Elements of an English Knot Garden
English knot gardens find their roots in gardens of the Medieval era when they were first cultivated. Garden patterns were traditionally created using patterns found in rugs or tapestries. With hundreds of potential variations, the essence of an English knot garden lies in its beds designed in patterns reminiscent of knots. These elaborate ornamental gardens can be arranged on either a large or small scale. They require a great deal of maintenance in most cases, but they make for the most extraordinary gardens. Incorporating a knotted bed design into any landscape requires lots of design consideration and careful plant selection, but for gardeners who love a challenge, an English knot garden combines gardening expertise with a pleasing aesthetic.
TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson suggests, "Before you plant a knot garden create a pattern on a piece of paper so that you have a plan to follow."
If you live in a two-story home (or higher) an English knot garden provides all the visual appeal your garden will need. When seen from above, the garden forms an intricate arrangement that is maze-like. However, rather than a random maze or labyrinthine pattern, these designs resemble knotted geometric designs. Paths intersect beds, and raised mounds appear to tunnel in and around an area to form a typical knot design--as an example. Such formal gardens were termed open or closed knot gardens. Open gardens might allow for strolling, while tightly planted closed gardens did not.
To plant an English knot garden today,you could replicate a garden from Queen Elizabeth's Tudor era or take a few design liberties and invent something more unique. Tudor knot gardens are less formal and ornate than French Parterres and knots of the Renaissance, but are more accessible.
It may be an interesting feature to alternate low beds with raised beds and fill some beds with plants and other beds with decorative gravel or topiary, for instance. If your English knot garden has a middle focal point, you might install a statue--a stone lion on a raise of bricks, a small pond, or a fountain. For a simple design plan, consider a square with its four corners ornamented with circular beds, a middle circle, and a low-growing ornamental grass filling in the rest of the square.
Typically, the beds would not be edged by anything like stone or wood, but to make your garden easier to maintain, consider edging each bed with decorative stone or railroad ties. Otherwise, you may have to work much harder to attain that manicured look.
Box evergreen, rosemary, lavender and phlox are some traditional choices, but any plants might be tried. The use of herbs and common plants gives the English knot garden its requisite charm.
TIP: Susan recommends, "Use plants suited for your growing region for your knot garden."
For more design ideas, check out books about English woodcuts and architectural designs of the Tudor period.