Is a Formal Garden Right for You?
The term ‘formal garden’ refers to a particular style which utilizes straight lines, geometric shapes, and focal points to create a particular feel to a garden space. You’ve probably seen a few locally, without even realizing it.
If you’re thinking of creating a formal garden of your own, spend a little time considering how you’d like to use the space, and what sort of personality you’d like it to have. Are you planning on spending a lot of time walking through the garden? If so, ensure you plan plenty of walking paths. Looking more for a quiet place to sit and reflect? Maybe you need more secluded corners, or a bench built into the design. Having a pretty good idea of what you want from the beginning increases the likelihood that you’ll enjoy what you end up with!
Structural Bones of the Formal Garden
To create a formal garden, first start by creating the space’s ‘structural bones.’ This is usually done by installing an evergreen hedge that will provide an attractive element in all four seasons. Boxwoods are a common choice for this due to their great color and how easy it is to shape and maintain them. By using the hedges to create defined spaces in triangles, squares, or circles, you begin to acquire that ‘formal’ feel to the garden. When planting your hedge, it’s extremely important to measure constantly. Ultimately, you want the same amount of space between each hedge plant to ensure an uninterrupted line of sight as any oddities will distract and detract from the oval view later on. Start at each corner (not just one!) and work your way evenly towards the center. Also, taking the time to measure and mark out your patterns in advance reduces the risk of error during planting.
Hint: For a really professional look, pay attention to the individual heights of your hedge plants and adjust the planting depth as needed – the goal is for the finished product to look completely uniform all the way across the formal garden. Some of our new guys learned this the hard way recently!
Formal gardens are well known for their focal points; be they plant, sculpture, or fountain! These additional elements are an important part of any formal garden, giving it both personality and a sense of uniqueness that would otherwise be missing. What constitutes a focal point?
- Bird Bath
- Existing (or newly planted) tree
- Trellis (with or without flowering vine)
- Existing patio or Deck
- Fire pit
- Large urn or other flower container
There really aren’t any hard and fast rules to what can or can’t be a focal point, but there are some helpful guidelines landscape designers like to go by. Firstly, ensure that whatever you pick fits the feel of the rest of the space. For instance, a traditional Japanese lantern style sculpture may look out of place next to some of the more modern home styles, while large ebony sculptures of Greek citizens may feel a little odd next to a cute seaside cottage. Also, keep the size of your chosen focal point in mind – outdoor spaces are much larger than the interior of a home, so make a point of scaling up accordingly!
Can I have more than one focal point in my formal garden? Absolutely! Even in a small space, multiple focal points are possible. If you do choose to go the multiples route, make an effort to keep your pieces feeling cohesive. Too many different elements leads to a cluttered, busy feeling that’s distracting from the rest of the garden space.
Want to see some formal gardens that inspire us? Stop by our Pinterest board: Formal Garden Inspirations!
Filling Your Shapes
To accomplish that classic formal garden style, pick a simple color palette and stick to it. This reinforces the underlying sense of simplicity that’s characteristic of formal gardens, and when done right – it can simplify maintenance too.
- Use mirror image planting – Whenever possible, plant two spaces that are opposite of each other with the same plant as though you are reflecting the image of the bed with a mirror. Throughout nature, perfect or near-perfect symmetry creates a sense of beauty and health – something mirror image planting takes advantage of.
- Plant bedding plants in rows – Similar to installing your hedges, carefully plant your bedding plants in rows with set intervals between each plant. This attention to detail pays off in the long run as it creates a sense of fullness that’s even throughout the space – no weird bunching in one corner! This uniformity is both soothing and attractive to the viewer.
- Hint: Not interested in spending a lot of time planting small stuff? Try using Hydrangeas or other flowering shrubs instead!
- Choose containable plants – If you have a square planting bed with a 2 foot square available space, don’t plant a shrub that’ll grow to be 5 feet wide! Instead, choose a size appropriate plant from the beginning and save yourself a lot of extra maintenance time.
At the end of the day, formal gardens are one of the easiest styles to maintain and most soothing to rest in when done well. Don’t believe us? Check out your local botanical garden or build your own and find out for yourself! Happy Gardening!