Garden Design
This video guide helps explain the difference between a formal and informal garden design. The key differences in garden design and why it’s important to understand them before starting your own garden design.

Garden Ninja explains the features of formal and informal garden design providing real examples of how they are different. This should help you work out which style of garden design best suits your needs and requirements.

Formal gardens can sometimes be folded on an axis to make a completely symmetrical garden. Imagine folding a pattern on a piece of paper and this is sometimes a good analogy of a ‘true’ formal garden. Whilst there are many derivatives the formal style of a garden follows a set of rules or standards that make them fit the ‘formal style’.

Formal gardens are often higher maintenance due to the amount of clipping or attention they require to keep them looking neat and tidy.

Informal Gardens are probably the most common garden style. They are less restrictive than say formal gardens in their design symmetry. Informal gardening can set you free of restrictions such as having any detailed horticultural or design knowledge. Thus allowing you to ‘have a go’ at gardening when you first start out, which is exactly what you should be doing and I wholeheartedly support gardeners getting started with any form of gardening.

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Symmetry and geometry
A restrained / definite / obvious colour palette
Planting schemes that can be trained / pruned or shaped into set shapes.
Patterns may be used to provide the template for planting, repeating shapes and symmetry are key

People who choose a formal gardens style will be drawn towards them because they appeal to certain characteristics. Here are some general statements around formal gardens. If you agree with these it may suggest a formal garden is a style you’re most drawn to! This is not a definite but there are characteristics of a formal garden that appeal to certain personality types.

Gardens that are clean cut and have shapes that are symmetrical.
People that like rules, order and consistency.
Predictability of the garden, pruning shrubs or hedges to give a defined ‘obvious’ shape
Neatness, order, tidy and always dressed appropriately!
A clean or reduced colour palette allowing the layout to speak louder than say competing colours

Formal gardens are not necessarily harder to maintain than any other garden but they do require more time dedicated to them. This is because they start to look messy and unkempt far quicker than say a formal garden. It really does depend on the components used in a formal garden. If you have for example clipped box hedging, then yes there will be some maintenance to keep them looking sharp and trim. If however, you went for raised beds or a walled garden to provide your pattern then these structures are lower maintenance in comparison. Choosing slow growing shrubs will also reduce the maintenance of any hedging you use.

Utilising gravel and slow growing plants a very formal structured garden can be created with minimal maintenance. Garden Ninja can design you a garden that provides the neatness and order of a formal garden but with a low maintenance planting scheme. Gravel is often used within formal garden patterns to provide interest to ground cover, rather than just exposed soil, its also helps suppress weeds and keep patterned borders looking unified.

Mixing numerous colours and palettes
Use more natural materials rather than say hard geometric landscaping
Follows more fluid curves and softer lines
Allows a larger mix of planting and variety
Feels more relaxed and loose than say a formal garden

Informal gardens would appeal to people who are less concerned with control and more in tune with letting nature find its own way. Informal garden styles such as the cottage garden or say meadow planting will allow plants to mingle and grow together.

Whilst shapes may be used they are not necessarily symmetrical or balanced on any axis.To summarise informal gardens are more relaxed and less intentional at first glance. This, however, does not make them easier to plan or maintain!

Sweeping planting in drifts that blend together
In keeping with nature as it follows the natural lines and topography of a garden
Natural materials blending with the planting and surroundings
Letting the garden evolve over time.

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