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Ever wandered around the grounds of a stately home and thought to yourself, I wish my back garden looked like this?
Formal gardens take a huge amount of planning, skill and hard work to execute and maintain. But that doesn’t mean that, with a few nifty tricks, you can’t create something that wouldn’t look out of place next to a botanic garden – even if you don’t have several acres to play with.
One of the defining features of stately formal gardens is the use of wide gravel paths to break up well-manicured lawns and provide structure to the design. If your garden is relatively small, finding the space for pathways may prove difficult. But you can recreate the look by using gravel strips to segment one area from another, such as your lawn from flowerbeds or vegetable patches.
Hedges and Topiary
Another characteristic feature of the stately garden is the use of carefully maintained, precisely shaped hedgerows to separate different parts and, as with pathways, give the garden structure.
One thing you could consider doing if you wanted to go all out for the look is replace border fences with hedgerow plants such as box or privet, although this is something you would probably need to agree with neighbours if your land adjoins their garden.
For a quicker, easier option, you could buy pre-shaped topiary bushes in pots – hedge plants cut into the shape of animals – or even try your hand at learning the art yourself.
Speaking of potted plants, the grand landscapers of old were very fond of using ornate bordering on statuesque planters to provide features to lawns and terraced areas. These would be used to plant decorative shrubs and bushes as well as fragrant blooms, but the attraction was the ornamental value of the planters themselves as much as the plants.
These faux lead cube planters, with a choice of Chelsea square or lion head design, are perfect examples of the kind of formal, subdued aesthetic typical of classical landscape gardening. For planters in other shapes and sizes, view the collection here.
Water is ubiquitous in most grand formal gardens, usually in the form of extensive artificial lakes or ponds either designed for boating or teeming with ornamental fish.
Building your own boating lake might be out of reach for most of us, but you can certainly consider a pond to give your garden that tranquil, reflective space that formal garden planners used so well. An alternative option is to install a small fountain, or even a decorative stone birdbath.
Finally, the formal garden planner’s playbook is all about order and symmetry – a conscious rejection of the ‘chaos’ of unfettered nature, a demonstration of human kind’s rational triumph over the wild.
A great way to imitate the look and feel of a formal garden in your own backyard is, therefore, to focus on regular shapes and symmetrical layouts – and, of course, by keeping everything looking as neat and well-cared-for as possible at all times.