How to Design a Formal Garden


Here is a strictly formal layout for a large, almost rectangular garden. Formality and symmetry usually go hand in hand, so it has been important to establish a central axis around which borders and features can be formally arranged. I have taken this axis as being central to the French doors travelling out at right angles to the rear boundary. Unfortunately (or per­haps fortunately) a key viewing position in the house is seldom central to the whole plot. In this example, there is certainly a good deal more garden to the left of this axis than there is to the right. The right-hand boundary is also at an odd angle.

Initially, I had to ignore these two factors and just press on with a formal scheme based on the main axis. Next to the house, the patio settles into a symmet­rical layout by the time it reaches a curved step down onto the garden. Too many conflicting influences close to the house make it impossible to create a perfectly symmetrical patio. Two narrow raised beds along the edge of the patio help to reinforce the formal style, although they are not, strictly, speaking symmetrical. These beds, while in proportion to every­thing around them, should be at least 400 mm (16 in) wide.

Formal Garden

The step down is flush with the lawn all along its length and extends into a path running out to a circular pool and foun­tain. Either side of this path is a lavender hedge, once again to emphasize the formality. Although I have ended the path at the pond, it could be continued right up to the seat at the far end. I decided against this for fear of creating too many narrow strips. The seat would, of course, enjoy a similarly symmetrical vista and, from that end of the garden, two beds extend out towards the house. As they approach the pond they develop a curved edge in sympathy with the pond. These beds offer the best opportunity for herbaceous flowers or bush roses but, to be strictly formal, they should be planned and planted as a mirror image of each other.

To help maintain the formal spirit during the winter, I have put an ever­green shrub in the centre of each bed. A tall, narrow conifer might be even more effective. Shrubs would be used against the fence behind the seat but more herbaceous flowers or roses either side of the seat would accentuate that end of the garden as a focal point, providing colour and scent for anyone sitting there. The left- and right-hand boundaries are mature beech hedges, so I have left a narrow access path along both for ease of maintenance. I have made the front edge of the right-hand shrub border exactly parallel to the formal beds, which means that this border ends up triangular in shape.

Clever planting can largely mask this and help maintain the formal effect. On the left-hand side of the house the garden is entered by passing under a substantial pergola. The paving underneath here opens out into what is likely to be used as a utility area, before narrowing again and moving out towards a small kitchen garden. Beyond the kitchen garden lies a grassed area with some fruit trees. This whole production area has been screened from the rest of the garden with a formal hedge, but of course there must be good access between the two.

Both the top left- and top right-hand corners can be used for garden rubbish or compost. In a large garden it is often much more useful to have numerous small collecting points than one large one, especially when it comes to emptying a mower’s grass box.

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About the Author: Greenery always attracts Arthur Kunkle. He has a big garden where he plants many fruits and vegetables. His passion for gardening motivates him to write and share different tips on gardening.

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