Types of Gardens – The Formal Garden
There are many types of gardens and the formal garden is a particularly grown-up form of gardening and it is not really a good idea if there are young children about, unless the place is big enough for them to have their own separate area and you have the perseverance to make them stay in it. At one end of the scale there will be stone fountains, balustrades,, allées, parterres and more, much more. But in even the merest apology of a front garden, the same principles can be followed on an infinitely smaller scale.
In the first case, the economies made will be relative, for unless you have inherited the lot, in good nick, it will take all that you have, and probably more, just to stand still, let alone improve the place; you will need to be a very dedicated and fortunate ‘searcher’ to find classical columns and marble statues on the council tip, although it has happened. Nevertheless, there are savings to be made, even at this level. Terraces may be gravelled, rather than laid with stone; the urns could be terracotta or reconstituted stone (given one or two coats of liquid manure to tone them down), either of which would be cheaper than antique lead or hand-carved stone. Instead of statues, why not try topiary? A pyramid of Box (Buxus sempervirens) or a peacock pruned from cheap and reliable old Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) could be handsome and charming. Even quicker and cheaper, Ivy can be trained up and over shapes made from chicken-wire, and clipped firmly into glossy perfection.
Types of gardens that you will find in house that have small gardens and courtyards, often benefit from the same sort of approach. Once established, it can be very labour-saving and not expensive to maintain. Take, for instance, the small front gardens found so often with terraced housing. These have to suffer the fumes of the passing traffic and the attentions of every passing animal, which will be convinced that they have been placed there for its convenience, in every sense of the word – a view that its wretched owner seems to share. Others will regard your garden as the ideal place to chuck their discarded-and-chip wrappings, empty Coke tins, meths bottles, cigarette butts and other more sinister offerings. Even if you have a pet-proof gate, nine out of ten visitors will forget to close it.
The front garden, therefore, is no place for the shy and the vulnerable; something much more robust is called for and a formal garden could be the right treatment. Almost the whole area could be paved with bricks, tiles, stone or a mixture of all three in a regular pattern. Gravel would be even cheaper and equally effective. Then plant a small evergreen hedge, kept close-clipped, which could be round, square or lozenge-shaped, surrounding a central feature which could be a pool, a statue or a mop-headed standard tree (Bay, Holly, Privet, Elaeagnus, Euonymous), or maybe a weeper (Cherry, Pear, purple Willow, Rose, Cotoneaster). For more colour, pots planted up with bulbs and a succession of seasonable annuals could be placed round the garden in a regular pattern, while the central feature might be a larger tub, urn or chimney pot, planted out in the same manner.
If you have nothing more prepossessing to work on than a dank basement area or a small, dark, inner courtyard, give the walls a coat or two (the more the better) of paint, either white or some cheering colour – acid yellow, perhaps, or warm terracotta. Then, on the wall opposite the window which looks out on this area, make a flat archway of trellis (made from battens you have salvaged from a skip, perhaps) and back it with a piece of old mirror.
Look in junk shops for the doors of shabby wardrobes, which will give you the right size of glass. Use this archway to frame a handsome Ali Baba pot, or a terracotta urn on a pedestal (which you could make from wood or bricks), and make this a focal point with one handsome plant – a Yucca or a Fatsia, perhaps. Alternatively, keep it stocked with a succession of bright plants and Ivy. As it is the only vegetation you will have, you can afford to be extravagant in the quality and number of plants, so that it is positively bursting with life. The mirror will double the feeling of light, colour and space in even the dreariest spot.