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The Formal Garden: structure and symmetry

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The formal garden continues to be a significant element of garden design and landscape architecture.

From Italy on, we bring the history of formal gardens right up to date, with a discourse that runs counter to the dominant fashion for naturalism and wild planting.

We consider designers and gardens that work within a rigid formality, where geometry is king and the Arts and Crafts and modern architectural inspiration abound.

The Modern formal garden is a style of garden design that emphasises clean lines, geometric shapes, and a minimalist aesthetic.

It is characterised by its use of symmetrical patterns, simple colour palettes, and carefully curated plantings. This style of garden design is often associated with contemporary architecture and is commonly used for public spaces, corporate campuses, and high-end residential properties.

With the many designers practicing within the modern formal garden context being numerous Chelsea Flower Show winners such as Ulf Nordfjell, Arne Maynard and Christopher Bradley Hole and they always design with an eye to accompany their

formality with a free naturalistic planting; even Piet Oudolf has created extremely formal gardens, with Scampston Hall being an example.

In a modern formal garden, the layout is typically organised into distinct areas or "rooms," each with its own unique design and purpose.

The garden may feature a central axis or pathway that draws the eye towards a focal point, such as a sculpture or water feature.

Plantings in a modern formal garden tend to be low-maintenance and often include evergreen shrubs, ornamental grasses, and carefully pruned trees.

Water features, such as fountains or reflecting pools, are also commonly used to add a sense of tranquility and calmness to the space.

Overall, the Modern formal garden is a sophisticated and elegant style of garden design that emphasises simplicity, order, and balance.

It is an ideal choice for those who appreciate a clean and contemporary aesthetic in their outdoor spaces.

Learning and teaching

There will be lectures, case studies and group discussions.

Coursework and assessment

To award credits we need to have evidence of the knowledge and skills you have gained or improved.

Some of this has to be in a form that can be shown to external examiners so that we can be absolutely sure that standards are met across all courses and subjects.

The most important element of assessment is that it should enhance your learning.

Our methods are designed to increase your confidence and we try very hard to devise ways of assessing you that are enjoyable and suitable for adults with busy lives.

Reading suggestions

  • Stephen Parker; England's Gardens: A Modern History. ( Dorling Kindersley 29 Jun. 2023)
  • New Formal Gardens: A Modern Approach to Formal Design
  • by Jill Billington and Royal Horticultural Society | 12 Apr 2002
  • Katie Campbell, British Gardens in Time: The Greatest Gardens and the People Who Shaped
  • Them (Frances Lincoln, 27 Mar 2014))
  • The English Country House Garden by George Plumptre and Marcus Harpur | 1 Oct 2018
  • Royal Gardens of the World: 21 Celebrated Gardens from the Alhambra to Highgrove and Beyond
  • by Mark Lane | 24 Sept 2020
  • Creating Small Formal Gardens by Roy Strong and Robina Green | 26 Oct 1989
  • Topiary, Knots and Parterres by Caroline Foley | 8 Jun 2017
  • Gardens of Court and Country: English Design 1630-1730 (The Association of Human Rights
  • Institutes series) by David Jacques | 4 Apr 2017
  • Topiary: Garden Craftsmanship in Yew and Box by Nathaniel Lloyd | 1 Jan 1999
  • The Gardens of Arne Maynard by Arne Maynard | 10 Sept 2015
  • Derek Jarman's Garden Hardcover – 5 Jun. 1995 by Derek Jarman (Author), Howard Sooley
  • Royal Gardens: Extraordinary Edens from Around the World
  • by Stéphane Bern and Jean-Baptiste Leroux | 1 Nov 2014
  • Tom Turner, British Gardens. History, Philosophy and Design (Routledge 2013)
  • Andrew Wilson, Influential Gardens: the designers who shaped 20th-century garden style.
  • (London: Mitchell Beazley 2002)
  • George Plumptre, The Gardens of England: Treasures of the National Gardens Scheme, (Merrell
  • Publishers Ltd 2013)
  • Gardens Of Obsession Hardcover – 14 Oct. 1999 by Gordon Cooper (Author), Gordon Taylor.

Library and computing facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University’s library and computing facilities. Find out more about using these facilities.


Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and dyslexia screening.