How to Design a Formal English Rose Garden

Written by deborah harding
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How to Design a Formal English Rose Garden
Topiaries or sculpted bushes are often a focal point in a formal English rose garden. (spiral bush in rose garden image by Stephen Orsillo from

Designing any kind of garden is difficult, but even more so when designing a formal English rose garden. These types of gardens are very complicated, ornamented and full of different roses. Lines are rarely straight, but instead tend to be curved and rambling or in geometric designs. Many things go into the design of a formal English rose garden besides roses, and everything must be considered. The Egyptians were the first to use mathematics when designing gardens, and the Greeks were the first to take into consideration the architecture of the buildings about the garden. All these things filtered through the years to become part of a formal garden.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Graph paper
  • Pencils
  • Tape measure
  • Coloured Pencils
  • Ruler, compass, angle tools
  • Garden accessory catalogue
  • Rose catalogue

Show MoreHide


  1. 1

    Pick a location to begin designing the formal rose garden. Make sure the location is in full sun and has rich soil that is well drained. Take measurements of the area with a tape measure and then transfer those to your graph paper. Use the square on the graph paper to symbolise one foot. If your area is 12 by 12 feet, each of the squares can represent 6 inches. Your horizontal lines will be 24 squares joined with the vertical lines of 24 squares. Make your lines with the pencil and ruler or an angle.

    How to Design a Formal English Rose Garden
    Use a tape measure to measure a large area. (tape measure ruler image by MichMac from
  2. 2

    Decide how many beds you would like to have in the area allotted. It is easier to design beds around the edges of the area. Most formal English rose gardens follow the borders of the garden, but the beds themselves are rarely straight. Instead they may curve or be in a geometric pattern. They should all be symmetrical. In your allotted area, you may want to draw in four beds around the edge that have some curved lines. Use the ruler, angle and a compass to make sure they are exactly the same. There may be a large space in the centre of the garden.

    How to Design a Formal English Rose Garden
    Formal English gardens often have beds that curve and meander. (grass design graffiti fir trees flower bed park image by alma_sacra from
  3. 3

    Use the walls of buildings as borders, if the garden is situated between two buildings. Oftentimes, a formal English rose garden has a border or even walls around it. If there are no walls, stack stones or bricks to create one. Wood fencing makes a good border, or plant hedges around the garden. Boxwood is a great thing to use for a border because it grows very dense and is also low growing. It can be clipped into a wonderful hedge. Draw in the borders and create a key for your graph detailing everything you put in. If you are going to use boxwood, colour the borders with a dark green coloured pencil and make a square of green in your key and write boxwood next to it.

    How to Design a Formal English Rose Garden
    Boxwood is very dense and makes a great border in a formal English rose garden. (parterre image by Georges Lievre from
  4. 4

    Draw paths connecting the beds or going to the centre to a focus point. Paths frequently run through garden beds and all through the garden in a formal rose garden. Paths can be curvy and even be placed within a labyrinth. Create paths from small stones, or lay large flat stones. You can also pour concrete to create paths. Even mulch can be laid to make a path. If you are using stones, colour the paths a white or grey colour and put it in your key. If you are using mulch, colour the paths brown.

    How to Design a Formal English Rose Garden
    Use grass or moss to break up a path and make it more natural. (Fountain in garden. Garden design image by L. Shat from
  5. 5

    Include a lawn. Almost all formal rose gardens have a beautiful, lush, green lawn somewhere. It might be around the edges or in the middle; this one is in the middle. Colour in the grassy area with lawn green coloured pencil and put it on the key of your graph. When designing where the lawn will be, make sure it isn't going to be too difficult to mow because of its shape.

    How to Design a Formal English Rose Garden
    Surround a formal English rose garden with a sea of lush green grass. (A path in a Japan garden image by Nadezhda Bolotina from
  6. 6

    Add points of interest or whimsy to the garden, like the Renaissance gardeners who took note of Greek gardens. Today many formal English rose gardens contain ponds, fountains or a pond with gold fish. Get a catalogue that contains garden accessories and pick from sun dials, statues, garden gnomes, bird baths and gazing balls. Some English gardens have an oriental theme with pagodas and lanterns. A trellis or an arbor can be included or a garden gate. Make sure to include somewhere to enjoy the garden. Place a bench, chair or table in the garden. Place these all on your graph.

    How to Design a Formal English Rose Garden
    Fountains make a great focal point in a rose garden. (fountain image by Alison Bowden from
  7. 7

    Choose the roses to plant. There are many different types of roses to place in a formal English rose garden. Most gardens of this type group roses in the same colour and make rainbows of colour in their flower beds. Always be sure to place the taller roses in the back of the beds and gradually come forward with the shorter varieties. Pick from hybrid tea roses, old species roses, florabunda roses, shrub roses, old cabbage and moss roses, David Austin roses, miniature roses and many more.

    How to Design a Formal English Rose Garden
    Choose from thousands of rose varieties. (rose arch image by nix pics from

Tips and warnings

  • You can use coloured markers instead of coloured pencils and even crayons to make your landscape design.
  • Always start out with a plain pencil so that you can erase any mistakes or changes, then colour in later.
  • Go to your local nursery and talk to the people who work there. They will be happy to give you advice on how to create a formal English rose garden and may even have some free literature on it. Just be sure to go at a time when they are not really busy.
  • Be practical when designing a garden. Although formal English rose gardens are ornate and intricate in design, be sure what you design can be achieved. Most of the formal English gardens that provide tours or that are on gardening shows on TV have a bunch of gardeners taking care of them. Make sure you can take care of what you design. Smaller gardens need to be a bit simpler than a larger garden can be.
  • Do not litter the garden with statuary and other objects. Place them in areas where there is a space not filled by a rose or on the edges of the garden where they can be seen.

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