Water-Wise Traditional Garden Styles


Stourhead is an excellent example of the English landscape garden tradition. Photo credit: MarilynJane Flickr CC BY 2.0


Example of an informal English cottage-style garden. Photo credit: Karen Roe Flickr CC BY 2.0


Garden in Florida influenced by the Italian Renaissance villa style. Photo source: Kansas Sebastian Flickr CC BY-ND-ND 2.0


Versailles Palace garden and park designed by Andre le Notre and others for King Louis XIV is the most famous of all French gardens. Photo credit: Renata Barros Flickr CC BY 2.0


Spanish influenced courtyard at Froh Heim mansion in New Jersey. Photo credit: Jennifer Rafieyan Flickr CC BY 2.0


Mid 20th Century house with lawn and clipped shrubs.
Photo credit: Joe Wolf Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

Many landscapes throughout the United States have been adapted from English, Spanish, French and Italian garden styles. American landscapes continue to evolve toward a more sustainable water-wise tradition but there is still a long way to go.   

Many contemporary styles of gardens and lawns are derived from English landscape gardens and cottage gardens.

English Landscape Gardens

  • Large areas of turf
  • Masses of annual flowers
  • Highly maintained
  • Designed to look ‘natural’
  • Found mainly on large estates

 English Cottage Gardens

  • Lots of flowering plants
  • Edibles and medicinal plants such as herbs
  • Some fruit trees
  • Informal design
  • Contemporary cottage gardens include natives and ornamental grasses
  • Originally a functional garden for the working class

French and Italian Gardens

  • Traditional formal symmetrical style for the very wealthy
  • Water and statuary are common
  • Clipped geometric shaped planting beds predominate
  • Highly manicured

Spanish Gardens

Spanish garden styles were brought to Mexico and South American and then to California, New Mexico and Arizona. These styles are particularly suited to arid climates. 

  • Courtyards
  • Geometric layout
  • Limited use of water but very important as a focal element

Mid 20th Century Gardens and Yards

A common garden style is the mid 20th Century garden and yard that still predominates in many subdivisions nationwide. Large areas of lawn and planting beds with evergreen shrubs and annual flower beds are a common theme.

Water Wise Traditional Garden Styles

A water wise traditional garden can simply substitute water wise plants in any of the traditional garden styles mentioned above  

  • Remove some of the lawn
  • Replace lawn or areas of lawn with water conserving turf species
  • Reduce irrigation to the traditional Kentucky bluegrass lawn
  • Link the garden style to the house type
  • Take an inventory of plants on the property to determine their water needs
  • Substitute low water use plants for traditional landscape plants

Additional Resources:


California – Water-wise Lawn Alternatives


Florida – The History of Landscape Design


Texas – Designing the Country Cottage Garden

Similar Articles:

Tips for Creating a Traditional Water-wise Landscape

What Does a Water-wise Landscape Look Like?

Traditional Contemporary Versus Water-wise Landscapes