Formal gardens appeal to those who delight in crisp, neat edges, straight lines and a sense of order. Many traditional suburban gardens are formal in outline, with rectangular lawns flanked by straight flower borders, and perhaps rectangular or circular flowerbeds cut into them. Such rigid designs are often dictated by the drive for the car and straight paths laid by the house builder. Structure is as important as the plants contained within the garden. The design should be largely symmetrical with no pretence at creating a natural-looking environment for the plants. The very size and shape of most small gardens limits the opportunities for natural looking landscapes so a formal style is a popular choice.
Parterres and knot gardens often appeal to those with a sense of garden history, though in a small garden the effect can only be a shadow of the grand designs used by sixteenth-century French and Italian gardeners.
Parterres are areas consisting of a series of shaped beds, or compartments, that fit together to form a pattern, often quite complex on the ground. They were designed to be viewed from the upper windows of grand houses. These are expensive gardens to create and slow to establish but the results can be stunning.
Formal herb gardens are popular and much easier to create than knot gardens. A formal rose garden is easy to create and will look good even in its first season. To provide interest throughout the year, edge the beds with seasonal flowers and under plant the roses with spring bulbs or low growing summer flowers.
Paved gardens are ideal for small gardens. By growing most plants in raised beds or containers, less bending is involved and many of the small plants are more easily appreciated. Climbers can be used to make the most of vertical space, and if you plant in open areas left in the paving, the garden can still look green. Space can be at a real premium in the heart of a town, but you can turn your backyard into an oasis-like courtyard garden with floor tiles and white walls that reflect the light. Add some lush green foliage, an architectural tree or large shrub and the sound of running water. Although the plants may be few, the impact is strong.
Island gardens are usually cut into a lawn. They can be circular, oval or rectangular in shape, and it must be possible to view them from all sides. An island bed is relatively easy to establish. The rule is that there are no rules. Just give free rein to your imagination.
The traditional design of a small formal garden is a rectangular lawn with a straight herbaceous border, roses and flowerbeds. This is a popular choice with gardeners looking for the opportunity to grow a wide variety of plants such as summer bedding, herbaceous plants and popular favourites such as roses. The design element is less important than the plants.