What are the 4 major landscape and garden styles prevalent today?
Updated: Jul 4
I was always fascinated by the idea of garden gnomes.
There was something amusing about their bright, pointy hats that stuck out of the grass and drooped over their oval heads, barely revealing their eyes. How fun would it be to hide these tiny creatures in the garden! Only, the colourful garden ornaments would have looked awfully out of place in our small home-garden in Vadodara. So, we settled for some terracotta horses, an almost Indian adaptation that seemed to go well with the garden’s style.
Whether you are starting from scratch, revamping your garden, or simply buying new décor, it is often helpful to know which garden style you like or want to achieve.
Your garden may already have one unintentionally and you may want to find out which one is yours. Or perhaps, you are just looking for inspiration to start with.
In the past, most home landscapes were either formal or informal. Formal garden designs were greatly influenced by the grand gardens of the past. Think sprawling lawns with trimmed hedges gracefully meandering into a tedious labyrinth and symmetric rows of trees around a dominant central axis. Formal designs are generally translated well into small or medium gardens. They are geometric and symmetrical. Plants and landscape structures are precisely spaced and arranged. In contrast, informal designs make use of more natural-appearing, irregularly placed plants and structures. Randomness and chaos often rule the setting. This style is often used to lend a softer edge and an organic appeal to a well-bounded space.
These days, a garden is a lot more than just a beautiful space in front of your home or in the backyard. Or even your balcony, for that matter. More people want their home landscape to meet their physical, functional, and social needs. Not to mention aesthetics, that has always been central to the appeal of a garden, no matter how small- even if it means tastefully arranging three or four plants in your 2x2 balcony. While the inner earthling in us tends to lean towards naturalistic and informal designs, the geometric forms of buildings involve their own aesthetics that can suggest design patterns. As a result, a home landscape that blends geometric and naturalistic patterns is often successful. (Remember the sprawling estate from Downton Abbey, with quaint gardens that were formal yet a perfect setting for the occasional tea-party?)
Today’s landscape styles can involve varying proportions of geometric and naturalistic patterns. We discuss four broad styles here.
A formal style where the geometric structure is primary and plants play a minor role. It is an organised style that is easy to maintain. Elements can include:
1. Symmetrical layout with pathways cutting across at right angles.
2. Pathways may terminate at attractive focal points. The intersection may have a small water feature or a sculpture.
3. Lawn patches in geometric shapes like rectangles, squares, circles or triangles.
4. Rows of trees or shrubs along the periphery to create a defined enclosure.
The heights of shrubs may be maintained by regular trimming.
5. Repetition and pairing of plants to create harmony and rhythm.
6. Not many flowering plants for easy maintenance and a classic, even look all year round.
A semi-formal style of garden. Here, the overall structure of the garden tends to dominate but plants and other natural elements share a nearly equal part. This style is preferred by a lot of homeowners for its simplistic appeal.
1. This may have a symmetric or asymmetric layout.
2. A combination of shrubs, flowering plants and small trees may be used to create interest.
3. Rockeries, small ponds or terraces may add a definite structure and create focal points.
4. A variety of paving materials may be used for pathways to complement the inherent softness of plants.
Another semi-formal garden owing to the deliberate arrangement of the different landscape elements. Plants, rocks, water features, and earth forms dominate the scheme, but there is a clear sense of geometric arrangement. It feels closer to nature than the geometric-structural style.
1. It is organic and asymmetrical.
2. Diagonal, serpentine or curved pathways in stonework well to imitate a natural setting.
3. Focal points may be created by a solitary tree, specimen shrub, a small pool or a pond.
4. Garden furniture may be added to enhance the natural setting.
5. Can evoke a sense of calm due to its organisation and harmony with nature.
A very informal style. Natural elements and materials dominate here, and there is no obvious human-determined form or structure. It remains true to nature. The natural style may be used at the entrance of a highly geometric, modern house to present contrast.
1. Natural style mimics the randomness of wilderness. The periphery of the garden is almost entirely disguised by planting.
2. There is no defined planting scheme.
3. It presents a high sense of discovery and opportunity for exploration.
4. Irregularly shaped water bodies like a fish pond or lotus pond may be included.
5. Some hardscapes should exist for easy wayfinding and a sense of place.
A general understanding of these prevalent design styles and elements will help you decide which style you want to achieve in your garden. More interestingly, you can even adapt one of these, or combine two to suit your style and make your garden truly unique.
In the coming week, we finally dig into planning and designing a garden.
Meanwhile, the next time you go shopping, you’ll know exactly which décor piece suits your garden style!
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About the Writer
Reva Saksena is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. She has experience working at SiteLens Cultural Research Division of India Lost and Found (ILF) by Amit Pasricha. She is the winner of the "2021 Berkeley Prize Essay Competition.”
About the Editor
Srishti Mehta is the author of "From the Land of Mist and Snow: Haikus from Antarctica". She is a creative writer, editor and publisher. She is the Editor-in-Chief at Zeyka. She is a graduate of the St. Xavier College, Ahmedabad, and the H.R. College of Commerce and Economics, University of Mumbai (MU). She has been the India Ambassador of the International Antarctica Expedition (2018) with 2041 Foundation. She has diverse volunteer experience in natural field studies, explorations, and journalism with numerous organisations including the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Mumbai.
About the Illustrator
Ipsita Choudhury is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. She is a writer, artist, illustrator and graphic designer. She is an Observation and Action Network (OAN) Fellow 2020 for The Centre for The Living City, UDC and NASA. She was a semi-finalist in the “2019 Berkeley Prize Essay Competition.”