The formal garden guide

Arches are very versatile. They can take a very wide variety of shapes and styles. Contrary to popular mind-set, they don't have to be curved at the top.
They have adorned palaces and gardens of the high and mighty for ages. They exude power, dominance and control.

But they can also be modified to suit small urban gardens where efficient space use is critical and low maintenance is not a priority.

The layout of a formal garden is made to follow an imposed geometry and strict symmetry.


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The result is a simple and efficient space organised around axes. If space allows, cross-axes can be created; some larger gardens have multiple axial routes that create views along and across the garden.

Axes are terminated at focal points, usually the main entry of a house or structure but can also end up at a statue, a garden fountain or any other garden objects.

Axes intersections too are treated as focal points and are enhanced with special pavements or other garden ornaments.

Although perfectly flat terrain is not essential, the main components of a formal garden are best appreciated on flattish site where the patterns formed by the axes and cross axes can be viewed either from the main windows of the house or from an adjacent terrace or porch.

Symmetric balance is essential to emphasise the focus of the garden. It is typically expressed by a series of equally matched beds and spaces on either side of an axis. These spaces or beds may be square, rectangular, curved or a hybrid of all three.

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Walkways with crisp edges typically thread through the layout defining the boundaries of spaces and forcing planting beds and lawns into order.

The edges and outlines may be further emphasised by the addition of low, clipped evergreen hedges.

Statuary and ornaments

Matching urns of either solid, carved forms or open bowl types lushly filled with plants placed on pedestals provide interest and intricacy in a formal garden.

Thematically related statuary and artistic pieces of appropriate scale are placed at focal points to dramatise the scene and introduce meaning and symbolism.

Topiary trees or shrubs and neatly shaped climbing roses or clematis, supported by sturdy yet decorative wood or metal structures, are other attractive details that you can add in a formal garden.

Maintenance costs, unfortunately, are a little high in the formal garden since every plant must receive perfect grooming throughout the garden’s life-cycle.

More often than not, you will require dedicated gardening services, especially during the growing season, just to keep up with all the trimming, mowing and edging that this type of gardening requires.

-The writer is a landscape architect

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