One type of formal garden, called a knot garden, comes down to
us from Elizabethan England. The English and the French loved
their knot gardens and usually patterned them after a rug or tapestry
in their home. The main ingredients consisted of intricate geometric
patterns, dwarf hedges of evergreen herbs, and/or paths. There
were the closed knot gardens with no access and compartments,
containing colored sand or gravel. Then there were the open knots
with paths forming part of the patterns and compartments filled
with sweet-smelling plants such as rosemary,
hyssop, sage, and lavender.
Traditionally, the planting schemes were sparse with the emphasis
on the individual species. For instance, all the hedges were of
boxwood, and knots were made in groups of four. These gardens
demanded time and care as the hedges needed constant and careful
trimming to maintain their appearance.
magnificent example of knot gardening can be found at Filoli in
California. William Bowers Bourn purchased Muckross House estate
in County Kerry, Ireland in 1910 as a wedding gift for his daughter.
He was so influenced by its rich history and extensive gardens
that he incorporated many into his own estate, Filoli. The estate
was eventually donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Two knot gardens were created as a bicentennial project in 1976.
Each is 35' by 36" and is bordered on the south by a copper beech
hedge, and on the north by rose of Sharon to provide a sense of
enclosed space. The gardens followed the traditional design of
a medieval knot garden, creating an illusion of colored cords
weaving under and over one another and containing low growing
plants that grow in dense, hedge-like masses. The gardeners plant
more than 20,000 annuals each year
to provide spectacular floral displays spring, summer, and fall.
Magnolias, rhododendrons, and azaleas peak in early spring, and
the rose gardens rule the summer. Chrysanthemums, copper beeches,
gingkoes, and Japanese maples provide fall color. The best time
to view the knot gardens is in May and June when the lavender,
santolina, and germander contrast
with the rich crimson of the new barberry foliage.
interest in a knot garden comes in part from contrasting foliage
colors, and the small divisions provide a neat area for growing
herbs. You can grow a different herb in each one, restrict your
plants to certain colors or herbs for certain ailments, or for
different cooking styles, or for fragrance. Some possible patterns
for a modern knot garden include: brick circle, brick diamond,
square within a square, diagonal paths, interlocking diamonds,
oblongs and right angles, diamonds and squares, diamonds in rectangles,
and wheel beds. The many compartments allow for exuberant natural
growth of herbs with the tidy formality of traditional designs.
your hand by marking out a bed not less then 6'square. Anything
smaller will not allow for weaving of lines. Plan out your design
on grid paper. For inspiration, look at knot patterns in herb
books or books on ancient cultures or even history books that
have illustrations of knot gardens. If it is too cold to grow
boxwood in your area, you can use hyssop or germander
as edging plants. Plan it as a feature all its own or as the centerpiece
of your main garden. Mixing formal with the informal can be truly
formal garden need not be so intricate as the knot garden, but
it should be structured. What I mean is, it should have "rhyme
and reason". My little formal garden is round with a sundial in
the middle. Spokes of 2-foot wide brick pathways lead to the sundial
from each compass point-north, south, east, and west- with a border
around the circumference made of bricks laid side-to-side. The
edges of the walkways are kept neat with bricks laid on-end, raised
about 4 inches from the height of the walkway. In between the
walks, there's lavender, sage,
and thyme formed into a pattern.
I call it my relaxation garden because time stands still once
the sun goes down.
Topiary is the art of pruning and training plants and shrubs into
decorative shapes. It goes as far back as the Romans, but many
of the artistic forms or pruning were developed in Europe, first
by the French during the period when they designed formal gardens,
and then by the Japanese. One can still visit some famous gardens
and view the topiary that has been preserved. Here are just a
few notable ones: Le Chateau de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley
has broderie (imagine brocade only in plant form) of santolina
created by Diane de Poitier, Henry II's mistress. The Monasterio
de San Lorenzo in Santiago de Compostela in Spain has some very
strange box hedges that are 400 years old. Among the many religious
symbols shaped in the box hedges is that of the pilgrim's shell
(a scallop) of St. James, a badge still worn by pilgrims to Santiago.
In the Netherlands at Het Loo garden, are elegant arabesques made
of boxwood. In Italy at Villa Garzoni, one can view massive topiary
shapes of animals and birds.