Landscaping & Nursery Information for Home Gardeners

Formal Residential Garden Design

A formal look in a landscape typically is achieved by placing plants to conform strictly to a geometric design theme. A formal look also is usually based on classic design concepts such as symmetry. Symmetry means lining an axis such as a walkway or strip of lawn with the same type of trees. A central point of attention -- such as a sundial, bird bath or other type of sculpture -- can be placed anywhere on the axis or at either end. A central point acts as an ordering element in a landscape. 

Another way to achieve a formal appearance is to repeat identical planting beds, color schemes or sculpture along an axis. Repeating a plant in a grouping or as a hedge, or using the same plant throughout a garden also are common design techniques used to achieve a formal look. All these have a rich history. The ancient Egyptians and the Romans used these techniques to create formal residential gardens, and they were popular during the Renaissance in Europe.

Plant selection also is important because some plants such as linden and ornamental pear have a uniform appearance that naturally support a formal look. Plants with a uniform appearance also require less maintenance such as shearing and trimming. Evergreen plants such as spruce or white fir also have a consistent appearance that can create a dramatic, formal image.

Selection of other materials in a garden also can support either a more formal or casual appearance. In general, using stone or block as opposed to wood for walls or fencing create formality. Likewise, using patios instead of decks creates a more stately appearance.

Adapted from an article



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