June 13, 2012
Since I have self-assigned this as “Brit week” here on the blog, it’s only fitting to designate a little day to the amazing gardens of the land. Those across the pond have always been proponents of garden living— think of all the novels and movies that include garden walks, teatime, painting and simply reading in garden spaces. Honestly, with the “June Gloom” fog layer in Santa Barbara these days I feel like I’m waiting for Collin Firth to find me in the temple garden and declare his love.
There are so many elements that comprise such a space that it’s hard to nail down a single definition of an English garden. I like to think of it as more Formal vs. Country: there’s the English formal garden with box hedge-defined symmetrical areas, knotted hedges and defined pathways, and then there’s the rambling English country garden, showcasing drifts of flowers of varying heights and a wild lushness that seems like it was all planted by woodlawn fairies centuries ago.
An English garden guru that I always turn to for inspiration is Rosemary Verey. Prince Charles once said, “Mrs. Verey makes gardening seem the easiest and most natural thing in the world.” That’s a hell of a great quote, considering the heir to the throne is an avid gardener himself. Mrs. Verey and her husband purchased Barnsley House in 1952 and they put their hearts and souls into growing and caring for the property’s garden. After she died in 2001 her son turned it into a beautiful boutique hotel. A stay at Barnsley House is on my travel wish list, but until that trip happens, I have a wide assortment of her books to glean information from—she wrote fifteen!
Over the years I’ve taken inspiration from Rosemary’s English aesthetic and incorporated elements of her gardens into my own, giving them a touch of Brit, but distinctively Californian. “Keep your garden simple. Simplicity is usually best,” she once advised a sold-out audience of advanced gardeners in LA.
Rosemary was known for knot hedging, and though I don’t quite have the patience to create such intricate hedging myself, I have used elements of perennial hedging, which makes great borders in any garden. We too use our garden spaces for day-to-day living — from picnics to playing, special dinners to pizza nights. My most favorite activity in the garden though is laying on a blanket with my girls watching the clouds roll by…I’m afraid that will just have to wait until this fog lifts!