We teamed up with UW students in the department of landscape architecture and some long-time ACG community members to meet regularly and dig into the project. Our UW students got underway in the fall of 2022 with extensive research. They examined the early Roman influences, different monastic gardens, and the rise of more formal English gardens which blended growing food and ornamentals together. They explored how new ideas from the Renaissance influenced and enhanced the emphasis on gardens displaying both horticultural and mathematical prowess. This 18th Century garden manual (left) devoted whole chapters to making mathematically correct paths.

The students examined the last 300 hundred years, which included the arrival of Enlightenment and Romantic periods of thought. These ideas opened the door to more naturalistic styles of garden management and later-on the Victorian period which drew inspiration from vernacular cottage gardens and the wrought iron structures made possible by a rapidly industrializing world. Their research generated a website that may serve as a brief primer in English garden development. If this article is the first time you’ve read about English gardening styles, then this is a great resource that introduces many of the steps English gardens have taken to get to the point they are now.

The English garden committee then tasked the students with developing their own designs and plant lists based on their research. In spring of 2023, we hosted a charrette (pictured below), which was a fun opportunity for the team to work out on paper with the different layout designs. The students made pitches, notes were collected, and new ideas were explored. One outcome of our planning process was that the English garden would seek to draw design elements from the Victorian period (circa. 1840s – 1901 ) of English gardens.


Knowing the time period was an important takeaway because the Victorian era has a unique set of plants and its own color palette. It allowed Isaac, ACG’s horticulturist, and Jay, a landscape architecture student, to build out a plant list that included specific varieties of campanula, gaura, and larkspur in the color scheme of pinks, whites, and blues. These varieties arranged in heavy matrices are a gathering of forms that truly build on the appreciation of natural beauty which was an important goal of Victorian Gardens.

If planting a garden is the most enjoyable part, making the plant order for seeds and plants might be the second most exciting. With a map in hand (left), Isaac completed the plant order in late winter and we wait for the turning of the season to begin planting our new plants which will increase the diversity of our collection and make the garden more true to form.

This we believe will help the garden tell more interesting stories because English gardens have a lot to say about how we garden today (and how we got here). English gardens have in many moments about fashion and have informed our love of new varieties, unique forms, different colors, and collections of plants gathered from across the globe. The English garden lawn, first used only by royalty, is now a ubiquitous type of public space where we gather to play, converse, walk, or simply sit. We also inherit the style’s long shadow of colonialism as plants were acquired alongside the exploitation of land and labor. Many of our anxieties about weeds, and what plants ‘belong’ together are well documented in English garden fashion. Which is to say, we looked forward to digging in, and our more accurate English garden will allow us to continue to learn as we garden.

For opportunities to learn more, consider this blog post about English Gardens in Nepal. We also enjoyed the timeless classic Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden by Gertrude Jekyll. Lastly, please put July 5, 6, 26, and 27 on your calendar for free Shakespeare performances of A Comedy of Errors and a drop in Shakespeare plant tour. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, or visit our website in the Summer to learn more.