These are an expression of man’s dominance over nature. The natural features and elements are contained in an imposed geometry and structure (definition courtesy of Encyclopedia of Garden design). The best examples of these are found in France, Greece and Italy.
A balanced design through symmetry and a visible ground plan will create a successful formal garden. Organised around a central axis formal gardens often focus on a focal point visible from the house. In larger areas there may be a couple of these.
Geometry is key to the success of a formal garden. Water is normally another key feature. Either as a reflective surface or with fountains. Lawns and clipped hedges are key, defining soaces and views. Pleached trees are making a popular comeback.
Control over nature is the over riding theme. One of the best examples of this is Versailles which while vast, can be incorporated into smaller gardens.
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