Formal Gardens (Crops)

A bird bath is a focal point here.

Taking their inspiration from the Renaissance gardens of France and Italy, formal designs depend on straight lines and geometric shapes, on symmetry and regularity. Balance is the key, with elements arranged around a central axis. The strict pattern of paths, which form the structure, is all-important. Paths may be of brick, stone, gravel or grass, but make sure they are wide enough to walk on comfortably and to take a wheelbarrow. A metre (about three feet) is a minimum width for straight sections, with some wider areas to create a feeling of spaciousness and for extra manoeuvrability. Planting schemes echo the geometry of the layout, with corresponding blocks of colour filling the beds. Foliage plants, especially those with a dense habit of growth such as thyme, are often more suitable than those with a profusion of flowers and a tendency to sprawl.

Large pots and ornaments or statues  provide focal points at the ends of vistas. If placed to line a path edge or in a regular pattern they will provide visual links, drawing the scheme together and reinforcing the regularity. Topiary and plants growing over a shaped framework are used in much the same way. They also introduce a theatrical element which underlines the style. But beware of cramming in too much – for this look to be successful, understatement and simplicity are best.

Plan of a brick enclosed garden

This plan is for a garden about 11 x 9.50 m (36 x 31 ft), enclosed by a brick wall to one side and trelliswork at each corner supporting a scented, white-flowered jasmine. If you do not have a site where a wall can be used as one boundary, the trellis can be extended. An archway, clothed in the coppery pink climbing rose, ‘Albertine’, forms the main entrance, with a bench seat under a jasmine arbour on the opposite side, against the wall. Topiary in pots – box trees clipped in spheres and rosemary globes – mark the points of entry, add height to the scheme and increase the sense of regularity.

A sundial surrounded by a chamomile lawn, of the non-flowering cultivar Chamaemelum nobile ‘Treneague’, makes a focal point at the centre, emphasized by the square beds of creeping thymes, bronze-purple ‘Russetings’ and the white-flowering Thymus serpyllum var. albus. Chamomile is quite difficult to establish as a lawn and needs constant weeding, so is best kept on a small scale, as it is here. Paths are of stone slabs with brick or tiling edges to the beds.

The emphasis of the planting is on scented herbs with a purple, silver and white colour scheme predominating. Dark-green hyssop, which has blue flower spikes in summer, along with feathery bronze fennel, provide contrast and texture. Golden hops, trained against the wall, echoed by golden sage, lend brightness. Each of the main beds is edged with a low-growing lavender and has a standard rose at the centre.

Key to planting plan

  1. Chamaemelum nobile ‘Treneague’ – non-flowering chamomile
  2. Thymus serpyllum ‘Russetings’ – creeping thyme (mauve-flowering)
  3. Thymus serpyllum var. albus – creeping thyme (white-flowering)
  4. Rosa ‘Félicité Perpétue’ - as a weeping standard
  5. Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ –  low-growing lavender                                                
  6. Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’ – golden hops
  7. Salvia officinalis ‘Icterina’ – golden sage
  8. Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’ – bronze fennel
  9. Hyssopus officinalis – hyssop
  10. Salvia officinalis Purpurascens Group – purple sage
  11. Salvia sclarea – clary sage
  12. Artemisia absinthum – wormwood
  13. Jasminum officinale – jasmine
  14. Rosa ‘Albertine’ – rose ‘Albertine’
  15. Rosmarinus officinalis – rosemary trained over a globe frame
  16. Buxus sempervirens – box trained as a “lollipop”