How to design a formal entrance garden

Written by richard sweeney
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Your home may not be Versailles but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a beautiful formal entrance garden to welcome visitors.

A small entrance garden may not seem to offer much scope for an extended symmetrical arrangement, but a small standard tree in a square bed can make a charming formal front garden.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Hedges
  • Paving stones
  • Gravel

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  1. 1

    Scrutinise the hedges. If you don’t have hedges, add them. They are essential to a formal entrance garden. Although box is probably the longest-lasting hedging plant, there are several others that will make attractive edging hedges and you may prefer the silvery look that many of them offer. Lavender or azaleas can be used as clipped hedging plants and are attractive when used in this way. They do not like to be crowded and hate any competition for light, moisture and nutrients, so make sure there is a gap between the hedge and the planting inside it.

  2. 2

    Keep the entrance garden soft but formal. A very long, narrow plot can seem difficult to deal with formally; you can soften the lines of straight paths by creating circular areas along the way, planting dome-shaped plants and by clipping shrubs into rounded shapes. Similarly, the path can be lined with round-headed flowers, for example, the soft rounded shapes of golden marjoram and alliums, which will produce big round flower heads in summer. Gravel, rather than paving or brick, will also soften the outline.

  3. 3

    Use axes and vistas when planning large formal entrance gardens. One of the first decisions to make is the direction of the main axes when designing a large formal entrance garden. This will determine where the main vistas will lie and the garden's relationship to the house. The ornaments and features that close a vista can be added at a later stage. In most cases the main axis should relate to the main door of the house so that garden and house can be seen as one entity in the plan. All paths should lead to the front entrance.

  4. 4

    Splurge on formal materials. The choice of material for hard surfaces and how they are laid can make or spoil a formal garden. Gravel is a versatile material, which combines well with other surfaces, including concrete and paving blocks. Rounded cobblestones are attractive visually but are uncomfortable to walk on, so should be used only for decorative details among other paving. Cobblestones or tiles laid on their edges can also be used to mark transitions between two separate areas or to change the direction of a path.

  5. 5

    Install low growing plants. Edging plants are useful for emphasising the line of a straight border. Choose those that will be of interest over a long season and use one type of plant along the whole length of the border to give a sense of unity. One possible plant is the Alchemilla mollis, a pretty greenish-yellow plant, which associates well with almost everything. The catmint, Nepeta cataria, is another good edging plant if your border is wide enough. Bergenia cordifolia, otherwise known as elephant's ears, will give a border a striking dark green edging, which turns red in fall.

  6. 6

    Keep the paths clean. Once you have designed a formal entrance garden and path it is important that you maintain the walkways. Sweep, weed and pick up litter weekly.

Tips and warnings

  • Avoid the impulse to add sculptures because they can quickly go from formal to tacky.

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