The English landscape style, born in Britain 250 years ago, can help us design our own gardens today. The style was influenced by popular...

The English landscape style, born in Britain 250 years ago, can help us design our own gardens today.

The style was influenced by popular paintings of pastoral landscapes. It re-created classical landscapes of open space and trees. In many cases, the proponents of the new English style swept away the geometric designs in gardens built by previous generations.

In thinking about this style, I am reminded of an idea presented by my landscape-architecture professor, Richard Haag. He told us that the landscape humans find most appealing is the golf course, with its mix of open areas and trees. They remind us of the African savanna, from which humans evolved.

The savanna, with its sweeping grassland, offers views of approaching predators. The intermittent clumps of trees offer shelter and an opportunity to escape from those predators. We are imprinted with this layout of prospect and refuge, and the English landscape style reproduced it well.

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The execution of the new landscapes was entirely artificial. Streams were dammed to create lakes, great quantities of earth were moved to build hills and valleys, and trees were planted to create forests where none stood before. The shapes, however, were informal and curving, and look more natural to our eye than the straight lines of earlier styles.

Many of our Northwest gardens reproduce English landscape style. They are laid out with a lawn surrounded and interspersed with curving beds filled with trees and shrubs.

If you like this style, you can improve your garden-design skills by careful observation of the composition. Often altering the shape of a lawn or changing the shape of a bed can make a big difference in the flow of the space.

Using the informal landscape style as a framework, we can choose specific plants to express our needs and interests. For low maintenance, choose mostly trees and shrubs, which take less care than perennials. To avoid high-maintenance pruning, select plants that will not outgrow their space. Read the tag or check a book to find out how big they will get.

Wildlife gardens also lend themselves to English landscape style. Plant selection is important but so is creating varied habitat, including dense brush for cover. The informal style lends itself to some wildness and untidiness.

Flowers can happily coexist with the landscape style. Mixing perennials with trees and shrubs can add more seasonal color and texture as well as add to the pleasure of gardening for those of us who actually like higher-maintenance gardening.

For people with large lots, the style is a way of ordering your property, interweaving open space and forested areas.

You can use more than one style on your property. One area can be more natural; another can have more formal lines. One way to design is to echo the lines of the house in the gardens that are closest to the house and let them become more informal as the garden moves away from the house.

Although we may not have several hundred years of history to preserve in our gardens, we can draw from past styles and make new choices for our own gardens today.

Phil Wood has a degree in landscape architecture and designs and builds gardens. Call 206-464-8533 or e-mail with your questions. Sorry, no personal replies.