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Medieval to 16th century | 17th - 19th century | Garden Restoration | The Nonsuch Restoration Project

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Picking a Style for your Garden


If your house is old enough to have had several generations through it, and has survived several clear periods in style, then you need to decide if you want to restore the garden (and possibly even the house) to one predominant style. For instance, if your house dates from 1800 - do you restore the garden to a Georgian style, or a Victorian, or an Edwardian, or even a style from the twentieth century? If your house is even older, then you may need to think about whether you go for a Tudor style garden, or even a medieval.

The easiest way to choose is to decide what house style predominates (for example, a house may date from Tudor times, but, having been rebuilt or expanded in the 1800s, it may have a very Victorian gothic style to it) and fit the garden to that. It would be foolish perhaps to try and build a medieval garden about a clearly Victorian styled house even if the house has a medieval hall at its heart.

On the other hand ... there is a great deal to be said for the argument that, as a house often clearly shows the differing generations and styles which have lived in and altered it, then the garden should reflect those styles as well. After all, both house and gardens are organic, and neither stay precisely as they were originally build, decorated and planted. They always evolve. You may decide to have a garden that reflects different periods, but be careful if you do this as it is difficult to do well - you may just end up with an overall hodgepodge that looks a little like a tacky theme park. Many very old houses have separate gardens ranging from the medieval to the Victorian, but they generally are kept separate, and they are often clearly associated with differing parts of the house. The gardens at Hampton Court Palace are a good example - there are the cloister-style gardens that run off the Tudor parts of the palace, and there are the formal landscaped gardens that run off the additions from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Most people, who have a somewhat smaller house than Hampton Court, have a house with one clearly predominate style, and thus their choice will usually be easy.

We'll take the easy route ourselves and assume you wish to restore a garden to one particular style.

Where do you start?

If you are new to the house, we always suggest you take at least a year to watch the garden. See how the sun travels over the garden, which are the dry patches, which are the boggy patches and which the sun-blasted arid patches, what floods and what doesn't, and so on and so forth. Remember that you are planning a garden, and there's no point 'recreating' a medieval rose arbour on a patch that regularly floods with water every winter and remains in the shade all through the summer. Taking a year to 'watch' the garden also means you won't miss those spectacular lilies that spring out of nowhere in late summer, whereas if you'd gone in bobcat blazing within a month of moving in you would have destroyed them completely. Watching the garden not only establishes its different climatic aspects so that you will know what you can plant, and where, but also allows you to see seasonal plants that you might wish to keep. It will also give you an idea of the 'walks' through the garden - where you wish to go and how you wish to get there so you can lay in hard paths later - and the sitting areas of the garden, where you can later put benches or tables or swings for socialising or for reflection. You need to know how you wish to enjoy the garden as well as how you intend to recreate it.

Also spend this year visiting open gardens of the style you wish to recreate. Very particularly visit open gardens in your area so that you have a good idea of what suits houses similar in style to yours, and what grows well in the soil of your region and, vitally, what appeals to you. Read as much as you can. Indulge in books and DVD's and websites. Get as much information as you can so that you expose yourself to as many ideas as possible.

Decide where you want to put the working areas of the garden - the potting sheds, the compost heaps, the storage sheds, perhaps even cold frames or a hot house (and if you're planning any kind of garden at all, you will need working areas).

Visit garage sales - you may be able to pick up old tools and pots and garden paraphernalia that will give your garden that added touch of ... not authenticity, but 'colour' and 'feel'. They will aid you 'evocate'.

You also need to decide if you want to have the full experience of whatever period garden you're going to attempt to establish, or just a pleasure garden. That is, if you're recreating a Victorian garden, are you going to have the hot houses, the cold frames, the kitchen garden and the fruit gardens, to name just a few elements? Very few people, save those with the large estates and several acres of ground, can have the entire experience (or have the labour to service it!), but many gardeners at the least wish to put in a kitchen garden, and, depending on your climatic region, if you're going to have a kitchen or vegetable garden, then you will also need areas for the raising of seedlings under, or in, some kind of protection. Always remember that, for the most part, the house owner is going to be the one to service the garden, so don't put in more than you can reasonably cope with yourself.

Above all decide what you want in your garden, how far you wish to go in recreating your period garden, how you wish to use it, and how much time and money you have to put into it. All of these considerations will affect to some degree the style of your garden.


Please also visit Old London Maps on the web as many of the maps
and views available there have plans and depictions of gardens from
the medieval period through to the late nineteenth century.

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