Because so much of the pattern in planned gardens is derived from paths and low hedges, it is necessary to bring in some vertical elements to provide height and interest. These can be introduced in various ways. A sundial or bird-bath on a pedestal or a stone fountain can make a good central feature. Yew or box clipped into tall shapes or mop-headed box or bay trees in tubs can be positioned in rows on either side of a path.
Focal points. A focal point is something that attracts attention. It might be a small building or tree on the horizon or a sculpture or urn. A focal point should be deliberate. You do not want the eye attracted towards a washing line or tool shed. The eye likes to go to a focal point in a straight line, so formal gardens are asking for focal points to be positioned at the ends of straight paths.
A focal point may be a specimen tree, a well-designed bench in an arbor, a small summer house or a white painted seat. A view could also be a focal point. To do this you will need to frame it with planting or create a ‘window’ in a clipped hedge through which to see it.
Materials. Formal garden style is highly disciplined. Paving materials need to be very carefully chosen so that they are in sympathy with any nearby buildings. Even mixing different kinds and colors of bricks can produce a disruptive effect. All materials should be well defined. It is best to use as few materials as possible so that the overall effect gives a sense of unity. If using paving stones, they should be placed in a geometric manner, not as crazy paving, which is seldom suited to a formal plan.
When laying bricks you will find that a herring-bone pattern has a softer effect than when the bricks are laid in straight lines. Paths can be edged with small cobbles to give them an ‘outline’ to reinforce the pattern. Both brick and stone make a warm, static ground cover that marries well with brick walls to give a unified design.
Gravel is not usually a good choice for the symmetrical garden. It is too easily kicked around and does not provide a clear enough outline for the geometric garden. One exception is a very small garden that is more for viewing than for walking around, where gravel can make an effective background for a central clipped shrub or stone sculpture.
Water is very much part of the traditional formal garden. It harks back to the desert gardens of old with their irrigation channels and refreshing central pools. A central pool of circular or geometric shape, perhaps with a fountain in the center, or indeed any central water feature with a symmetrical shape will look in place.
Narrow channels can run alongside paths and long, rectangular ponds with matching seats on either side will enable guests to sit and enjoy water lilies and the reflections of the sky. If water is the central element in the garden, it creates an atmosphere of great tranquillity. The reflecting quality of the water in a large pool, plus pale-colored paving, will give the center of the garden a very light, optimistic feeling.
The pool should of course be symmetrical and balanced. In an enclosed area, more water can be added via wall fountains. Even water plants can be placed symmetrically.
A wide paved path allows the visitor to get near the water, and steps can lead right down to the water’s edge. A symmetrical row of small trees or a clipped hedge will act as a framework to the pool, giving a general feeling of privacy and accentuating the formality.