It’s dull and grey so the best thing to do at the moment is dream of your ideal garden. In the next few weeks I’ll be outlining ten different styles which can be happily adapted to a north London garden. Style no 1 is that perennial favourite, The Formal Garden. This one’s a real survivor because it gives structure and is very adaptable to different climates, scale and style of property. With its roots in the Renaissance the formal relies on geometry, symmetry and evergreen plants, with garden ornaments and splashes of colour for its impact. The pleasing effect is brilliant seen from a particular viewpoint, such as a picture window, and is surprisingly low in maintenance.
I grew up with the formal style and holidays often included visiting gardens in France and Italy where this type of garden reached it apogee during the Renaissance. These included splendid parterre gardens which used small box hedges as edging and bedding plants as colour – made to look like a natural carpet. The idea behind this style was man’s control and indeed domination of nature proving that the owner was an all-powerful person – think Versailles and Louis XIV.
The use of clipped evergreen plants such as box, yew, holly, cypress and myrtle meant the garden looked great all year round – and that’s something we could do with in our London homes. I particularly like this style for front gardens and parterres can look stunning even in miniature – easy to keep too if they are constructed properly.
Formal is also good for modern houses – look at the work of Italian designer Luciano Giubbilei who takes the Italian tradition and gives it a modern twist. Use basic geometric shapes like squares, triangles, cubes, circles and cylinders and keep the design clean and uncluttered with a limited palette of colours and plant material. There are many useful books on the subject – a good place to start is Roy Strong’s ‘Creating Small Gardens’.
For a good selection of plants suitable for the formal style see: http://www.crocus.co.uk/plants/_/vid.1600/