The luxury garden as a grand spectacle of cultivated, manicured, and artistically designed nature has a rich, globe-spanning heritage. From the elegant scholar’s gardens of China to the pleasure gardens of Europe and the Middle East, those with the necessary means have long designed large-scale, intensely beautiful landscapes for relaxation, intellectual and artistic contemplation, and—in some cases—public enjoyment.
Defining a luxury garden in the introduction to Luxury Private Gardens (Haike Falkenberg, ed.), Andrew Pfeiffer calls it “a paradise garden that gratifies all the senses.”
Here are a few ideas for achieving that gratification of the senses in a modern UK “paradise garden.”
Approaching Garden Design
Pfeiffer also quotes the venerated British garden designer and landscaper Russell Page, who said: “About every great garden, there is an air of inevitability.”
One way of interpreting this statement is that a thoughtfully designed garden seems “just right” for the space—and a perfectly realized union of landscape and human artistry.
With a large space available, you benefit from the site’s natural geography: its topography, microclimates, and drainage. Few features are as powerful in a garden as multiple levels or tiers; a slope offers a natural threshold between sub-gardens of different character, not to mention its own special opportunities for landscaping. Some of the gardens displayed here showcase the striking effect of stone stairs negotiating hillsides or even just shallow embankments. If you have a large slope to play with, installing some sort of recessed haven halfway down—perhaps a small, stone-paved terrace—provides both a resting spot and another distinct realm for your landscape.
Whether you have a naturally existing stream or have the option of installing a channel, such a water feature can wonderfully tie together the various sectors of your luxury garden—creating a sense of continuum and momentum. The cooler, moister environment of such a drainage, meanwhile, can potentially support a different cast of plants; allowing a lusher, more tangled look to this “riparian” belt can add a lot of dynamism to a cultivated landscape. A streamside bench, meanwhile, provides the ideal perch for enjoying that primal lull of running water.
Speaking of water features, Chinese and Japanese gardens—which have their similarities but are, of course, quite distinct—both traditionally include inspiring examples that mimic the “just right”-ness of wild ponds, waterfalls, and meandering creeks. Take, for example, these images from the famed Japanese Garden in Portland, Oregon (considered one of the most authentic outside of Japan, and enjoying a maritime climate quite similar to Great Britain’s): A garden’s pools and streams become its most intimate and magical spots—the pools being a kind of culmination of the place’s devotion to beauty and serenity, the streams being the evocative, even mysterious conduits.
Many English and European gardens gain much of their aesthetic effect by framing and extending vistas through the use of both hardscaping and softscaping. Avenues hemmed by hedges or trees visually enlarge your property. An arbor or arch appeals to our innate sense of landscape composition, and becomes another of those anchoring points of your entire garden. Consider this example from Cornwall’s Lamorran House Gardens.
Journeys Through Space and Seasons
As fabulous and essential as a tiny backyard or patio garden are, these oases have the obvious limitation of space. With a larger luxury garden, you can treat yourself and your visitors to a real journey through multiple realms, multiple worlds. Think of the layout of a well-designed city with its distinct neighborhoods and districts, or the natural heterogeneity of a wild landscape: That kind of visual and geographic variety is a worthy ideal to pursue in your own crafted and composed space.
Consider, for instance, the famous Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall, where one can wander from formal Pleasure Grounds and tidy vegetable gardens down into the riotous, tropical-flavored Jungle (which benefits from the warm microclimate of a small valley) or through the deep woodlands and pastoral fields of the Wider Estate. Remember, you don’t need a woodlot or a bramble to bring a much-needed sense of wildness into your pleasure garden: An old tree (if you’re lucky enough to have one on site) will do the trick, or a bank of pampas grass, or a rock garden.
As with any landscaped setting, choosing wildflowers, shrubs, and trees that offer varied blooms and foliage helps you create a temporal journey for your property as well.
We’ll close with the most important guideline for your luxury garden: It should reflect your sensibilities first and foremost. As others have across cultures and across centuries, treat it as an expression of who you are as a person and how you see the world at its most precious and beautiful.