How designers are using Topiary, Knots and Parterres.

Topiary  :  This is the art of clipping evergreen shrubs, often box (Buxus) or yew (Taxus baccata), into shapes of all kinds – pyramids, balls, spirals…

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… even birds and animals.


Dating back to at least the Roman times, topiary became fashionable in the great Renaissance gardens of Italy and France.

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Topiary at Versailles

Dutch gardens developed more intricate designs which were copied in England. In the 18th century, English gardens spurned it in favour of  the sweeping scenes of the Landscape Movement. Today it is common to see topiary pyramids standing  sentinel by the front door.

Belgium Housefront

They can add much needed structure to the winter garden and act as anchors in summer borders.

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Knot gardens : These are usually square compartments, (often several squares in large gardens) , usually edged with box. They have a very formal, intricate design, meticulously planned on paper before laying out. Like Celtic designs, the knot garden often looks as if the plants are woven under and over each other.

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Topiary and knot garden, Royal Hospital Kilmainham.

English: The Knot Garden at the Red Lodge, Bri...

English: The Knot Garden at the Red Lodge, Bristol. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Parterres :  These are formal gardens, less intricate than a knot, laid out in a symmetrical pattern with tightly clipped evergreen structure, infilled with coloured gravel or plants.

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Parterre, Oxburgh Hall.

Medieval paintings of gardens, the symbolic Hortus conclusus, often show compartmentalised quadrants of plants.These were developed in 16th century France by Claude Mollet and later evolved into the lavish Baroque scrolling of the parterres en broderie.

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Parterres, Vaux-le-Vicomte

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How garden designers are using knots, parterres and topiary today

At Jardin we love the structure that topiary and box parterres can bring.

Knots and parterres are best viewed from above to fully appreciate their design.

They, along with topiary, make an excellent design for a front garden.


Cloud pruning

or simply to lift a dull patch of lawn overlooked from your bedroom window.


This type of formal gardens is all about strong structure, geometric shapes and symmetry which creates balance and harmony. It suits period houses very well.

But topiary doesn’t have to be fussy and old-fashioned. It can be adapted in a contemporary way for a modern setting, such as the repetition of a single species and strong formal lines.


No matter the size of your garden, you can distil these elements and add some topiary or a box hedged enclosure.

Topiary pyramid in a Versailles tub

Topiary pyramid in a Versailles tub



Look how box balls of various sizes have been used in this Show garden below. Extensive use of evergreens can lead to a static garden but here are mixed with grasses to create a sense of movement.

Design by Diarmuid Gavin

Design by Diarmuid Gavin

Hope we’ve inspired you to try a little more structure in your garden.

(All photography mine; feel free to use any of Jardin’s images but please credit and link back).

16 thoughts on “How designers are using Topiary, Knots and Parterres.

    • Well there’s Monty Don’s “Italian Gardens” and an older programme “Gardens of the World” introduced by Audrey Hepburn, which you may be able to see online or buy from Amazon. Otherwise the National Trust have a video of their gardens. Hope this helps!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lots of celebrations in French formal gardens this year for Le Notre’s 400th “birthday” so I think there are lots of new dvds on the gardens of Versailles, Tuileries etc


      • Thank you once again. I might try to do a bit of a Google search and see if I can get some more information about these events. I wasn’t even aware there were celebrations. I think we’re a little isolated from some of these amazing events in the land of oz.


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