History and the Garden: Formality and Symmetry


History can be a surprising source of inspiration for our garden-making.


In her book The Morville Hours, Katherine Swift describes the process of creating a garden inspired by the history of gardening in her corner of England. Swift’s garden has separate garden “rooms” inspired by medieval gardens, Tudor gardens, and more.

But we don’t need to be quite so ambitious.

Even a quick journey through the history of garden styles can provide new ideas.

The following historical styles are united in their emphasis on formal symmetry and pattern.



Medicinal Herb Gardens

During the Middle Ages gardens were more like pharmacies.

Here is an article about medicinal plants that would have been grown in a monastic garden that we can still grow today.

Here is an article about the design of herb gardens over the years.


Tudor Knot Gardens

In an age when gardeners had access to fewer ornamental plants, garden designs were almost modern in their minimalism and simplicity. The streamlined symmetry creates a very formal effect.

The Tudor Knot garden shown here has an elaborate pattern but very little color. More about Tudor garden designs can be found here.


American Colonial Gardens

The gardens at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia have been recreated to show us the combination of symmetry, formality, and productivity that characterized these early American gardens.

Here’s an example of merging past and present with colonial style.


Victorian Carpet Bedding

The term “carpet bedding” might be new to you, but you are likely familiar with the style. Popularized by wealthy Victorians with glasshouses for growing their own annual flowers, carpet bedding is the gardening practice of laying out colorful annuals to mimic the patterns of a carpet.

We still see something like this style used in many municipal plantings and large-scale landscapes in our public places.

Here is an article about this traditional form. This style is the opposite of naturalistic gardening. Its impact comes with its bold use of monochromatic color and striking shapes. Find a brief history of carpet bedding here.


Explore all our Black Barn Garden Library posts here.


Posted on

August 10, 2020

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