There is no doubt that the Australian garden style, especially prior to the 1930s, was heavily influenced by the English classic garden design. These gardens were in turn influenced by French, Italian and Spanish gardens and ideas brought back to England from the Grand Tour. Italianate classic garden design can be seen in the lines of symmetry in these English gardens. Although plant selection will be different in the sub tropical Gold Coast, there are still lessons we can learn about colour, texture, design and hard landscaping. For this blog we will look at the classic English garden of Sissinghurst in Kent to see if we can learn from its landscaping solutions.
Widely regarded as one of England’s most iconic gardens, Sissinghust garden was created in 1930 by Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson. As a reflection of the two different styles of its designers, the garden combines Harold’s classical elegance with Vita’s romantic profuse plantings.
Views from the 16th century tower reveal the layout of the garden and show how it has been divided up and planned. Garden pathways are lined by manicured yew hedges or pleached lime trees with focal points provided at every possible vista. Parts of the garden are planted as wildflower meadows providing food and habitat for local wildlife as well as nectar and pollen for bees and other insects.
Lawns and classic garden design.
The top lawns is neatly close cut mown with a diagonal pattern which hides the face that the area is not rectangular. Originally the lawns at Sissinghurst were just English meadow grasses. Dwarf ryegrass was added to the sward to make it more resistant and tolerant of close mowing. A seed mix known as Olympic sports ground is used. Every Autumn the lawn is scarified and aerated and lightly resown with fescue, bent and dwarf ryegrass. For your Gold Coast lawns take a look at seeds species suitable for south east Queensland like Green couch or Bermuda grass Cynodon dactylon or Queensland blue couch Digitaria didactyla for oversewing. The Sissinghurst lawns are fertilised annually in February with a slow release fertiliser followed by a later application of a seaweed based tonic much later in the year. The lawns are mown once per week at just over 20mm. To keep the diagonal pattern crisp, each stripe is always mown in the same direction. With 10 hours per week just for mowing, the gardens must have an huge maintenance budget.
Formal and Informal plantings
The National Trust aims to arrest the decline in wildflower meadows in the UK by adding informal plantings where possible. Sissinghurst is a great example of this. Wildflower meadows provide food and habitat for local wildlife as well as nectar and pollen for bees and other insects.
The English classic garden design often makes use of pleached tree pruning. Pleaching is a great way to create a compact hedge or screen by training trees on to a supporting framework or to each other. To achieve this the flexible young shoots are tied together to create the desired shape. This can be seen in the pictures below taken in the early spring before the spring growth. You can create your own classic garden design by using this technique to make arches, tunnels, walks and privacy screens. The pleached hedge can also be grown in a circle or a rectangle. In the English classic garden design, ash, beech, hornbeam, wisteria or lime trees like these are often used. For your Gold Coast classic garden design, also take a look at Acmena smithii Lilly Pilly.
Yew and box hedges
Planted in 1932, the Yew walk was considered a radical modernist design statement.
A great deal of effort goes into maintaining the hedges. Annually around 1200 man hours are spent trimming the hedges at Sissinghurst. To cut the Yew Hedges so straight, poles, strings plumb bobs and trestles are used. Yews can be very difficult to prune and the hedges around the rose garden alone can take 2 weeks with two gardeners working full time. For your Gold Coast garden, take a look at the orange jessamine (murraya paniculata) also known as mock orange, chalcas, or satinwood. If you are looking for small hedge plants for your Gold Coast Garden, consider using a dwarf syzygium or the Coastal or Native Rosemary (Westringia fruticosa) for your hedges. In cooler climates take a look at a Pittosporum like James Stirling (Pittosporum tenuifolium). Using light coloured paving or fine gravels along with fine leaf plants in your garden will help to create the illusion of extra space.
The Herb Garden
A traditional divided herb garden is situated in one corner of the garden. The narrow dividing garden pathways enables the herbs to harvested without being damaged by clumsy feet.