Plant a romantic parterre

By Liz Potter

Gardeners have been clipping box hedges since Ancient Egyptian times (4,000BC), but it wasn’t until the Tudor era that Britain began its fascination with the knot garden. Inspired by embroidery, heraldry and the formal parterres of renaissance Italy, they were usually laid out using an interwoven pattern of fragrant low-growing herbs such as hyssop, marjoram, rue (Ruta graveolens), lavender, santolina, rosemary and thyme. These ‘knots’ were designed to resemble embroidery patterns, with the infill often left as plain earth or fine gravel.

The large scale parterre de broderie was a natural progression – developed in 16th century France for the royal court of King Louis XVI at Villandry and Versailles. Although such intricate formal gardens were swept away by the English landscape movement, they were rediscovered in the 19th century by the Victorians who recognised that box made an excellent foil for their colourful bedding schemes.

Today the knot garden remains an enduring symbol of the formal tradition and examples are found in gardens large and small – usually close to the house where they can be viewed from above. The infill planting has become less regimented; by using a froth of colourful perennials
you can quickly suffuse your knot with a more relaxed, romantic or homely feel. 

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