We’ll start this article with a sentence from a young girl who encouraged me to think about how to describe all the beauty that a formal garden provides, and she said, “I love an unkempt garden, formal is boring.” Most of you are probably nodding your approval, but the truth is always around the corner. It just needs to be looked at from another point of view. When you think about the formal look of the garden, what comes to your mind first? It is very likely that the word formally gives you the impression that there is no freedom, and that it is a garden dominated by order. You are not far from the truth. There is order, but at the same time, it gives a sense of freedom, and it is not boring at all. Formal style is based on symmetry and the principle of imposing order to the natural order created by nature. The period of the Renaissance was responsible for the formation of a formal garden style. For those who have forgotten what this period brought, we remind you that it is one of the most creative periods in literature and art in general. Also, there has been a shift in science and philosophy. The Renaissance is the largest movement in Western European culture in whose period comes to urban development and thus trade. Along with the material, a spiritual culture develops as well.
The Renaissance unleashed creative energy first in Italy and the Netherlands and then in Germany and France, creating cultural and scientific institutions, libraries, galleries, museums, and first universities. At that time ruled ideas of brilliant artists and individuals successful in different types of sciences and arts, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rafael, Nicholas Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Christopher Columbus. Leonardo da Vinci was the one who embodied the ideal of a universal man in whom scientific curiosities were harmoniously combined with a love of nature. David, Michelangelo’s statue, represents the symbol of the free Florentine Republic, and Columbus overthrows the fear of space and nature trading in distant regions.
Italian Renaissance gardens are the forerunner of a new style of landscaping. Inspired by the classic ideals of order and beauty, they intended to give the pure pleasure of watching the gardens, and the environment around them, and enjoying the features, sounds, and smells of that garden. The gardens have become grand, symmetrical, with fountains and statues and other features designed for the enjoyment and joy of their owners and visitors. Severe development in the study of botany caused the emergence of the first botanical gardens. For the first time, gardens are laid out to create a direct link to the building, usually with one major axis through the garden. The gardens are divided into smaller formal sections, using structural evergreen hedges that visually created partitions. The shrubs used for this purpose were laurel, cypress, evergreen oak, and myrtle. Some trees are planted and treated in such a way that the branches are intertwined, forming aisles and arbors. Mostly willow and mulberry trees were used and other trees whose canopy was sufficiently elastic and flexible for this purpose. Water becomes an important theatrical element in its elaboration and refinement. The gardens are surrounded by walls that are encircled by trees and fruit trees on the outside.
Gardens do not only represent the vast wealth of their owners and their influence in society but represent a healing shelter. Many traveled to Italy primarily for these imposing gardens. And that is why originally these first formal gardens were often planted with exotic plants and plants of bright colors from some other distant lands. The role of low hedges was making decorative flowerbed planted so that they create a geometric shape. Boxwood, rosemary, sage, and santolines are the most common plants used in the creation of low hedges of formal gardens. As Italian Renaissance gardens evolved, they became more extravagant and theatrical.
The sense of drama that his visitors experience becomes very important. Therefore fountains were created, from which different sea monsters originate. There are also various animal and geometric shapes, the so-called topiaries, most often made of boxwood and yew. These Italian Renaissance gardens had a strong influence on the French and English gardens. Their great feature is the relationship to color, as it becomes more important than the lines. Tulips were often used for this purpose, not only because they are among the first spring perennials, but mostly because of their tradition that they have established themselves at formal gardens. At the time of the Renaissance, tulip bulbs were highly respected and rewarded. Since then, more and more often, we come across newer colors, shapes, and sizes of tulips.
Gardens do not only represent the vast wealth of their owners and their influence in society but represent a healing shelter.
The photos in which, hopefully, you enjoy were created in magnificent formal gardens of Hampton Court Palace in London, the Palace of King Henry VIII. You may notice palisades that represent green living walls and create high structural barriers designed to shelter unwanted views. Hornbeam and beech were used for this purpose. Palisades, in ancient times, most often served the ladies in moments of reflection and enjoyment of solitude. Through the magnificent gardens, people walked by alleys, and the material used was gravel, sand, or grass. There is usually an element, at the end of the avenue, that forms the so-called focal point.
And what is the connection between formal gardens and the present days? To a large extent. During this period, massive changes took place at high speed, just as they do today. That is why the formal gardens were created to calm and ground the humans, giving them the pleasure of staying in the garden. Exhausted from our daily obligations, we need a place to calm down and move away from reality and people. You do not have to have endless acres of land to create magnificent gardens as Henry VIII did. It can be a small surface that meets the criteria of a formal appearance. Create a formal garden look that won’t change, giving you a sense of stability. Hedges of hornbeam or beech will protect your privacy. This hedge will go shopping in the fall, the green dress will become yellowish, and in the winter milk chocolate colors to put on her light green dress again in spring with the first fashion weeks. The boxwood will remain green throughout the year, fencing with it small flower beds that, twice a year, will enable you regeneration in your garden.
After this, you will like the author of this article, in the museum, look at the picture with different eyes.
In the spring and fall, you will be able to create your masterpieces. You will be able to change the colors of the garden to your mood. After all of this, do you still think that formal gardens are boring and there is no freedom? After this, you will like the author of this article, in the museum, look at the picture with different eyes. You will recognize that the characters are arranged in a geometric relationship, emerging from the fog using light-dark contrasts. Well, you will see Leonardo’s Mona Lisa smiling in front of landscapes, stones, and rivers, and you will experience Michelangelo’s David as a tremendous force (something formal) and a tension (sense of freedom) radiating from this sculpture.
There is no greater satisfaction than when a click happens in your head, so you realize that formally is not boring, but on the contrary, it is interesting. When that happens, you will be overwhelmed by the tremendous euphoria. In this mood, you will create and create, to your joy and the joy of all who will walk in your garden. This euphoria will drive you forward in defiance of the tense and stressful everyday life. You will be rewarded with the peace that it will give you, the feeling of keeping things under control, and the immense sense of free creation and transformation. When you scratch a little deeper below the surface, you will probably end up liking these more formal than the so-called, unkempt gardens. We proudly admit that they are.
TEXT & PHOTO – Iva Tominovic Matas