Culture & Lifestyle

Gardening ideas for your backyard: is a formal garden the right fit for your home

When you start a new garden from scratch or redesign an existing garden, there are so many things to consider.

One important decision is the style of garden you want to create.

There are many differing styles to choose from. This article focuses on looking at formal gardens. Other styles include tropical, Japanese, Mediterranean, coastal, cottage gardens, then contemporary gardens and the minimalist style.

When you create a garden always try to match it to your own unique style, or at least a style which resonates with you, as well as your lifestyle, your family’s needs and your time constraints.

For example, if you are a neat and tidy person, don’t create a rambling cottage garden or all you will see is the messiness and informality, and it will stress you out.

Similarly, if you are a relaxed, easygoing person, you may not feel comfortable living in a structured neat, formal garden where everything is perfect.

You can, however, create different garden styles in different parts of your garden, so that the front garden might have a formal look while the back garden is cottage style, and more relaxed and informal. All garden styles can have productive elements, with fruit trees and vegetable gardens within them.


The formal garden is a smart, elegant style, perfect for those who like things neat, controlled and orderly.

It is a style where there is often symmetry and garden beds mirror and match each other. Often formal gardens use hedges and border plantings to define the space and edges.

Unlike other styles where the garden is all about flowers, in a formal garden, even though there are flowers, it is the foliage, the form of plants and the structure created by the plants that is more important.

The dominant colour in most formal gardens is green.

It is the structural foliage and hedges, which are often layered, that creates the interest, by using different plant varieties with contrasting leaf sizes or leaves in different shades of green.

One word of caution is that if you have energetic kids or boisterous pets, formal gardens, in particular neatly clipped hedges, are easily damaged by play and can take a long time to recover.

Kids need room to play, kick a ball or ride a bike, so make sure you leave open areas where these activities can occur without damaging your formal style.

The first step is to choose your garden style, then design the framework and layout of your garden, and finally choose plants to suit your needs.

While people often think of exotic plants as being best suited to a formal garden, there are many Australian native plants which work well as hedges and can be used in a formal garden, such as lily pillies and native rosemary (Westringia).


Q. I am very keen to acquire the rose ‘Samantha’s Dream’ as we’re nearing the 21st anniversary of the loss of our daughter Samantha and this would be a great memorial item for her. Where I can acquire some? Wayne Metti, Gosford

A.‘Samantha’s Dream’ is a dainty hybrid tea rose with a medium-size flower with shades of apricot. Bred by Australian Richard Walsh, this repeat flowering, long stem single rose has few prickles and a light fragrance. As a shrub rose, it gets to 1.2m high.

The official agent for this rose is Wagner’s Rose Nursery, which are based in the southeast of SA, and they provide mail order through their website

Green E Roses, at Galston, NSW, also had some and they can be contacted through More importantly Wayne, I’d like to say I am so sorry for your loss and wish you all the very best.


In the right position, nothing beats a camellia for adding colour and cheer to a garden in winter and spring.

Camellia japonicas are the classic camellias that come in a range of colours, from white and cream to shades of pink and red, and even mauve. They are best known for their full double blooms of formal or informal nature, however there are some very attractive open varieties with just a few rows of petals with prominent stamens.

In hot climates they grow best where they get morning sun but afternoon shade, or under deciduous trees, however in cooler climates they grow in full sun. They need acid soil and can be grown well in a large pot.

Send Sophie Thomson your gardening questions via [email protected]

For all your gardening insp and info, and home improvement and renovation help visit us At Home.


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