Garden Design Basics: What is a Ha-Ha?


Still not having completely resolved the little naming issue for this feature….I am going to let three little dots fill the space on the screen and you can fill in the blank in your head with whatever you like.    So, what the….is a ha ha?

ha ha and cattle

According to Wikipedia,  A haha or ha-ha was a variety of sunken border used in formal European gardens and parks of the 18th and 19th centuries. They typically consisted of a garden wall set in a trench or dry moat, with the top of the wall at the garden’s ground level. This would prevent cattle or unexpected guests from entering the garden without disrupting the sightlines.”

“You will hurt yourself, Miss Bertram,” she cried, “you will certainly hurt yourself against those spikes – you will tear your gown – you will be in danger of slipping into the ha-ha.” – Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

According to a very insightful and in-depth description found here, (click through to read a lot more about the ha-ha’s history):  “The ha-ha, or sunken fence, was the principal means to join artfulness and wildness because it allowed the neater and more regular garden visually to blend with the larger countryside while at the same time allowing the countryside visually to seem more ordered by association with the garden. Hence the boundary formed by the ha-ha is actually more of a means of connection than a means of separation precisely because it is invisible to those standing inside the garden.”

ha-haTitsey Estate view over the Ha Ha from info Britain.

And why do we call it a ha-ha?  Actually the origin of the ‘ha – ha’ in the English language is thought to be from this garden feature…it is of french origin and is so named because of the ‘ah ha’, or ‘ha ha’ sound you might make when you surprising come across or fall into such a feature.

An effective ha-ha at Renishaw hall in Derbyshire (image by B-nik and found via Iberian Nature).

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rochelle greayer

Hi, I'm Rochelle and for 18 years I have worked as a landscape designer, author/writer, and design teacher. I've designed residential and hospitality (for hotels, restaurants, and spas) gardens across the USA and in the UK, Europe and the Middle East. After many years of teaching garden design topics in person, I launched the PITH + VIGOR Boot Camp series in early 2018. Through my blog, social media, and online courses (Garden Design Bootcamp and Planting Design Boot Camp) I aim to help homeowners learn how to confidently design and create home gardens that reflect their own personal and unique style.
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2 Comments

  1. Michelle D. on October 22, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    that last photo of the cows staring at the garden beyond is priceless ! ha ha !

  2. Dirt Gently on October 27, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    The word origin sounds dubious, if only because I would probably exclaim “Merde!” rather than “Ha Ha!” if I fell into one of these death traps.

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