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Formal Gardens Style


Formal Garden Style is smart and stylish. It has been developed over many centuries and is still popular in today’s gardens.

The main features of formal gardens are strong lines and geometric shapes, usually set within a framework of hedges, paths and paving. The gardens can be simple or lavish, large or small and surround a traditional or modern house. They can incorporate the entire garden or just a small, separate area within the garden.


Strictly speaking, a formal garden follows a geometric design, where shapes and lines are duplicated on either side of an imaginary line.

In a broader sense, any garden made up of uniform plantings and with a strong layout is called a ‘formal’ garden.


In the middle of a lawn

In the middle of a driveway

In a courtyard

Below a window, veranda, terrace or deck

A formal garden looks best when viewed from above, so the design can be seen in full.


To design a formal garden, you need to clearly define shapes and lines. Shapes might be made from patches of lawn, garden beds, paving or gravel. Lines can be defined with walls, fences, hedges, brick edging, edging tiles and low-growing edging plants. A central line or axis is often used as the basis of a formal garden.


A Parterre

In 17th century Europe, this was a formal pattern of low hedges, with the spaces between filled with coloured gravel. The concept has evolved and broadened since then. Today it can include coloured plants, stones, gravels, masonry or virtually anything the imagination can come up with.

Create a parterre garden by partitioning the ground into a series of shapes that make up a formal pattern. The different shapes need to be well defined so that they contrast with the space beside them.

An Avenue

This involves two rows of plants either side of a walkway or driveway. The same species of plant is used to create a sense of repetition and symmetry. Popular avenue plants include conifers, especially Leyland Cypress (Cupressocyparis leylandii) and Italian Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens). Avenues of deciduous trees and Lemon Scented Gums are often planted in larger gardens.

Hedged Beds

Adding clipped hedging to garden beds will increase the formality of the garden. The most popular hedging plants are dwarf English Box (Buxus sempervirens) and Japanese Box (Buxus microphylla). Alternatives are dwarf Lillypillies (Syzgium varieties), Box Honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida) and Dwarf Sacred Bamboo (Nandina domestica nana).

Simple Formal Gardens

· A circle divided into quarters, perhaps by two intersecting paths. Each quarter circle might be planted with exactly the same type of plant.

· A square divided into quarters, either diagonally or vertically/horizontally.

· A paved area intersected with small squares of ground cover plantings.

· A pair of matching urns either side of a path.

· An arched walkway covered by one type of plant.

· An avenue of trees or shrubs along a garden path.

· A square or rectangular lawn area surrounded by raised garden beds.


Formality is enhanced when the plants you use are not too variable.

If using hedges to define lines, use the same variety of hedging plant throughout.

The plants within the garden beds can be more variable but for the best effect, lay them in geometric patterns and repeat the planting patterns in adjacent beds.


If you like both formality and informality, why not separate the two styles? You can create a formal garden within your larger garden, separated from the larger garden by a wall or tall hedge.

Alternatively, the front garden or the area closest to the house could be formal, gradually becoming less formal as you move further into the garden.


Ponds – in geometric designs (usually round, square or rectangular); edged by hard surfacing (pavers, concrete, slate, marble, etc.) with minimal poolside plantings

Statues – in Classical or modern designs. Geometric features such as obelisks and spheres are also popular

Fountains – often in a Classical design

Pots – including square pots and urns; usually placed in matched pairs either side of an entrance; ornate pots are often left unplanted

Paths – surfaced with gravel or paving; usually arranged in straight lines; often positioned to create a vista from the house

Hedges – are always clipped

Lawns – made up of high quality fine-leaved grasses, eg. bent grasses

Espaliers and topiaries – climbers and shrubs trained and clipped to stylised designs; on walls, on top of hedges, and in pots

Outdoor furniture – in Victorian wrought iron styles; also timber and modern metal furniture in simple, minimalistic designs

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