Post category: Formality


Straight lines, squares, circles, rectangles, and diamonds: the use of strict geometric shapes in the garden creates formality. Very often, the hard, non-living part of the garden has a strong element of formality. For example, paving slabs are square or rectangular. These formal materials can be laid out in a strictly formal design, or they can be laid to less formal patterns.



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Although plants are informal in shape, they can be used formally. Hedges and clipped shrubs are usually formal. If plants are planted in rows, it imposes a certain amount of formality on the garden.

Formal garden designs are often laid out symmetrically. That is, the two sides of the design match each other. The effect of symmetry is very strong, linking the garden and making it easier to take in initially. Then, the eye begins automatically to check out the symmetry; that’s when a few breaks away from perfect symmetry are interesting.

Formality need not be linked with symmetry, however. Some modern designs use geometric shapes without matching them up symmetrically. This kind of design can be very interesting and ‘modern’. It would best suit a house of similar architecture.




Flowing lines, curves, irregular shapes, the shapes of nature are informal; they lack geometric precision. While the hard materials of the garden are often formal, the plant materials are always informal unless they are trained or clipped.

Plants are best left grow naturally – informally. They look better with their distinctive natural shape. Because there is no clipping and tying, they are easier to maintain. Weeds and untrimmed edges are not as noticeable in an informal garden and the level of maintenance can be less assiduous.




The house itself is geometrically formal, and formal garden features like rose beds, bedding plants, paving, paths and formal pools are best associated with it. In general, the garden should become less formal as it goes away from the house. With small gardens, the whole garden might be strictly formal because it is still within the influence of the house itself. Country gardens should become less formal at a distance so that they fit happily into their informal surroundings.



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A combination of formality and informality is the best approach to garden design. The hard materials of the garden tend to be formal anyway and they can be allowed to bring some formality to the garden. Hard materials can have a formal informality – formality of texture, surface and shape and informality of line!

Plants are informal and they can be used to balance the formality of the hard parts. The combination gives a design of subtlety and strength.

Every design should have hard materials as well as plants. Among plants every garden must have trees for skeleton, evergreens for weight, shrubs and flowers for shape and colour. A few key ornaments should be used.