By Dawn Isaac with illustrations by Gill Lockhart
FORMAL GARDENS HAVE long been associated with stately homes and castles, but there are elements that will suit even the smallest of spaces. The homes we live in have straight lines, strong shapes and often a fair bit of balance and symmetry – the very same ingredients you need in a formal garden. In many ways this angular style could be seen as the natural choice.
Planning a formal garden isan exercise in mathematics, so feel free to employ graph paper, protractor, ruler and compasses to make your design. You’re looking to create bold geometric shapes and symmetrical patterns – the staples of any classic garden. To bring your design to life and give it ‘good bones’ all year round, use evergreen shrubs, trees and hedging, softened with herbaceous perennials, bulbs and annuals.
1. House dominates
2. No features to draw the eye
3. Very little planting
4. Tiny path in large lawn
Upgrade the gateway
The low gate has been replaced with a bow-topped hardwood gateway, set within a yew hedge. This provides access yet stylishly screens off the side return.
Team privacy with formality
A pleached hornbeam hedge, mirrored on both sides of the garden, screens it from the neighbours.It hides the lacklustre boundaries and leaves space for planting beneath.
Use trees for grandeur
A pair of half-standard Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’ trees are used to break up the house wall and add a hint of evergreen grandeur to the terrace.
A climbing rose trained around windows and over doors softens the expanse of brickwork and will support early and late clematis – extending the flowering period
Add a mowing strip
A brick strip makes it easier for a lawnmower to cut to the edges, stops grass creeping into beds and maintains the crisp formal shape of the lawn
Use box for neat angles
Buxus sempervirens is a formal garden must-have and here it has been used to form low hedges to neaten beds as well as emphasise the strong angles and formal shapes.
Create a focal point
Placing a sundial at the centre of the lawn creates height as well as a focal point from which the lawn area can radiate out. Masses of lavender at the base helps exaggerate the feature, giving it a grander sense of scale.
Give the path a purpose
The small stepping stone path has been replaced with a far larger brick version, which is easier to see and navigate. This creates the central line of the symmetrical lawn.
Control the colours
A restricted colour palette complements the formal design. Shrubs including Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ and glossy groundcovering Arum italicum are interspersed with elegant bulbs and annuals such as white foxgloves and tulips.
Echo house materials
The dining area has been re-laid in a basketweave brick pattern to match the path and echo the house materials. The space is bordered on most sides with box balls or hedging.
Dawn’s top 10 formal favourites
1. Ilex crenata ‘Dark Green’ Known as box-leaved holly, this glossy plant can be easily clippedinto topiary shapes. Untrimmed H4m (13ft) S3m (10ft)
2. Taxus baccata The needle-like leaves of English yew respond well to clipping; it makes a dark, slow- growing hedge. Untrimmed H20m (65ft) S10m (33ft)
3. Buxus sempervirens Small glossy leaves make this the perfect evergreen for clipping into shapes. Best in part shade and fertile soil. Untrimmed H5m (16ft) S3m (10ft)
4. Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’ Trained as a half-standard tree, this evergreen shrub has a neat shape with pinkish-white flowers in winter. UntrainedH and S3m (10ft)
5. Tilia cordata ‘Winter Orange’ Like all small-leaved limes this is ideal for a formal pleached hedge. Colourful winter stems. Untrained H20m (65ft) S15m (49ft)
6. Thuja occidentalis ‘Danica’ A dwarf conifer that grows into a dome of bright green foliage with a bronze tinge in cold weather. Can be neatened.H and S50cm (20in)
7. Juniperus scopulorum ‘Blue Arrow’ Blue-tinged, rocket-shaped conifer that has an Italianate look. Suits dry, chalky or sandy soils. H2m (61⁄2ft) S50cm (20in)
8. Laurus nobilis Useful shrub that can be clipped into balls, pyramids and half- standard trees. Shelter from strong winds. Unclipped H12m (39ft) S10m (32ft)
9. Carpinus betulus Useful for hedging and pleaching effects. Green beech-like leaves turn golden colour in autumn. Untrained H25m (82ft) S10m (33ft)
10. Hebe rakaiensis Evergreen shrub adopts a small dome shape so minimal trimming is required. Large white flowersin mid to late summer. H1m (3ft 3in) S1.2m (4ft)