English vs. French vs. Japanese: An International Garden Primer


Lush English gardens are a popular style for backyards.“Lush English gardens are a popular style for backyards.iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Looking for a little gardening inspiration? This year, take your cues from some of the most famous types of gardens in the world: unfussy English cottage gardens; the famously beautiful gardens of Versailles; or the peaceful, Zen-inspired gardens of Japan. Whether you prefer roses or rocks, bright flowers or lush evergreens, striking water features or hidden pathways, there’s a style that will work for your home.


  1. English
  2. French
  3. Japanese


If your garden style is more relaxed and natural as opposed to formal and geometric, then the English cottage garden may be right for you. These gardens, developed as a counterpoint to the “strict lines and artificiality” of gardens in the early 1700s, are often filled with climbing plants and ivy, designed to be as unsymmetrical as possible, and finished with arbors and benches. The key is to give yourself permission to let it all look and feel a little overgrown, without crowding the plants or leaving them untended.


Daydreaming of a Versailles-inspired garden that recalls pre-Revolutionary France? Incorporate planting beds laid out in precise geometric shapes, bisected and cut off by crisp walkways, and add small water features and fountains that mimic the jaw-dropping ones designed for King Louis XIV. Add vegetables common in French cooking – including celeriac, asparagus, and leeks – and add pops of color with lavender, roses, and climbing vines.


Japanese gardens don’t just emphasize the beauty of nature: They’re also designed to bring together the principles of Zen Buddhist philosophies. The gardens around Japanese homes are frequently surrounded by hedges or fences, and show off brilliant blooms from irises and lilies while highlighting evergreen plants year-round. Another key focus in a Japanese garden is running water: Whether you add a fountain, pond, or water basin, be sure to use natural materials and have water flow from east to west with the sun. And don’t forget to add rocks and stones to your design; these are often more important than the plants themselves.

Lots More Information


  • “How to Design an English Garden.” How Stuff Works. (June 14, 2013) https://home.howstuffworks.com/lawn-garden/professional-landscaping/basics/how-to-design-english-garden.htm
  • “English Country Garden Ideas.” TLC. (June 14, 2013) https://tlc.howstuffworks.com/home/english-country-garden-ideas.htm
  • “Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution.” PBS. (June 20, 2013) http://www.pbs.org/marieantoinette/life/gardens.html
  • “Ooh-La-La! 8 Vegetables to Plant for a Truly French Garden.” Organic Authority. (June 14, 2013)
  • “How Japanese Traditions Work.” How Stuff Works. (June 14, 2013) https://people.howstuffworks.com/culture-traditions/national-traditions/japanese-tradition8.htm
  • “The Japanese Garden.” Bowdoin College. (June 14, 2013) http://learn.bowdoin.edu/japanesegardens/

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