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The English Garden: East Meets West
Landscapers can help transform your yard into any kind of oasis—perhaps an English garden. Dig into the colorful history of the style with Groupon’s exploration.
Brilliant roses winding up a trellis. A Roman statue half-buried behind creeping ivy. Hummingbirds hovering over a thatch of fragrant sage. These features of a classic English garden don’t necessarily evoke rainy Great Britain, and, in fact, the whimsical style wouldn’t have evolved at all without the influence of other cultures. When William Kent—renowned English architect, landscape architect, and furniture designer—began his rise to fame in the early 18th century, France and its Palace of Versailles ruled the realm of garden design: neat, rigidly geometrical beds framed by vast stretches of lawn. But two shifts began to change Britain’s idea of arboreal beauty. First, art from China and Japan, which often celebrated asymmetrical, organically flourishing natural scenes, was beginning to enter the country. Second, Kent and other tastemakers of his generation were spending lots of time in Italy, home to striking classical ruins that were being overtaken by nature.
When Kent and company began to design gardens for estate owners, their new sensibilities began to take root. Hallmarks of the style included colorful perennials and annuals surrounding archways, birdhouses, and statuary. Sown with early- and late-blooming flowers, the English garden would be designed to last for most of the year, beginning with early-spring crocuses and continuing through early-winter carrots for snowmen noses. And in any season, it would frame charming views of the natural landscape beyond its borders. This idea of creating large-scale harmony brought about a change in terms: people who designed outdoor environments were no longer gardeners but landscapers, a term adopted from painting. Some thought the new art even exceeded its inspiration. “It is as superior to landscape painting, as reality is to a representation,” wrote Thomas Whately in his influential Observations on Modern Gardening in 1770. “The most beautiful, the most simple, the most noble scenes of nature are all within its province.”