October 6


Formal garden design ideas for gardens of any size: 8 inspiring concepts

Formal garden design – 8 ideas for gardens of all sizes

Formal garden design can extend across gardens of all sizes, from small courtyards to grand estates. Whether you have a compact urban space or a sprawling countryside plot, incorporating formal design elements into your gardening can add a touch of elegance and sophistication to your outdoor space.

One essential aspect of formal garden design is the use of symmetrical layouts and geometric shapes. Creating a well-defined structure using hedges, topiary, and carefully chosen shrubs can give your garden a classic and timeless feel. By using evergreen and slow-growing plants, you can maintain the desired formality and shape throughout the year.

For smaller gardens, it is often possible to create a sense of cohesion by extending the formal design elements from your home’s architecture into the garden. By using materials and colors that harmonize with your house, you can seamlessly blend indoor and outdoor spaces, creating a feeling of unity and balance.

Another idea for formal garden design is to incorporate varied textures and colors. By choosing a mix of plants with different leaf shapes and bloom times, you can add interest and depth to your garden. For example, consider planting Prunus lusitanica alongside flowering perennials for a beautiful contrast of evergreen foliage and summer blooms.

When submitting to a more contemporary or period style, restraint is key. The use of strong shapes and repetition works well in creating an elegant and cohesive overall design. Consider using hard landscaping elements such as paved paths or gravel beds to frame and guide the garden, providing structure and definition.

Wildlife can also be incorporated into formal gardens. By choosing plants that attract birds, bees, and butterflies, you can create a wildlife-friendly space while maintaining the desired formality. Scott Houses, a landscape design team, suggests that a balance between wildlife-friendly plants and formal design elements can be achieved by incorporating bird feeders and insect houses discreetly into the garden.

Overall, formal garden design offers a wide range of possibilities, from small courtyards to grand estates. By choosing a layout and using geometric designs, hedges, and topiary, you can create an elegant and symmetrical space. Whether you prefer a classic or contemporary style, incorporating formal elements into your gardening can add a sense of structure and sophistication to your outdoor space.

“Formal garden design – 8 ideas for gardens of all sizes”

By choosing the right plants and materials, you can create a garden that not only suits your architectural style but also enhances the overall look and feel of your home. So, if you are looking to add some formality to your garden, consider these ideas for creating an elegant and symmetrical space that will stand the test of time.

Formal garden design – elements to include

A formal garden design seamlessly blends classic English elements with contemporary landscaping to create a timeless and elegant outdoor space. Whether you have a large estate or a small patio area, there are key elements that can be incorporated to achieve a formal garden design.

1. Structure

1. Structure

Creating a formal garden starts with a well-defined layout. James Scott, a renowned garden designer, advises that the layout should be geometric and symmetrical, with clean lines and defined edges. This sense of structure provides a sense of order and balance.

2. Hedges and topiary

Hedges are an essential element in formal garden design, as they help to frame the space and create boundaries. Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) is a popular choice for hedges due to its ability to be clipped into geometric shapes. Topiary, which involves shaping shrubs and trees into artful forms, adds a sense of whimsy and personality to the garden.

3. Patio area

3. Patio area

A patio area is often incorporated into a formal garden design to provide a space for outdoor dining and entertaining. Using materials that match the architecture of your home, such as stone or brick, will help to create a cohesive and harmonious design.

4. Clipped trees and shrubs

In addition to hedges and topiary, a formal garden may also include clipped trees and shrubs. Prunus lusitanica, also known as Portuguese laurel, is a popular choice for clipped trees due to its dense foliage and ability to be shaped into formal forms. Clipped shrubs, such as boxwood or yew, can be placed strategically throughout the garden to add depth and interest.

5. Varied colors and textures

While a formal garden design often leans towards a restrained color palette, it’s important to incorporate varied colors and textures to add visual interest. This can be achieved through carefully selecting flowering plants and incorporating other elements, such as stone or gravel, to add texture to the space.

6. Water features

A water feature, such as a formal fountain or pool, can add a sense of tranquility and elegance to a formal garden. The sound of flowing water can create a peaceful ambiance, and the reflective qualities of water can enhance the overall aesthetic.

7. Sculptures and ornaments

Sculptures or ornaments can be strategically placed throughout the garden to add focal points and create a sense of interest. These can range from classical statues to contemporary art installations, depending on the overall style and theme of the garden.

8. Year-round appeal

A formal garden design should be able to withstand the test of time and maintain its beauty throughout the year. Incorporating evergreen plants, such as boxwood or yew, will ensure that the garden remains visually appealing even in the winter months.

In conclusion, a formal garden design combines classic elements with contemporary landscaping to create a timeless and elegant outdoor space. By incorporating structure, hedges, topiary, a patio area, clipped trees and shrubs, varied colors and textures, water features, sculptures and ornaments, and creating year-round appeal, you can create a beautiful and cohesive formal garden.

1 Incorporate symmetry

In formal garden design, incorporating symmetry is a classic technique that creates a sense of balance and order. Symmetry can be achieved in various ways, whether it’s through the layout of the patio, the shapes of hedges and paths, or the placement of plants and decorative elements.

James Wyer, a garden designer known for his simplicity and geometric approach, believes that symmetry is always a good idea when it comes to formal gardens. It may be hard work to create a perfectly symmetrical layout, but the end result is often worth it.

For homes with a wider front yard, incorporating symmetry can help create a grand and elegant look. By landscaping along the architectural lines of the home, such as the entrance or the shape of the windows, a symmetrical design seamlessly complements the overall scheme.

Clipped hedges are one of the key elements in creating a symmetrical garden. They provide an elegant and formal look, similar to the clipped hedges often found in the interior of classic homes. Nick Wilson, a gardening expert, advises choosing plants such as Prunus that can be easily pruned into desired shapes for a more structured and clipped appearance.

When it comes to a more contemporary take on formal garden design, symmetry can still be incorporated, but with a touch of restraint. The latest trend is to soften the look with the presence of more relaxed and flowing plant schemes. This creates a harmonious balance between the formal and the softer elements, allowing for a varied and interesting design.

Whether you are an expert gardener or just getting started, incorporating symmetry into your formal garden design is a timeless technique that can create a sophisticated and balanced look.

2 Frame with topiary and evergreens

For those who prefer a more traditional and formal feel in their garden, a frame with topiary and evergreens can be the perfect choice. By using hedges trimmed into geometric shapes and repetitive patterns, this design creates a sense of order and symmetry. Not only does it add a touch of formality, but it also provides a structural presence throughout the year.

To achieve this look, it is important to choose evergreen plants that can be easily shaped and maintained. Hornbeam, yew, and boxwood are popular choices for creating topiary shapes. These plants can be pruned and trained into various forms, such as balls, cones, or spirals. The use of evergreens ensures that the garden remains green and vibrant, even during the winter months.

In terms of layout, a symmetrical design is often preferred, with paths and planting beds arranged in a balanced and orderly manner. The topiary shapes can be placed strategically throughout the garden, creating focal points and adding interest to the overall design.

One piece of advice often given when creating a frame with topiary is to keep the design restrained and simple. The focus should be on the shapes and forms of the plants, rather than intricate detailing or bold colors. This simplicity not only adds to the elegance of the garden but also makes the maintenance easier.

When selecting materials for the pathways and patio areas, natural stone is often a good choice. Its timeless appeal and durability complement the classic feel of the garden. The use of traditional materials helps to create a sense of continuity and harmony between the architectural elements of the garden and the surrounding landscape.

Another trend in formal garden design is to introduce softer elements that can attract wildlife and provide habitat. Adding small water features or areas of wildflowers can help to create a more inviting and diverse environment. This not only adds visual interest but also contributes to the overall health of the garden ecosystem.

Whether you have a large estate or a small courtyard, a frame with topiary and evergreens can be adapted to suit any space. By following the principles of symmetry, simplicity, and balance, you can create a garden that exudes elegance and sophistication.

3 Plant a parterre

3 Plant a parterre

Incorporating a parterre into your formal garden design can add a touch of elegance and sophistication. Parterres are geometric patterns of planting beds that are typically symmetrical and often feature formal hedges or low walls to define the shape and structure of the design. They can be a restrained and inspirational addition to a garden of any size.

To create a parterre, consider using plants such as pleached hornbeam trees or tightly clipped evergreen shrubs. These plants will provide the necessary structure and formality that a parterre needs. Shrub varieties like boxwood, yew, or holly are good choices for achieving a contemporary, yet classic look.

Although parterres are often associated with grand country houses and large estates, they can be adapted to suit smaller spaces as well. By scaling down the design and using smaller shrubs or plants with looser growth habits, you can create a parterre that is more appropriate for a smaller garden or patio area.

When choosing the plants for your parterre, it’s important to consider the maintenance needs and suitability for your climate. Some plants may require regular pruning or specific soil conditions. By choosing plants that are well-suited to your local climate and that have similar care needs, you can create a parterre that is easy to maintain.

If you’re unsure where to start, seeking inspiration from historic parterre designs can be a good starting point. Look to gardens created by renowned landscape designers like Gertrude Jekyll or Harold Peto, or consider the formal garden designs of period homes, such as those created by Capability Brown or James Rose. These gardens often incorporate elements of symmetry, simplicity, and repetition to create a harmonious and timeless landscape.

When designing your own parterre, consider using traditional materials like stone or gravel for the pathways or borders. This will help to create a more sympathetic and period-appropriate aesthetic.

Remember that while a parterre can bring a sense of formality and structure to a garden, it doesn’t have to feel rigid or rigid. By mixing in softer elements such as flowers or grasses, you can create a more contemporary and dynamic parterre design.

In conclusion, planting a parterre can be a great way to add a formal touch to your garden. Whether you choose a classic or more contemporary style, incorporating a parterre can help to create a sense of order and elegance. So, don’t be afraid to get started and experiment with different designs and plants to find the perfect parterre for your space.

4 Combine formal with looser planting

One way to soften the formal feel of a garden while still maintaining its structure is to combine it with looser, more natural planting. This creates a harmonious balance between order and informality, resulting in a garden that feels relaxed and inviting.

Scott Wilson, a landscape designer from Wyer + Wilson, advises using a mix of formal plants and more relaxed shrubs to achieve this effect. “By incorporating pleached trees or structured hedges, you can create areas of formality within the garden,” he explains. “At the same time, introducing more informal planting, such as grasses and perennials, will add a softer touch and help to blend the different areas together.”

In terms of plant selection, Wilson suggests choosing species that work well together both visually and in terms of maintenance. “Evergreen plants are always a good choice for maintaining formality and structure,” he says. “But don’t be afraid to mix in some deciduous options for added interest and variety.”

When it comes to creating a more relaxed planting scheme, the key is to use repetition and variation. This can be achieved by repeating certain plants or colors throughout the garden, while also introducing different textures and heights. “A mix of grasses, perennials, and shrubs will create a more natural and varied look,” Wilson advises. “And don’t forget to consider the wildlife – incorporating plants that attract birds, bees, and butterflies will add an extra dimension to your garden.”

For those who prefer a more traditional and structured look, English garden designer Dan Pearson suggests using classic formal elements alongside looser planting. “Combining a strong, formal layout with a softer, more natural planting scheme can create a beautiful juxtaposition,” he explains. “You can create a formal presence at the front of the house, for example, with a neatly clipped hedge or pleached trees, and then transition into a more relaxed, wilder area within the garden.”

Ultimately, the key to successfully combining formal and looser planting lies in finding the right balance. By blending structured elements with more natural planting, you can create a garden that is both visually stunning and inviting.

5 Choose long flowering blooms

5 Choose long flowering blooms

If you want to create a wider sense of restraint in your formal garden, topiary and pleached trees are a classic choice. However, they can sometimes feel a bit English country garden or patio-like. To bring your garden up to date, consider adding some long flowering blooms to the mix.

The latest trend in formal garden design is to incorporate scott and restrained blooms, such as the elegant but hard-to-pronounce pavetta lusitanica, into the structure of the garden. These shrubs not only add architecture and presence, but they also provide long-lasting blooms from July through to September.

Designer James Smith advises that when it comes to adding long flowering blooms, think beyond the traditional roses and box hedging. Consider using prunus or hornbeam as a way of creating an area that is both formal and wildlife-friendly.

If you have a large garden or a grand home, the presence of long flowering blooms can be extended across the entire garden. John Wyer suggests using materials such as parterres and formal paths to help guide the eye through the space.

Keep in mind that the use of long flowering blooms should be done in a sympathetic way, maintaining the simplicity and elegance of the formal garden style. Although these plants add color and life to the garden, they should not overshadow the overall design.

By choosing long flowering blooms for your formal garden, you can add a touch of vibrancy and interest, while still maintaining the desired sense of formality and structure.

6 Keep color schemes simple

When it comes to formal garden design, simplicity is often key. Keeping color schemes simple allows the structural elements of the garden to take center stage, creating an elegant and cohesive look.

One effective approach is to use a limited color palette, such as varying shades of green and white. The use of evergreen shrubs like boxwood or lusitanica can provide a timeless and classic look, while also requiring less maintenance compared to flowering plants.

Another trend in formal garden landscaping is the use of pleached trees. This technique involves training trees to grow flat against a wall or framework, creating a geometric pattern. Pleached trees like hornbeam or beech can add a strong vertical element to the garden, while also providing privacy and structure.

When selecting plants, it’s important to consider the overall color scheme of the garden. Contemporary gardens often incorporate only a few colors, while traditional gardens may have a wider range of hues. If a specific color is desired, it can be repeated throughout the garden to create cohesion and a sense of unity.

James Scott, a renowned garden designer, suggests that simplicity is essential when it comes to color schemes in formal gardens. He advises limiting the color palette to just a few hues to create a clean and elegant look.

Consider incorporating different textures and forms to add interest to the garden. For example, mixing clipped shrubs with perennials or adding a gravel pathway can create a subtle contrast while maintaining the overall simplicity of the design.

In addition to aesthetics, a simple color scheme can also help attract wildlife. By planting flowers that are known to attract bees or butterflies, you can create a vibrant and lively garden that not only looks beautiful but also supports the local ecosystem.

Whether you prefer a contemporary or traditional style, keeping the color scheme simple can help achieve a well-maintained and elegant formal garden. By focusing on a limited palette, incorporating repetition, and using plants with varying textures and forms, you can create a garden that seamlessly blends with the wider landscape.

7 Choose complementary hard landscaping

When it comes to creating a formal garden, the choice of hard landscaping is essential in achieving the desired look and feel. The hard landscaping elements provide the structure and formality that is necessary for a formal garden design.

Incorporating hedges and symmetrical layouts into your garden design is one way to achieve this sense of formality. Hedges can be clipped into geometric shapes, such as squares or circles, to create a sense of harmony and cohesion. Trees can also be used strategically throughout the garden to add height and structure.

Contemporary designs may choose to incorporate softer elements into the formal garden, such as looser planting and naturalistic layouts. This can add a touch of informality and extend the presence of nature throughout the space.

When it comes to choosing materials for your hard landscaping, there are many options available. James Alderson, from John Wilson Garden Design, advises that the choice of materials should complement the overall style and architecture of your home.

Traditional Formal Garden:

  • Clipped hedges
  • Buxus parterre
  • Front garden with hornbeam hedging
  • Evergreen shrubs
  • Formal layout

Contemporary Formal Garden:

  • Looser planting
  • Gravel pathways
  • Stone accents
  • Strong lines and geometric shapes
  • Minimalist layout

Whether you choose a traditional or contemporary approach, incorporating hard landscaping that complements the overall design scheme is essential. This will help create a sense of unity and cohesion throughout the garden.

When it comes to the latest trends in formal garden design, John Wilson, from John Wilson Garden Design, advises that strong hedging remains a popular choice. Whether it’s clipped box hedging or hornbeam hedges, the presence of structured greenery is a key element in formal garden design.

8 Include focal features

When it comes to creating a contemporary look in your formal garden design, it’s essential to include focal features that draw the eye and add interest to the space. Expert garden designer James Alderson suggests incorporating architectural elements, such as pleached hedging or clipped shrubs, to add structure and create a sense of harmony within the landscape.

  1. Pleached hedging: Pleached trees or hedges are a popular choice for adding height and structure to a formal garden. These trained trees have a clear stem and a flat, wide head, creating an elegant and formal feel.
  2. Clipped shrubs: Clipped shrubs, like boxwood or hornbeam, can be used to create geometric shapes or forms within the garden. Their evergreen foliage provides year-round interest and works well with both modern and traditional designs.
  3. Architectural elements: Incorporating architectural features, such as pergolas or structures, can add visual interest and define different areas within the garden. These elements can be used to create focal points or to guide the eye along specific paths or views.

Scott Smith from Wyer + Alderson advises choosing focal features that complement the overall design scheme and the desired feel of the garden. For a contemporary look, he suggests using materials and colors that blend seamlessly with the landscape, such as gray-toned stone or steel structures.

John Wyer recommends using repetition to create a sense of rhythm and flow within the garden. This can be achieved by placing focal features, such as pleached hedging or architectural elements, at regular intervals along pathways or borders. The repetition of these elements adds visual interest and draws the eye through the garden.

To create a softer and more natural feel, Alderson suggests incorporating flowering trees or shrubs, such as Prunus or roses, alongside the more structured architectural elements. This mix of soft and hard elements adds depth and variation to the design and creates a visually appealing contrast.

Overall, including focal features in your formal garden design is essential for creating a visually striking and inspirational space. Choose elements that complement the overall design scheme, and use them strategically to add structure, repetition, and interest within the landscape.

What is a formal style of garden

A formal style of garden is a design that is characterized by its structured and symmetrical layout, with carefully planned geometric shapes and orderly arrangements of plants and hedges. These gardens often suit larger spaces and are commonly found in front of elegant homes.

One of the key features of a formal garden is the use of evergreen plants and clipped hedges. These plants help to create a sense of permanence and structure throughout the year, as their foliage remains unchanged. The use of hedging is also important in creating boundaries and defining the different areas within the garden.

Harmony and cohesion are essential in a formal garden, and the overall design works best when there is a repetition of shapes, colors, and themes. One classic example of a formal garden element is parterres, which are ornamental flower beds with intricate designs often made using clipped box hedging or low growing plants. These parterres can be arranged in symmetrical patterns and create a focal point in the garden.

Formal gardens can also incorporate other features such as stone pathways, ornate statues, and water features. These elements add a sense of elegance and grandeur to the landscape. The use of stone, whether it be for pathways or decorative elements, helps to create a sense of permanence and presence in the garden.

Although formal gardens are often associated with larger spaces, they can also be adapted to smaller areas. The key is to maintain the sense of order and symmetry, even on a smaller scale. By using expert pruning techniques and selecting appropriate plants, it is possible to create a formal garden in any size space.

Overall, a formal style of garden creates a sense of elegance and simplicity. The use of geometric shapes, clipped plants, and restrained color schemes contribute to the formal atmosphere. These gardens are often designed with an attention to detail and require regular maintenance to keep their pristine appearance year-round.

In recent years, there has been a trend towards more relaxed and looser gardening styles, but the classic and timeless nature of formal gardens continues to remain popular. Whether you have a large garden or a small front area, a formal garden design can always bring a touch of sophistication and beauty to your home.

What plants are used in a formal garden

A formal garden is known for its structured and organized design, which includes an array of carefully chosen plants. These plants not only enhance the overall look of the garden but also help create a sense of harmony and balance within the space.

1. Clipped Trees and Shrubs

One of the essential elements in a formal garden is the use of clipped trees and shrubs. These plants are pruned and shaped in specific geometric forms, such as spheres or cones, to create a sense of order and symmetry. Popular choices for clipped trees and shrubs include boxwood, yew, holly, and hornbeam.

2. Pleached Trees

Pleached trees are another common feature in formal gardens. These trees have been trained to grow on a flat trellis or frame, creating a green wall or boundary. They provide a sense of privacy and enclosure while adding a touch of elegance to the garden. Popular choices for pleached trees include lime, hornbeam, and fruit trees like apple or pear.

3. Parterre Designs

Parterre designs are intricate patterns created using low hedges or ground covers. These designs are often symmetrical and can be seen in the form of geometric shapes, such as squares, rectangles, or circles. Popular plants used for parterre designs include boxwood, lavender, rosemary, and santolina.

4. Flowering Plants

While formal gardens are known for their structured shapes and restrained tones, it is still possible to incorporate some flowering plants to add color and vibrancy. Flowering plants like roses, hydrangeas, peonies, and lavender can be strategically placed in the garden to create focal points or borders.

5. Evergreen Trees and Shrubs

Evergreen trees and shrubs are often chosen for their year-round presence and low maintenance. These plants maintain their foliage throughout the year and provide a sense of structure and permanence. Popular choices for evergreen trees and shrubs include holly, yew, juniper, and Thuja.

6. Stone or Gravel Pathways

Incorporating stone or gravel pathways in a formal garden not only adds to the overall design but also helps guide visitors through the space. These pathways can be bordered with low hedges or planted with ground covers to enhance the aesthetic appeal.

7. Symmetrical Planting Schemes

Symmetry is a key element in formal garden design, including the choice of plants. Planting schemes are often symmetrical, with matching pairs or groups of plants on either side of a central axis. This symmetry helps create a sense of order and balance within the garden.

8. Varied Green Foliage

While flowers may be limited in a formal garden, there is still room for a variety of green foliage. Different shades and textures of green can be used to create depth and visual interest. Plants with interesting leaf shapes, such as ferns, hostas, or grasses, can also be incorporated to add a touch of visual appeal.

When choosing plants for a formal garden, it is important to consider the overall style and architecture of your home, as well as the desired look and feel of the garden. Consulting with a landscaping professional can help you choose plant varieties that are well-suited to your specific needs and can help create a cohesive and harmonious garden design.


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