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Garden Design, Styles

By Sereba Agiobu-Kemmer
04 March 2016   |   11:04 pm
So far, on garden design we have discussed key elements or principles of design (size, form, balance) – whether form or function depends on primary purpose, often both.
The  Orangerie  Gardens, Versailles (French Formal style))

The Orangerie Gardens, Versailles (French Formal style))

So far, on garden design we have discussed key elements or principles of design (size, form, balance) – whether form or function depends on primary purpose, often both. Also, there are two basic styles of gardens, formal and informal. Formal landscape design heavily depends on straight lines and geometric shapes. The plantings are orderly and pruned neatly to maintain their formal effect. Informal gardens are not symmetrical, they can be more natural in appearance and an untidy appearance often does not look out of order. The plants are allowed to expressed their exuberance.

Informal landscape design is the exact opposite of the formal style. A more relaxed feel is achieved by using curved lines and irregular shapes. The plantings are massed in a more informal manner creating a naturalistic appearance. Formality in a garden is not a black and white thing though. There are an unlimited range of compromises between the very formal and informal garden.

Straight edges to garden beds or pathways will create a more formal effect while curved edges create a more informal and relaxed feeling.


Stourhead (1741-80), English garden in picturesque style of 18th century Romantic Movement.

Garden design, began with creating the Paradise garden in Ancient Persia, in Western Asia. It evolved over the centuries, in the different cultures, in the Islamic dynasties that came to rule in Central-South Asia, near East, North Africa, and the Iberian Peninsula. A formal garden in the Persian and Europe garden design traditions is rectilinear and axial in design. The equally formal garden, without axial symmetry (asymmetrical) or other geometries, is the garden design tradition of Chinese gardens and Japanese gardens.

The western model is an ordered garden laid out in carefully planned geometric and often symmetrical lines. Lawns and hedges in a formal garden need to be kept neatly clipped for maximum effect. Trees shrubs, subshrubs and foliages are carefully arranged, shaped and continually maintained.

A French garden or Garden a la francaise, is a kind of formal garden; it is centered on the façade of a building, with radiating avenues and paths of gravel, lawns, parterres and pools (basins) of reflective water enclosed in geometric shapes by stone coping, with fountains and sculpture. The simplest formal garden would be a box-trimmed hedge lining or enclosing a carefully laid out flowerbed or garden bed of simple geometric shape, such as a knot garden. The more developed and elaborate formal gardens contain statuary and fountains.

Persian gardens are credited with originating aesthetic and diverse planting design. A correct Persian garden will be divided into four sectors with water being very important for both irrigation and aesthetics. The four sectors symbolize the Zoroastrian elements of sky, earth, water and plants. Plants in ancient and Medieval European gardens was often a mix of herbs for medicinal use, vegetable for consumption, and flowers for decoration.

Renaissance Gardens
Purely aesthetic painting layouts developed after the Medieval period in Renaissance gardens, as are shown in late-renaissance paintings and plans. The design of the Italian Renaissance garden were geometrical and plants were used to form spaces and patterns. The gardens of the French Renaissance and Baroque Garden a la francaise era continued the ‘formal garden’ design aesthetic.

Asian Gardens
In Asia, the asymmetrical traditions of planting design in Chinese and Japanese gardens originated in the Jin Dynasty (265-420) of China. The gardens’ designs have a controlled but naturalistic aesthetic.
Picturesque Gardens

In Europe the arrangement of plants in informal groups developed as part of the English landscape Garden style, and subsequently the French landscape garden, and was strongly influenced by the picturesque art movement. The picturesque garden style emerged in the 18th century, one of the growing currents of the larger Romantic movement. Garden designers emulated the allegorical landscape paintings of European artists, especially Clande Lorraine, Poussin and Salvator Rosa. The manicured hills, lakes and trees dotted with allegorical temples were sculpted into the land.

The French Picturesque garden style was influenced by contemporary English gardens. Rocozo features like Turkish tents, Chinese bridges are prevalent. The French Picturesque garden falls into two categories: those that were staged, almost like theatrical scenery, usually rustic and exotic, called jardin anglo-Chinois, and those filled with pastoral romance and bucolic sentiment, influenced by Jean-Jacque, Rousseau. The former style is represented by the Desert de Retz and Parc Monceau, the latter by Moulin Jalie.

English gardens: the common name in English speaking world, of interpretations, derivations and revival, in the style of the original landscape garden examples.
‘Gardenesque’ gardens

Mughai gardens with water course and the Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Mughai gardens with water course and the Taj Mahal, Agra, India

The Gardensque style of English garden design evolved during the 1820s, from picturesque or mixed style, largely under the influence of garden designer J.C. London, who invented the term.

In Gardensque design, all the trees, shrubs and other plants are positioned and managed in such a way that the character of each plant can be displayed to its full potential. With the spread of botany as a suitable hobby for the enlightened, the Gardensque tended to emphasize botanical curiosities and a collector’s approach. New plant materials that would have seemed bizarre and alien found settings. Winding paths linked scattered plantings. The Gardensque approach involved the creation of small-scale landscapes, dotted with features and vigrettes, to promote beauty of detail, variety and mystery, sometimes to the detriment of coherence. Artificial mounds helped to stage groupings of shrubs and island beds because of prominent features.
Contemporary Gardens

Courtyard garden of Generalife de Granada (Moorish Spain)

Courtyard garden of Generalife de Granada (Moorish Spain)

In the 20th century, modern design for gardens became important as architects began to design buildings and residences with an eye toward innovation and streamlining the formal Beaux-Arts and derivative early revival styles, removing unnecessary references and embellishment. Garden design, inspired by modern architecture, naturally followed in the same philosophy of ‘‘form following function”. Franck Lloyd Wright demonstrated his interpretation for the modern garden by designing homes in complete harmony with natural surroundings. His son Lloyd Wright trained in architecture and landscape architecture in the famous Olmsted Brothers office, with his father, and architect Irving Gill.

He practiced an innovative organic integration of structure and landscape in his works.Subsequently Garret Eckbo, James Rose, and Dan Kiley – known as the ‘‘bad boys of Harvard,” met while studying traditional landscape architecture, became notable pioneers in the design of modern gardens. Their designers wanted to interpret and incorporate those new ideas in landscape design. They became interested in developing functional space for outdoor living with designs echoing natural surroundings. Modern gardens feature a fresh mix of curved and architectonic designs and many include abstract art in geometrics and sculpture. Spaces are defined with the thoughtful placement of trees and plantings.

Thomas Church work in California, his 1948 Donnell garden’s swimming pool, kidney-shaped with an abstract sculpture within it became an icon of modern outdoor living.

Roberto Burle Marx is accredited with having introduced modernist landscape architecture to Brazil. He was known as a modern nature artist and a public urban space designer. He was landscape architect (as well as botanist, painter, print maker, ecologist, naturalist, artist and musician) who designed parks and gardens in Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and in the USA in Florida. He worked with the architects Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer on the landscape design for some of the prominent modernist government buildings in Brazil’s capital Brasilia.

Contemporary gardens are known for their design lines. They may include streamlined built elements like poured concrete walls or reflecting ponds. The plant palettes in contemporary gardens typically feature bold plants that are simple but interesting. Contemporary garden design increasingly focuses on turning an outdoor space into an extension of our living space that fits better with modern lifestyle.

The term ‘outdoor room’ is often used to describe this approach to modern garden design and it works well now that modern materials and products gives us the same set of choices – floor surfaces, seating, lighting, furniture, décor etc. contemporary garden design prompts us to approach an outdoor space the same way we might do on interior design. The increase of the population affects the decrease of the space to be inhabited. Contemporary garden design increasingly focuses on turning an outdoor space into an ‘‘outdoor room.”