Elegance Expressed: Designing a Formal Garden

If you like classical architecture and symmetrical, geometric design, a formal garden may be for you. Here, we introduce you to key features of formal gardens to consider integrating into your design.

Formal Geometric Garden

Formal Geometric Garden

Photo by: DK - Garden Design © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Garden Design, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

The garden hedges have been shaped and manicured into perfect geometrical balance and symmetry across the landscape.

From: DK Books - Garden Design

Originally designed as expressions of man's dominance over nature, the features and natural elements in formal gardens are found in their geometry and structure. This idea is rooted in classical architecture and design; many of the best examples of this type of garden can be seen in France and Italy.

A successful formal garden has a balanced design, achieved through symmetry and a clearly recognizable ground plan or pattern. Organized around a central axis or pathway, formal plans often focus on a key view through the garden from the house. In larger gardens there may be space for several routes that cross the central path, and sometimes radiate out into the wider landscape. Sculpture, water or decorative paving may be used to punctuate the areas where these routes intersect.

The geometry of the formal garden is clear and easily identifiable, but must be scaled and balanced appropriately. Although this type of garden typically relies on right angles, other regular symmetrical shape - circles, ovals, ellipses and equilateral triangles - can be used. The materials palette tends to be kept to a minimum, with gravel and regular paving stones most frequently seen. However, decorative elements, such as cobblestone mosaics or brick designs, are also popular. Water is employed either as a reflective surface or in jets and fountains.

Hedges of varying heights are key planting features: waist-high hedging help to define space or views, while dwarf hedging can be used to edge lawns or borders, create tidy beds or form knot gardens. Trees may be "pleached," or trained and trimmed to form high hedging, to help to add height. Where space allows, avenues of trees can line paths to accentuate vistas and draw the eye to a focal point in the distance.

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