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History of Garden Design
The Persian Carpet Influence
The Greeks and Romans—Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Early Herb Gardens
Formal Gardens
Early Gardening in America
Cottage Gardens and Gertrude Jekyll

Your Herb Garden
Designing a Formal Garden
Knot Gardens
Making a Standard
Training into Shapes
Informal Gardens
Designing an Informal Garden

Sara's Garden


Early Gardening in America
John Bartram (1699-1777), a Quaker farmer, began his garden in 1728. Though not a garden designer, he was the first person to gather together a large collection of native North American plants. His garden also had many species that were sent to him from other colonies, the West Indies, and botanists world-wide. In 1729, he established his own nursery and supplied plants to George Washington at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. In 1736, Bartram became a plant hunter and over the next 30 years, he made a series of expeditions to gather new species of North American flora. He is credited with introducing about 200 species into cultivation.

On his farm of 102 acres in Philadelphia, Bartram practiced techniques that helped him yield twice as many crops per acre as his neighbors. The oldest Gingko biloba tree and yellowwood tree (Cladrastis lutea) still exist in his gardens, which can be visited today because they were made into a park in 1891 and donated to the City of Philadelphia. His sons were the first to establish a mail-order nursery catalog in the U.S.

In 1936, George Washington's vegetable, herb, and flower gardens were restored, using the diaries he kept from 1748 to 1799. He had a passion for fruit trees, and he scoured the countryside looking for new native trees and shrubs for his garden. He was a master gardener, as was Jefferson, and taken together, their writings provide the fullest and best information on post-revolutionary war gardening in the southern United States.

As Minister to the court of Louis XIV, Thomas Jefferson was able to study French gardens and during this time, he also toured English gardens to study landscape gardening and horticultural skills. This certainly contributed to the excellence of Monticello's design. One of its main features is a long walk around the edge of a large lawn with plantings on either side-native flowering plants and shrubs. Monticello is beautifully maintained as a monument to his ingenuity and wide interests.

Cottage Gardens and Gertrude Jekyll
Cottage gardens, border gardens, and wild gardens all have an overlapping theme. A cottage garden combines a formal outline and sense of enclosure of the old-fashioned garden where flowers neatly border walks and walls (also called border gardens) with carefree wild gardens. Roses are bushy, climbers are rampant, and tiny flowers nestle under flowering shrubs, revealing a lush mix of growing plants full of hidden treasures. It is the artists and writers of the Victorian Period who have influenced how we look at the cottage garden. William Robinson, writer and gardener (1838-1935), in his book, The English Flower Garden, defines the charms of the cottage garden as "the absence of any pretentious plan which lets the flowers tell their story to the heart." The background may be tall shrubs, a picket fence, or a wooden privacy fence. Climbers arch over trellises and provide vertical lines. Robinson advocated woodland gardening and championed the natural approach of the informal garden. He liked to hide formal architecture under a riot of mixed native and exotic perennials.

This style most certainly is reflected in Gertrude Jekyll's (1842-1932) designs. It is Gertrude Jekyll, friend and collaborator to Robinson, who reconciled the two points of view, and any study of garden design is incomplete without her contributions. A contemporary of Robinson, she is credited with "inventing" and popularizing the border garden. A border garden is a narrow planting along some division or boundary in a garden: a walkway, wall, road, or lawn. It can be a mix of plants or only a single species, from the most permanent of shrubs to the most tender of annuals. It implies a tapestry of different plants, regardless of placement. Her planting schemes were profuse, carefully orchestrated, and controlled to obtain the effect she wanted. As a painter, she had spent time with the Impressionists in Paris, and when her eyesight began to fail, she devoted her life to gardening, honing her painterly color theory to make garden pictures with her borders. This was an innovation, and in her partnership with Lutyens, the architect who designed her house at Munstead Wood, created a new English garden style.

A border is part horticulture and part art, and a good one is a masterpiece of both. It requires accurate knowledge of when plants flower, growing requirements, orchestrating color harmonies, and balancing forms. To achieve Jekyll's ends, she planted in generous swaths, controlled the blending of colors, worked from a formal layout for the plantings, used a mixture of plants including many cottage garden favorites, and used lawns to lead away from buildings, to unite gardens with woodland. Any ornamentation in the garden was functional-seats, walls, stairs, urns and sculpture. One of her greatest talents was her recognition of the value of harmony and the importance of contrast to keep it from degenerating into monotony. In her words from Colour in the Flower Garden:

The planting of the border is designed to show a distinct scheme of colour arrangement. At the two ends there is a groundwork of gray and glaucous foliage……With this, at the near or western end, there are flowers of pure blue, gray-blue, white, palest yellow and palest pink; each colour partly in distinct masses and partly inter-grouped. The colouring then passes through stronger yellows to orange to red. By the time the middle space of the border is reached the colour is strong and gorgeous…Then the colour-strength recedes in an inverse sequence through orange and deep yellow to pale yellow, white and palest pink; with the blue-gray foliage. But at this eastern end, instead of pure blues we have purples and lilacs….Looked at from a little way forward…the whole border can be seen as one picture, the cool colouring at the ends enhancing the brilliant warmth of the middle.

The color schemes at Sissinghurst in Kent, England, especially the White Garden, are renowned for illustrating Jekyll's gardens of special color. A description from The Garden Book:

White roses and honeysuckle combine to create a striking white colour-scheme, which is harmoniously balanced by a background of green. The White Garden…is one of the most influential… Planted in 1948…it started a cult in gardening taste that can still be discerned in gardens from Cape Town to Sydney….the overall layout… is based on a series of 'garden rooms'-formal in shape but informally planted.

One of the garden rooms at Sissinghurst is an extensive herb garden: a large square intersected with paths that form a cross, dividing it in four smaller squares. These are again divided into four squares each, making a total of sixteen. Herbs included are: mints, creeping thymes, dill, southernwood, hyssop, sage, green santolina, chives, chamomile, borage, strawberries, gray santolina, summer savory, angelica, lemon verbena, mullein, calendula, comfrey, caraway, parsley, lemon balm, catnip, and sweet cicely, to name a few.