Formal Gardens – Part I



As rosarians, we are in constant pursuit of a rose garden whenever and wherever we are. During the rose peak blooming season, we love to see all rose gardens we can possibly see.  In this pursuit, we come across all types of garden designs.


On most of the public gardens we see, there is one element that seems to prevail.  Have you ever noticed that the rose garden in a public setting is always a formal garden? Elizabeth Park, the first municipal rose garden in America and located in Connecticut, and the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at New York Botanical Garden (above photo) are fine examples of formal rose gardens.  For centuries, the Queen of Flowers seems to command a place in the garden where order and calmness prevail.


Formal gardens have been the gardener’s ultimate expression of man’s control over nature.  The greatest formal garden in the world is Versailles in France where Andre Le Notre designed the formal gardens for Louis XIV, the Sun King.



Another formal garden is the Garden at Chateau de Villandry.



When we went to Vienna, Austria for a Kiwanis International Convention in 1983, I saw the formal garden at Schönbrunn Palace. It was breathtaking.

Schoembrum Palace


I got home and looked at my garden and was not too happy with it. I started measuring the yard and went to work to change the design. I made my small formal rose garden and ten years later opened it up to the public for fundraising Ice Cream Socials for my favorite charities for several years till we moved south.


The medieval monks perfected the neatly ordered knot herb garden.  The miniature knot garden at Rosemary Verey’s Barnsley House in England interfaces two kinds of boxwood, green and golden with clipped germander.  Yet we do not have to go abroad to see one.  I saw one at a private garden on the East End of Long Island. I saw another knot garden at Agecroft Hall in Richmond, Virginia.

Agecroft Hall


The Italian garden with fountains and water features are also very formal.  There is a great example of the Italian Garden at a less known garden “Nemours” of the DuPont family at the Brandywine Valley in Delaware.

Nemours Mansion & Gardens


Boxwood parterres that punctuate an English Rose Garden are well documented.  Then there was the garden of William and Mary with baroque parterres in the 1680’s at the palace of Het Loo in Holland.  The Roseraie at the Parc de la Grange near Lake Geneva is a highly formal rose garden of 25,000 roses.


About three thousand years ago, the Egyptians developed a formal pleasure garden with water as an essential element.  In Granada, Spain, at the Generalife garden above the Alhambra is a formal garden with narrow water channels called rils hemmed in by hedges and cypresses with standard roses along the perimeter of the hedges.



I saw a small version of a Persian Garden at the 60,000 sq. ft. conservatory at Doris Duke Garden in New Jersey.  George Washington’s garden at Mount Vernon is still a formal garden but not as elaborate as those found in some expansive gardens in Europe.  Every master of landscape design from the Renaissance on have put their marks into the landscape of formal design with the exception of Lancelot “Capability” Brown who integrated the surroundings into the natural contours of the landscape.


The most basic components of the formal design can be summed up into few basic principles – clipped hedges, stone pavings or grass pathways, clear vistas like big expanses of lawn- these are the elements which form the palette of formality.  Just like doing a flower arrangement but in a much broader sense, the principle of order and a sense of achieving beauty and harmony are of paramount importance.


Until next time. Stop and smell the Roses.


Moonstone rose photo (3)



One thought on “Formal Gardens – Part I

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s