A stately home calls for a classical landscaping style. A formal garden throws Georgian, Colonial, and Federal style homes into the spotlight. The sweeping lawns and linear style let these architectural styles shine.
Neoclassical and Greek Revival partner naturally with a formal classical garden. Carry classic architectural details like columns and pediments into outdoor spaces. This gives the landscape a serene and stately look.
Origins of Classical Landscaping
The Greek Hellenic era brought the formal garden into the Western world. And many of these gardens included water features. Potted plants lined paved garden paths, an adoption from Persian gardens that worked well in arid Greek lands.
Romans adopted the Greek Style and developed it further, and exporting the classical landscaping concept into Europe. The Romans created large public parks for both reflection and recreation. And like the Greeks, these gardens included fruit trees and bushes.
Roman gardens featured many of the same elements still used today. Broad patios for entertaining served as the entrance. Additionally, furniture for resting and water features for a cooling ambiance provided a starting point for the garden tour.
Other Roman elements that still survive include walking paths with points along the way for statues or shrines. Large properties boast shaded lanes for riding, yet found in classical landscaping throughout the Southern United States.
The Italian Renaissance revived the formal Roman garden. And since that time, it has been adopted across Europe and its colonies, adapted to each region’s climate and culture.
Elements of Classical Landscaping
Whatever the country or growing conditions, classical formal landscaping features several basic elements:
1. Geometrical Layout
The hallmark of a classical garden is the goal of bringing order to chaotic nature. Formal gardens contain clean lines and geometric shapes. Rather than following the natural lines of the existing space, classical landscape seeks to contain nature. Straight lines, neat circles, and strong angles accomplish this task.
2. Proportion and Balance
As in its architecture, classical landscaping requires balance. Sweeping lawns are balanced by neat hedges. Majestic trees are balanced by fine-leafed ground covering. Hardscape materials like pavers and loose stone are balanced against each other, in order to create a serene outdoor space.
3. Symmetry Along Focal Points
Classical landscaping features symmetrical lines leading to focal points. A line of boxwoods on either side of a path leading to a gazebo at the back of the garden. Rows of trees balance each other along property lines. A pair of flower beds adorn either side of a patio space. Even plant pots are aligned symmetrically around a water fountain.
Classical landscaping results in a cohesive look. Along with balance and symmetry, repeating features and plantings give the whole garden a put-together look. Repetition can be expressed in plant types or hardscape. Mirror architectural columns on the home with columns on the gazebo or in potted plant stands on the patio. Also, repeat plant groupings in similarly shaped beds throughout the landscape.
5. Restrained Color
The classical landscaping color theme is shades of green, with texture providing interest. Focus on establishing a year-round display of green, with evergreens and perennials. Hedges accomplish this, as well as creating shape and order with careful pruning. Finally, formal flower beds should be subdued and discreet, even monotone.
6. Good Bones
Most importantly, the “bones” of classical landscaping refer to the year-round elements, such as hardscaping, pathways, and evergreen. Even bare winter branches can provide interest, along with fencing and trellises.
Italian Classical Landscaping
The Italian Renaissance introduced the classical ideals of order and beauty into modern Europe. Italian formal landscaping hardscape features fountains and statues. Grottos in shaded areas were popular choices, while terra cotta pots and tiered fountains are appropriate. Additionally, herb gardens in symmetrical beds or pots provide both flowers and textures of green.
Good plant choices for Italian classic landscapes
Trees and Bushes:
- Olive Trees
- Fig Trees
- Grape Vines
- Citrus Trees
Flowers and Herbs
- Butterfly Bush
French Classical Landscaping
If you’ve got your heart on replicating the Palace of Versailles, you’re probably dreaming of French classical landscaping for your outdoor space. French formal landscaping borrowed from Italian design, however, there are some key differences. And these differences are very distinct.
Most of all, French classical landscaping is much more formal in its design. French formal gardens are designed to feature the man-made elements of the landscape. Natural elements take the back seat to towering fountains. Lawns are long, flat, and sweeping in order to draw the eye to the home. They’re also designed to be seen from above, from terraces and windows. So, a balanced, symmetrical layout from above is a critical part of the design.
Plant beds should be symmetrical, neat, and clearly defined, while repetition is an important factor. Hedges trimmed to geometric shapes define spaces. Neatly pruned hedges are a hallmark of French classical landscaping, and topiaries are also key features.
French Formal Gardens Examples
Plant choices should be restrained for the French garden, because of the focus on patterns. When in doubt, it’s almost always safe to stick to one type of flower for each bed. In addition, limit flower beds to white, blue, or purple blooms. Cool color tones are also a hallmark of the French tradition.
French classical landscaping clearly defines the purpose of each space in its design, so kitchen gardens should be separate from more formal areas. Planters and pots are a good way to keep them tidy. The exception is lavender, which is grown as hedges in extensive rows in symmetrical beds.
Good plant choices for French formal landscapes:
- Chinese cedar
- Canna Lily
English Classical Landscaping
Known for rolling, close-trimmed lawns and massive water ponds surrounded by trees and forests, the “English Park” is the classical landscaping style of England, followed closely in popularity by the “cottage garden.”
English formal gardens are less restrictive than the French style they adopted and more forgiving of natural forms. Therefore, the grounds of majestic English homes maintain much of their natural shape and elevation. While stone paths, lines of shrubs, even topiary mazes are key features, outlying grounds are often left somewhat wild.
English gardens have flowers planted in abundance, with creeping vines snaking their way around hardscape fixtures. The odd flower entwines a Tudor knot garden and is permitted to remain.
English blooms spill over the stone walls of geometric flower beds in a riot of color. Flower beds are layered, with various plants taking the limelight in stages, flashing exuberant colors throughout the seasons.
Wider Variety in English Formal Gardens
English classical landscaping also includes several elements of plants as well as design features. Tudor knots and mazes are traditional. Drifts of large flower beds mimicking natural meadows are common and are only restricted by the size of the property. Another distinctly English addition to classical landscaping design is the monochrome garden, featuring a single color family of flowers.
The intrepid Brits learned to make do in a number of climates, so the traditional tree types for an English formal garden included whatever grew best in your region. Travelers often brought back trees and plants from all parts of the Empire. As a result, classical English gardening a mix of native and imported trees, bushes, and flowers.
Plants for an English garden:
- Lilies of the Valley
American Classical Landscape
Most formal gardens in the U.S. borrowed from the English Park gardens. While the varying climates have inspired most Americans to adapt. The U.S. ranges from near-tropical heat and humidity to the arid cold of the Rocky Mountains. Classical landscaping in the U.S. utilizes the basics of design along with native plants for each zone.
Tips for Classical landscaping in the U.S.
- Use evergreen hedges throughout, while focusing on those suited for your climate/zone.
- Add large hardscape features. Use fountains, archways, statues, or gazebos as focal points.
- Classically shaped containers work for herbs and dwarf trees.
- Use classical and neoclassical shapes like columns and pedestal urns.
- Create symmetry in layout, in order to draw the eye to focal points.
- Limit your selection of plants to simple color combinations. When in doubt, stick to white or lighter shades of blues and purples.
Classical landscaping creates a stately and serene look to a grand home. As a result, the clean look and illusion of space calms the mind. While easy to look at, they’re easy to take care of, as well. No more calculating complicated care schedules. Especially when you only have a handful of flower species to nurture. For even less fuss, rely on perennials for years of bloom.
The key to a beautiful classic formal garden is almost always simply time. Take time for planning your garden, while starting with the hardscape design and installation. In addition, research and purchase the plant varieties that thrive in your region. Once established, classical landscaping will last for many decades with regular maintenance.
Featured Image: CC0 Creative Commons by Sharkgraphic via Pixabay