Top design elements of formal gardens

Originating from Europe, formal gardens have never lost their appeal. With an emphasis on classical principles of geometry, repetition, and balance, formal gardens can be designed to compliment contemporary or traditional architecture.

To bring the design style up to the 21st century, well composed classic gardens combine these traditional principles with modern outdoor living to create an unrivalled style.

Landscape designer Paul Bangay who is well known for his classic garden design shares his knowledge on what really makes a successful formal garden.

Good bones

One of the distinct features of a formal garden is the layout and geometry of the outdoor space. “The architectural layout of a classical garden is fundamental to its success”, says Paul. 

Formal gardens emphasise straight lines, angles and circles together with balanced proportions. This achieves a sense of order and calm. “Balance and symmetry combined with exacting proportions will endure and survive short terms fashion changes.”

Classic plant varieties

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Paul Bangay ‘Stonefields’

Planting plays such an integral role to how a formal garden looks and feels. Symmetrical plant and sculptural forms like hedges, reinforce the layout of a classic garden advices Paul.

“Layering of such plants as Buxus, Murraya and bay are old time favourites. Pencil pines provide accents in the garden, whilst clipped cones of Magnolia grandiflora provide interest.”


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Paul Bangay ‘Stonefields’ featuring Eco Outdoor granite paving ‘Raven’

Often repetition creates harmony in a garden”, says Paul. “The thoughtful repeat of the same space and lines is harmonious and classical.”

Repetition can offer a sense of structure and cohesion throughout the outdoor space. It can also work to your advantage by making the dimensions of a garden feel larger.

Ornamental features

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Paul Bangay Hawthorn Project featuring Eco Outdoor bluestone paving

Most formal gardens will include ornamental features throughout the garden as a focal point or to frame the view.  Urns, water features and statues are common elements.

Paul recommends you opt for simple over elaborate features. “Avoid over ornamented Victorian features,” suggests Paul.  “Always choose slightly overscale instead of under scale features”. 

For visual impact, Paul also advises you prioritise fewer good pieces rather many average features in the garden. 


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Paul Bangay Main Ridge project 

“The best lesson in garden design is restraint”, says Paul. Whether it’s colour palette, planting, layout or ornamental features restraint is essential to the overall success of the garden.

Paul recommends mass planting using fewer species but more of them. “Avoid too many objects of interest and not over complicate a design layout. These are all good lessons learnt along the way,” says Paul.