Geometric Formal Garden Design Ideas

If you’re looking for style and sophistication in your garden, then these geometric formal garden design ideas are for you. Find out how to add elegance, structure, and interest to any outdoor space.

formal garden design ideas

I don’t know about you, but I have always been fascinated by the geometric formal garden designs that you often see in the large gardens in Europe.

The structured paths, geometrical patterns, symmetrical layout, and clipped plants combine to accentuate the formal structure of their houses.

The geometric formal garden at Versailles

Like this one in Versailles, France.

While their grounds are much larger than most of ours, the same basic principles can be applied to any size of garden. And actually work quite well in smaller urban yards.

Which is probably why I like so many of the gardens in Charleston, SC. They are a great example of smaller versions using the same design principles.

So here are my tips on creating a geometric formal garden design in your own yard.

1 | Create a central axis

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A formal garden design with a central path and clipped hedge down the sides
©Blende8 – stock.adobe.com

The first step to creating a formal garden to create a straight path that runs right through the middle, from front to back.

This is the center of the garden that the rest of the design is created around.

This path is normally made of pavers or gravel.

A formal garden design with a grass path and a clipped hedge
©yolfran – stock.adobe.com

But can also be made of natural materials such as grass or mulch.

It usually leads the eye to a focal point at the back of the garden.

Which could be a beautiful view, statue or water feature.

2 | Use natural stone

A square formal garden, with round clipped ball shrubs and a pond
©Debu55y – stock.adobe.com

Natural stone is often used for paving pathways and patios, or to edge lawns and gardens.

It creates outlines that make the geometric shapes of the garden clear.

For a less expensive option, you can also use gravel.

3 | Create balance with symmetry

Italian symmetrical garden with a central path leading to a pergola
©mayabuns – stock.adobe.com

The next step is to use symmetry to design the garden on either side of your center walkway.

In the traditional formal garden, one side is an exact mirror image of the other.

Which makes your job easier, since you only half to design half the garden and then repeat it.

Formal garden with a water feature down the middle
©Mandy Jones – stock.adobe.com

However, you can also achieve symmetry using similar elements that aren’t exact duplicates.

As long as the design on opposite sides has plants that are a similar size and color, it will still give you the balanced look.

4 | Repeat elements

A formal garden with clipped trees and hedges and a fountain in the middle viewed through a hedge arch
©Ursula Page – stock.adobe.com

Repetition is another key element of formal garden design.

It helps to enhance the symmetry and balance of the garden.

A formal garden with square gardens on each side of a central path
©Shelli Jensen – stock.adobe.com

This applies to pretty much everything in the landscape – plants, color and architectural elements

5 | Add an interruption

A formal garden with blue lavender on either side of a gravel path with a sundial in the middle
©meirion – stock.adobe.com

To break up all that symmetry and repetition, add an interruption in the middle of the center path.

This can be a simple architectural element such as a birdbath, sundial, statue or urn.

A fountain in the middle of a paved path with clipped hedges and trees on either side
©Ursula Page – stock.adobe.com

Or a larger break such as a large water fountain or even a geometrically-shaped garden.

Often, there may be another path that crosses the center walkway at this point, creating multiple separate garden spaces.

6 | Create a geometrical pattern

A geometrical garden with hedges clipped into a triangular design
©PackShot – stock.adobe.com

Geometrical gardens (or parterres as they are called) are one of the quintessential elements that define formal designs.

The large formal gardens in Europe usually have fairly-complicated, straight-line patterns using squares, rectangles or triangles.

Circular garden beds edged in dwarf box hedges and filled with red flowers
©Jenny Thompson – stock.adobe.com

But curved garden beds can also work.

For most of us at home, we don’t have the space or the time to create such complicated designs.

Trimmed boxwood hedges in a square shape with flowers in the middle
©Ines Porada – stock.adobe.com

So simple squares are a good alternative that are easier to plant and maintain.

7 | Outline with dwarf clipped hedges

Geometric garden beds outlined with clipped hedges and topiary shrubs
©Václav Mach – stock.adobe.com

To keep the geometry as the main focus, the plant selections in formal gardens are usually kept quite simple.

Which is why dwarf boxwood or yew hedges are often use to line walkways and form the geometrical outlines.

To add some contrast, flowers and plants with different leaf and flower textures can be planted in between the clipped hedges.

8 | Create topiary

Topiary shrubs behind a dwarf clipped hedge
©fox17 – stock.adobe.com

In addition to the clipped hedges, many formal garden designs also have topiaries.

These are bushes that are trimmed into shapes to add interest to the garden.

The shapes could be simple geometric ones like spheres.

Topiary elephant family in a park
©geargodz – stock.adobe.com

Or (if you’re more talented than I am), you can create more complicated ones, such as this topiary elephant family.

9 | Limb up trees

Traditional formal garden with a central path lined with clipped hedges and limbed up trees
©XtravaganT – stock.adobe.com

Trees in a formal garden are usually limbed up and trimmed into a ball or curved shape.

This makes sure that the geometrical shape of the garden is maintained and can be seen clearly.

10 | Use water features

A large water fountain in the middle of a formal garden
©Pheniti – stock.adobe.com

As in most gardens, water features add movement and soothing sounds to the landscape.

In the formal garden, these are often used as the interruption in the central path.

But can also be the focal point at the end of the garden.

11 | Add large urns and statues

A large black urn with red flowers
©Alison – stock.adobe.com

Finally, large urns or statues are often placed on plinths to add structural interest to the garden.

These can be used throughout the garden as accents.

A large urn in the middle of a formal garden central pathway
©Robert L Parker – stock.adobe.com

Or (similar to a water fountain), they could be an interruption to the central walkway or a focal point at the end of the path.

And that’s the overview of setting up a geometric formal garden design. Hopefully, you’ve found some ideas to use in your own garden.

Frequently asked questions

What is a formal garden?

A formal garden uses a symmetrical design around a central path with geometric patterns, neatly clipped shrubs, and clear structure. It originated in the grand estates of Europe where the garden mimicked the formal house design.

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