Formal Flower Gardens

If you crave order and simple elegance in your surroundings, you might consider installing a formal flower garden in your landscape. Formal gardens require extra effort to keep in check due to the manicured nature of the plantings. The addition of flowers adds personality and provides breaks in what would otherwise be an ocean of green.
  • 01 of 09
    Geometric Garden Beds
    Photo © Medioimages/Photodisc/Getty Images

    Think of the intricacy of the geometric planting beds found in formal gardens as a spectrum, and find where you want your garden to be on that spectrum. In its simplest interpretation, the beds may consist of two rectangular boxwood planting beds filled with one type of flower. More complicated designs feature intricate patterns that branch out from a central point, following paths throughout the landscape.

  • 02 of 09

    The Broderie

    Boxwood Knot Garden
    Photo © John Menard

    The French word broderie often refers to a style of lacy embroidery, but it also refers to the similarly ornate patterns formal gardeners create with trimmed box shrubs. Popularized in France in the late 16th century, the open spaces within these symmetrical designs can be filled with gravel or flowers.

  • 03 of 09

    Flower Types

    White Rambling Rose
    Photo © Ron Evans/Getty Images

    Formal gardens feature classic heirloom flowers. Lavender and old fragrant roses like this climbing rose ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ are popular choices. Those who crave early blooms should include mass plantings of tulips or hyacinths, which are easy to install in geometric designs. Fall-blooming asters and mums have a tidy shape that fits into formal gardens well.

  • 04 of 09

    Choice of Flower Colors

    Fomal Flower Garden
    Photo © Richard Felber/Getty Images

    In many old and established formal flower gardens, and you’ll notice that the overwhelming flower color of choice is pink, white, or purple. It’t not that formal gardeners have anything against the red and yellow side of the color wheel, rather, the gardens honor the color choices available to most European gardens before the 1700s. At that time, new flower introductions from warmer climates introduced the hot hues we take for granted today.

    If your flower color preference includes red and orange...MORE flowers, keep a unified color palette by making all of your color choices of that spectrum. Formal flower gardens aren’t characterized by a riot of color, but stick to a simple color scheme. Those who wish to grow a more informal cottage garden with a nod to formal gardening can simply grow their favorite blooms in any combination within a box hedge for structure.

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  • 05 of 09

    Topiaries and Standards

    Rose Topiaries
    Photo © flickr user Rexness

    Pruning plants into topiaries and standards gives the formal garden vertical accents that draw the eye across the landscape. You can train many flowering plants as standards by pruning away all branches until a single woody “trunk” is left. Flowers that respond to this training include roses, fuchsia, heliotrope, and wisteria.

  • 06 of 09

    A View From Above

    Boxwood and Lavender Garden
    Photo © Bruno Barbier/Getty Images

    So much work goes into the pruning that creates elaborate geometric borders in many formal gardens, but this work is lost on the visitor who gazes across the landscape at ground level. Formal gardens are meant to be seen from above to appreciate the geometric planting beds. If a terrace, balcony, or deck isn’t adjacent to the formal garden, a sunken garden provides an elevated vantage point from the ground.

  • 07 of 09

    Garden Statuary

    Concrete Garden Cherub
    Photo © Andrew Wilkinson

    In casual gardens, statuary is often nestled among the plants, but in formal gardens the statuary is a focal point. Religious figures and figures from mythology are natural subjects for the formal garden, but you may choose an inanimate subject like an urn or a sundial.

  • 08 of 09

    The Allée

    Formal Garden Path with Nasturtium
    Photo © Mary Schier

    In the grandest formal gardens, an allée is a tree-lined path that may extend for a quarter mile or more through the landscape. Home gardeners can replicate a simple allée as a path that terminates at the house, a garden shed, or a point of interest like a sundial in the garden. If you don’t have the patience or space to wait for trees to grow, plant tall flowers like hollyhocks on either side of the allée.

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  • 09 of 09


    Water Garden Fountain
    Photo © Tomas Sobek

    Formal garden design celebrates order and clean lines, but that doesn’t mean that one should forget that the garden is a living thing. Fountains bring animation to this orderly space in the landscape, as well as serving an ornamental function. If size and budget allow, the fountain can spill into a reflecting pool, which offers a space for peaceful contemplation.