top of page

A Guide to Finding Your Perfect Garden Style

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

From Formal to Cottage to Modern garden styles – what are they, and how do they differ?

This guide will run through the key features of each garden style to help you decide which you love the most!

Formal Gardens

A formal garden is easy to spot thanks to its tightly controlled layout designed around central axes or pathways. Hedges of clipped Box or Yew and perfectly manicured lawns define the different spaces, and pleached trees are often used to add height. Sculpture and topiary provide architectural definition and a focal point to the formal garden such as these statues at Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire.

Formal gardens have a simple material palette with gravel and natural stone paving most commonly used, and a limited colour palette for the planting as well, with just a few harmonious colours chosen at a time for the borders.

Although the lawn and hedges in formal gardens require regular maintenance and care, they provide structure, colour and interest throughout the winter when everything else has died back.

Cottage Gardens

Cottage gardens were originally rural gardens focused on the production of food. Borders spilling over with cut flowers and herbs helped to control pests, and this abundant planting style has become what we associate with the cottage garden style.

The cottage garden style has a blurred geometry thanks to free-flowing, narrow pathways surrounded by dense planting. Self-seeding plants are encouraged as they add to the profusion of colour and encourage wildlife. As you walk through a cottage garden you will brush past overhanging planting and feel submerged in scent and texture. Romance is added with tumbling roses over structures such as pergolas or arbors.

Hedges can be used to create different zones in a cottage garden, each with its own planting scheme, and natural stone or reclaimed brick the popular choice for hard landscaping.

Despite their naturalistic feel, cottage gardens are high maintenance and will require regular gardening to keep your most precious plants from becoming swamped by more dominant ones, so bear this in mind when thinking about your garden design.

Modernist Gardens

The primary focus of a modernist garden is the enjoyment of life outside. The boundaries between interior and exterior are blurred creating an extension to your home. Crisp lines and uninterrupted surfaces are key to creating the elegant spaces of modernist gardens.

Less is definitely more with modernist gardens. A simple, geometric layout with a pared back material palette and minimal planting allows time outside to be focused on leisure rather than gardening. Seamless surfaces of concrete, limestone or slate with high quality finishes dominate, and garden furniture is kept clean and uncluttered.

Planting is architectural and can be in masses or in simple cube or box planters. The number of plant species is limited, emphasizing the clean and clutter-free style of a modernist garden.

Modernist gardens are great if you are looking for a low maintenance garden where you can just kick back and relax at the end of a long day.

Naturalistic Gardens

Naturalistic gardens are all about sustainability. The plants and materials used in this style of garden consider the environment and local eco-systems first and foremost. Most naturalistic gardens are informal in style, but don’t have to be rustic and wild; sustainability can be channeled into a modern and elegant design.

Creating rich habitats for wildlife increases the diversity of species and brings nature to the heart of the garden experience. Plants are chosen for their wildlife credentials and matched well to their sites so that maintenance is minimal, and the wildlife can flourish. Wildflower and meadow planting are great ways to achieve this, as are bug hotels, dead logs, bird boxes and ponds.

Pathways and garden furniture are often made from reclaimed or recycled materials to keep in line with sustainability objectives. Composting organic waste is essential in a naturalistic garden, in fact in any style of garden having your own compost is the best thing you can do for your soil, so think about making space for composting when planning your garden.

With a naturalistic style garden expect to share your space with a diverse range of flora and fauna, and the more habitats there are, the better. If you can relax into letting things grow and develop naturally, you will soon find yourself in a bounteous wildlife haven.

Urban Gardens

As our cities become ever more densely populated, and the price of land in urban areas reduces outdoor space; urban gardens have had to adapt their style to keep up with the many demands placed upon them. Our modern city gardens have to be high performing, multi-functional spaces in which we can play, relax and entertain.

Simplicity is usually best for an urban garden with hard landscaping mirroring interior materials to create a seamless transition between interior and exterior ‘rooms’. Planting is often kept to a small selection of plants that provide year-round colour and interest, and bold, architectural planting like ornamental grasses, used for privacy.

In theory, you can bring any of the styles we’ve mentioned above into a small, urban garden. For example, wildflowers in a pot would bring a touch of naturalistic style, and using sleek, seamless materials such as concrete or limestone would create a modernist vibe.

Cambridge has such a wide range of domestic gardens ranging from the vast to the bijou. It’s possible to adapt any garden style to suit the space you have, from a small but ordered formal garden, to a modern cottage garden that offers a hideaway from city life.

You can visit our online gallery to see how we have designed different styles of gardens in Cambridge over the years. You might have a particular garden style in mind, or you might want an amalgamation of different styles. We will spend time discussing your garden needs and aspirations to ensure you make the most of your outdoor space.

Get in touch today to see how we can help!


bottom of page