Romantic Gardens – Then & Now

The romantic garden is basically a dream – a garden of bowers and gazebos, of scent and pastel colors, where plants grow with soft, arching habits and sweet-smelling flowers that never outgrow their allotted spaces. Birds flit from branch to branch, ferny foliage is reflected in still pools and nearby are the sound of waterfalls.

There is no reason why we cannot have a romantic garden in a modern setting. The most important things are colors and scent. The colors should be soft and gentle; pale pink, buff and white are romantic colors, and the flowers should be prolific. There are many new and old roses with pretty colors and delightful scents, which will flower for long periods and will not outgrow their spaces.

Gazebos, garden buildings, arbors and seats with rounded arches or Gothic, pointed ‘ogee’ shapes are all easy to come by. Scented flowers can be grown next to seats and walkways and scented climbers can surround shady arbors.

Shrub roses with good color and scent include ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ with rich pink blossom, ‘Constance Spry’ whose clear pink flowers continue over a long period, ‘Buff Beauty’ and ‘Felicia’. Climbers and ramblers include ‘New Dawn’, a light satiny pink rose that will grow over a north wall, and ‘Albertine’, a popular rose with very pretty dark red buds, warm pink flowers and fierce thorns.

The Victorian romantic garden

The modern idea of a romantic garden follows a Victorian tradition. The Victorians were not only interested in the new plants being imported from all over the world, but they found the idea of the strange countries the plants came from wonderfully romantic, too.

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The larger Victorian garden might include a garden devoted to roses of all kinds, including old scented roses; there were also rockeries, streams and ferneries. Then there was the so-called ‘cottage garden’, portrayed in idealized water colors by 19th century artists, showing cheerfully chaotic beds of rampant perennial and annual flowers, growing cheek by jowl in front of thatched cottages.

Today’s romantic garden

Modern gardeners are highly imaginative and creative when thinking up romantic gardens that can look natural and still be manageable. Traditionally, the orchard is an important part of the idea of a romantic garden, but the idea is symbolic, of course, and there is no need to have rows of fruit trees.

There are plenty of plants whose common names can give an indication of how romantic a garden was in the old days. Hearts-ease was the name for the purple and yellow viola. Black-eyed Susan, bachelor’s button, love-in-a-mist, forget-me-not, sweet Alison, sweet Cicely and blue-eyed Mary are all names used for cottage garden flowers, many of which are still enchanting planted in natural or romantic gardens today.

Today’s romantic gardens are liable to be more deliberately designed, with fewer varieties of plants and an easy maintenance bias, but scent and color, and a sense of timelessness are the essence of this garden style and these things are as attainable today as they ever have been.

The romantic garden is based on curves. A lawn has stepping stones for a path. Its pond is designed to attract wildlife. The pergola is covered with attractive vines, and from the seat you can see the only slightly formal element: a summer house as a focal point at the far end.

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