Formal Garden Design
Formal gardens rely on geometrical shapes for their impact; they have straight hedges and walls, paths with perfect right angles at every bend, and geometric shaped beds. Think of formal herb gardens, which are laid out on a square or circular theme with paths bisecting them into equal-sized segments, and traditional double borders – two parallel borders planted with herbaceous flowers and a straight path between them. Walled gardens, pergolas, terraces and carpet bedding are also formal features.
A formal garden looks good in a geometrical space, such as a rectangle, ideally enclosed by hedges or walls. But it does not have to be designed to a traditional plan. Modern formal gardens can be based on shapes that overlap and may even be asymmetrical.
Informal gardens are exactly the opposite. The essence of this sort of garden is that there isn’t a straight line in the place. Lawn edges curve gently, beds are cut into natural contours in the land and paths meander round bends with plants spilling over the edges.
Think of island beds, cottage gardens and woodland walks. You can have hedges with peepholes cut in them, seats under climber-clad structures, irregularly shaped areas of paving and teardrop-shaped flower beds.
Informal gardens are getting even more informal. Now, wild gardens, old-fashioned hay meadows and prairie-style borders are the last word in fashionable informal gardens, where the effect is positively untamed.
My idea of a traditional garden is a sort of scaled-down version of a country house garden with a lawn, shrubberies and a herbaceous border, and the fruit: and vegetable plot out of sight down at the end. This is the sort you could happily put a ‘bit of everything’ into and that could include things like a rockery and fishpond, bulbs growing in grass under trees, and a work area with greenhouse, cold frames and compost heaps.
Nowadays you’ll find a traditional sort of garden has only a few items from down in size. But the color scheme is tasteful – probably pastel, or a sort of random mixture of colors diluted with plenty of green foliage to prevent clashing. Any furniture is subtle (real wood like teak, or cast-aluminum repro). Planting is based on the tried-and-tested principles of Vita SackviIle-West, Gertrude Jekyll and other such icons.
Young, trendy designers may be like red rags to traditional gardeners, but a lot of their output (seen at famous flower shows) gives a new slant on garden layout. Modern garden designs tend to follow the trends of interior decoration – so paint-effect pots, trompe l’oeil and murals on walls, colorful sheds and seats and loud, subtropical-look plants all have their place.
A state-of-the-art design can look just right around a contemporary house. But unless you are the sort of person who likes to follow fashion and doesn’t mind updating their garden every few years, be warned. A very modern style is likely to go out of fashion quite quickly. Choose an avant-garde design that suits the style of your house rather than slavishly following the latest trends, if you want a garden you can live with for some time.