English classic garden design

There is no doubt that the Australian garden style, especially prior to the 1930s, was heavily influenced by the design of English gardens. These gardens were in turn influenced by French, Italian and Spanish gardens and ideas brought back to England from the Grand Tour. Although plant selection will be different in the sub tropical Gold Coast, there are still lessons we can learn about colour, texture and hard landscaping. For this blog we will look at the classic English garden of Sissinghurst in Kent.

The garden design style

Widely regarded as one of England’s most iconic gardens, Sissinghurst garden was created in 1930 by Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson. As a reflecting of the two different styles of its designers, the garden combines Harold’s classical elegance with Vita’s romantic profuse plantings.

Tower views Sissinghurst classic English Garden - Reds Landscaping and Design
Tower views Sissinghurst classic English Garden.

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, 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.


Sissinghurst's tower - Reds Landscaping and Design
One of the most famous gardens in England belongs to the National Trust and is called Sissinghurst Castle Garden. Over the years, the Castle itself has undergone numerous changes. A new structure was erected next to the remains of a large defensive stone castle that once stood (to the east of the current location).

Lawns and classic English garden design.

The top lawns are neatly close cut mown with a diagonal pattern, which hides the fact that the area is not rectangular. Originally, the lawns at Sissinghurst were just English meadow grass. 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, aerated, and lightly resown with fescue, bent, and dwarf ryegrass.


Sissinghurst Lawns - Classic English Garden Design - Reds Landscaping and Design
One of England’s most renowned gardens, Sissinghurst Castle Garden, is listed as a Grade I Historic England Historic Parks and Gardens and is located in the English town of Sissinghurst in the Weald of Kent. Here you see the well kept Sissinghurst Lawns.


For your Melbourne lawns, take a look at seed species suitable for the hot, dry climate in Melbourne. Species like Santa Ana couch will look great over the summer, but will go dormant over the late winter. 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 mowed 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 a huge maintenance budget.


Classic English circular Yew hedge - Reds Landscaping and Design
Classic English Circular Yew hedge.


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.


Wildflower Meadow - Reds Landscaping and Design
Wildflower meadows like these are great for attracting insects and birds to a garden.


Wildflowers - Reds Landscaping and Design
A bee enjoys the wildflowers at Sissinghurst.


Pleached pruning

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.

Lime Walk and Paving with pleached pruning in early Spring - Classic English Garden Design - Reds Landscaping and Design
Lime Walk and Paving with pleached pruning in early Spring.


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 Melbourne classic garden design, also take a look at Acmena smithii, Lilly Pilly.


Mass planting of flowers behind pleached trees - Reds Landscaping and Design
Classic English Garden Design. Mass planting of flowers behind pleached trees.



Yew and box hedges

Planted in 1932, the Yew Walk was considered a radical modernist design statement.

Yews and box hedges - Classic English Garden Design - Reds Landscaping and Design
Yews and box hedges.


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.

Melbourne Hedges

For your Melbourne 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 Melbourne garden, consider using a dwarf syzygium or the Coastal or Native Rosemary (Westringia fruticosa) for your hedges. Take a look at a Pittosporum like James Stirling (Pittosporum tenuifolium) or Silver Sheen if you are looking for screening plants for garden privacy. Using light coloured paving or fine gravel along with fine-leaved plants in your garden will help to create the illusion of extra space.


Yew Hedge focal point - Reds Landscaping and Design
Yew Hedge focal point. Classic English Garden Design.


Yew Hedge garden Focal Point - Reds Landscaping and Design
Yew Hedge garden Focal Point with pleached trees in the background.


Hedges and a beautiful lawn - Reds Landscaping and Design
Classic English Garden Design. Hedges and a beautiful lawn.


The English Herb Garden

A traditional divided herb garden is situated in one corner of the garden. The narrow dividing garden pathways enable the herbs to be harvested without being damaged by clumsy feet.


Succulents in a planter pot by a herb garden - Reds Landscaping and Design
Succulents in a planter pot by a herb garden. Terracotta tiles placed edgeways.


Climbing Plants

On the red brick walls of the building and garden walls, there were several different species of climbing plants growing. One of these was the Japanese Quince (Chenomeles x superba knap hill scarlet). Chaenomeles are deciduous, spiny shrubs with beautiful clusters of 5-petaled flowers. They flower early in spring. The plant sets fragrant green or yellow fruit depending on the variety.


chaenomeles x superba knap hill scarlet - Reds Landscaping and Design
Chaenomeles x Superba knap hill scarlet.


Japanese Quince - Reds Landscaping and Design
Japanese Quince looks great against this red brick wall.


Japanese Quince flower - Reds Landscaping and Design
Japanese Quince flower in early spring with the leaves just starting to emerge from the buds.

The tangled figs over the gothic arch on the garden wall make a bold statement even in winter. A tangle of climbing plants was one of the garden design styles employed by Vita.


tangled figs over the gothic arch on the garden wall - Reds Landscaping and Design
Tangled figs over the gothic arch on the garden wall. Classic English Garden Design.



The famous Sissinghurst Moat - Reds Landscaping and Design
The famous Sissinghurst Moat.

English Classic Garden Design Plants in Pots

Plants in pots are a design feature throughout the gardens. Here, some basins have been reused to plant bulbs.


Garden Pots and climbing plants on a red brick wall - Reds Landscaping and Design
Garden Pots and climbing plants on a red brick wall. Good use of colour with the yellow and blues in the planter pots. Classic English Garden Design.

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