Sunday, March 13, 2011

Knot gardens...

Knot gardens were popularised in English gardens in the mid-15th century, when the stability of the nation was reflected in the increasing confidence of domestic architecture. People had the time, money and security to make their gardens a haven for relaxation. Knot gardens, mazes and labyrinths were all common, and provided intellectual puzzles to amuse the viewer.

The hedges themselves were made up of a variety of plants, usually two or more, and originally were planted with woody herbs. In the 17th century the versatile box hedge became the most common border plant. Some knot gardens had the spaces between the hedges filled with colourful and fragrant plants, others with coloured gravel or stones.

Knots had both a practical and symbolic purpose in Tudor England - they were used for everything from fashion to farming. Decorative designs incorporating knot patterns could be found on textiles, woodwork and in the garden. Knots represented the tying together of disparate elements, unity and strength. Many of the designs for knot gardens have this symbolic element.

As the fashion for formal gardens faded with the Landscape movement of the 18th century, knot gardens also fell out of favour. It was up to the Victorians to revive them, and they loved to fill the compartments with banks of colourful bedding plants.

In our potager we are creating 2 knot gardens. Both are 5m x5m squares, with a centre circle surrounded by four quadrants as below. In the centre of one, the culinary knot garden, is a large weeping rose (below) which we have transplanted from our current address; in the centre of the other, the medicinal knot garden, is the dovecot (minus the doves).

Although not as complex as the examples above, I think that the design for our knot garden is right for our purposes (it needs to have enough room to plant herbs between the borders) ...

After colouring and photoshopping...

Most people are familiar with Buxus Sempervirens, a very popular and versatile plant for small hedges...

But less common is the lovely silver hedging plant, Teucrium fruiticans...

Teucrium fruticans aka silver germander is a great hedging plant. It is prolifically growing, likes to be severely trimmed regularly, forms good dense hedging and provides a great silver alternative to buxus hedging. Thus, a perfect plant to use for a two-tone knot design, and also a great hedge for us to further define the borders of the Bluebell walk, especially given it also has delicate purple flowers.

We shall have both Buxus and Teucrium interwoven...


  1. Wonderful look at knots! One thing however, it isn't Teucrium fruiticans you want it's Teucrium chamaedrys. The former is a very large subshrub which isn't really happy until the height of at least a meter. Not only that, it's rangy and hard to control. When it's pruned into a small shape it looks leggy and unattractive. The second plant above is called wall germander and this is the plant used in knot gardens as it takes a low form well, much like dwarf box varieties.

  2. Very handsome post, indeed! In the snowy Hudson Valley, it is touch and go from year to year with our boxwood, which requires a lot of tending during the winter (we have ours staked and wrapped in burlap). And even then one is nervous come spring to see what has survived, or not. It must be lovely to live in a more forgiving climate. Reggie

  3. Thank you for that information Paul - Just in the nick of time, as I can still change our order! I think I shall also plant some Lamb's ear (Stachys byzantina) along the silver walk.

  4. What really works best in a knot garden as silver plants go is cotton lavender (Santolina Chamaecyparissus). It requires more frequent pruning than box but it does take a shape (which can not be said for Stachys. Good luck!

  5. Fascinating as we are about to embark on our own vegetable plot... although not nearly as elaborate as some of those wonderful photos. Georgie


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