Formal English Gardens
Style Guide

Formal English Gardens: the Overview

The roots of the Formal English Garden can actually be traced back to the early Roman times.

Formal English Gardens as we know them today originated during the18th Century, from about the 1740’s. 

These gardens represented a relaxation of the formal, symmetrical, and highly ordered gardens of the French Renaissance periods.

formal garden path

In the later years of the 19th century there was a return to more formal, symmetrical and geometric shapes, and today’s English Garden often mixes these elements first seen in the Italian and French Renaissance periods with the more relaxed, but still highly formal English Gardens of the 1700’s.  

Formal English gardens in the true tradition embody, above all other things, an idealized view of nature.  They draw heavily upon classical elements rooted in Greek, Roman and Chinese history.

  Characteristic Garden Elements

  • Formal Water Features juxtaposed against natural elements
  • Lakes, Ponds, and streams modeled after natural water elements
  • Park like expanses of rolling lawns
  • Groves and clumps of trees 
  • Straight or gently winding garden paths
  • Re-creation of classical elements as focal points
  • Stone Elements with classical lines – such as garden walls, stone paths and formal benches
  • Columns, statues and balustrades with elegant, classically derived character
  • Generous pathways and large expanses of grass, gravel, or stone
  • Massed plantings and restrained plant palettes
  • A mix of asymmetrical and symmetrical elements
  • Heirloom Plants
  • Perennial borders
  • Defined Beds and Hedges
  • Garden Follies
  • Scented Plantings
  • Topiary

  Iconic Plants

Antique RosesDavid Austin Roses
FoxgloveBleeding Heart
Clipped YewSaracocca
BoxwoodGarden Peony

Historical Examples

Ionic Temple at Chiswick House Formal Gardens
Ionic Temple at Chiswick House Gardens
English Garden at Stowe House
Vanbrugh’s Rotunda at Stowe Gardens
Grotto with view of Bowood House Gardens
Grotto at Bowood House Gardens

  Modern Adaptations