Formal geometry can bring order to a front garden, says Louisa Gilhooly
SIMPLE AND classic, the formal garden never goes out of fashion. Its clean lines and smart geometry hark back to the 16th-century Italian Renaissance, and the grand parterres of famous French chateaux such as those at Villandry and Versailles. Yet despite these historic beginnings, the formal style is surprisingly well-suited to modern gardens, where the same basic principles of balance, symmetry, straight lines and geometric shapes tend to be more pared back. If you’re a fan of minimalism, this style is for you!
A dreary front garden is the perfect place to start. Touches of formality can be introduced on a very small scale – a simple pair of box spirals in ornate urns, either side of the front door, creates the formal look in an instant. What’s more, the orderly layout is easy to navigate, so visitors are directed straight to the front door.
Formal gardens often have an emphasis on imposing order over nature, using a combination of geometric shapes – rectangles, circles or squares – and straight lines. Beds, borders, layouts and views can be symmetrical or asymmetrical, but must always feel balanced. (Even awkward-shaped plots can have some formality applied, as shown here.)
The strength of this style lies in the underlying framework, usually in the form of hedging, walls and paths, softened by flowers and foliage. By using lines taken directly from the house (such as aligning a path with the front door) harmony is created between house and garden.
Elements such as sculpture, a small fountain, specimen plant or attractive pot are ideal as a focal point to draw the eye. Line the feature up with sight lines from the house, such as the view from the sitting room window. In a formal garden all the elements need to relate to each other, so your focal point can become the starting point of say, a small avenue or the centre of a circular planting scheme.
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