Water-Wise Traditional Garden Styles

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
River with bridge surrounded by a field and trees
Stourhead is an excellent example of the English landscape garden tradition. Photo credit: MarilynJane Flickr CC BY 2.0

 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
Cottage with trees and a garden
Example of an informal English cottage-style garden. Photo credit: Karen Roe Flickr CC BY 2.0

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
Formal garden with shrubs trees and a fountain
Garden in Florida influenced by the Italian Renaissance villa style. Photo source: Kansas Sebastian Flickr CC BY-ND-ND 2.0
Versailles formal garden with shrubs fountains and a palace in the background
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 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
Courtyard garden with potted plants and a fountain
Spanish influenced courtyard at Froh Heim mansion in New Jersey. Photo credit: Jennifer Rafieyan Flickr CC BY 2.0

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.

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


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
Garden with shrubs and purple flowers
Example of a water-wise traditional garden that uses a mix of beautiful trees, shrubs, and perennials and still uses a below average amount of water. Photo credit: Melanie Robinson at Conservation Garden Park

Additional Resources:


California – Water-wise Lawn Alternatives


Texas – Designing the Country Cottage Garden

Similar Articles:

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