WHAT IS A KNOT GARDEN AND WHY DO WE NEED TO KNOW?
I am going to start out by saying what a knot garden-parterre is not. It is not something for the sometimes gardener. It is not a garden with little care or devotion. It is not to be undertaken without thought and precise planning. A knot garden-parterre is a grand beginning but it is really not out of the scope of a moderate gardener to maintain. This is a gardener who has more than a passing interest in his or her hobby and has the desire to produce and maintain something striking in the garden.
I must admit I had extreme difficulty in preparing this page. It is basically the same undertaking as organizing and planning your knot garden. How to put together simply but yet explain some of the details of what really is a work of art. At first I was going to write a simple article for an ezine site but this really would not do it justice unless you added pictures and designs for those who may not be familiar with the concept. I am still going to write that article but tie it back to this web page for more information.
Now that I have that cleared from my mind let's discuss knot garden-parterre. A true knot garden involves a very formal almost symmetrically perfect garden like the one pictured here. This is a true knot garden with its woven effect which is the distinguishable feature of these type of gardens. This particular garden is constructed totally of herbs but a boxwood border could have been introduced as the border with the herbs weaving there way in a pattern over the boxwood into a woven pattern in the center. The problem with either approach is the time consuming almost daily clipping and trimming of this garden to keep the perfect shape. For this reason alone the garden has developed into a less labor intensive design for the modern gardener called parterres. This of course is a French term developed in the early 1700 hundreds involving elaborate gardens designed from engravings and other sources.
Parterres are typically knots without the weaving in and out and offer the modern gardener a garden with less work and and a four season appeal. You could construct a small parterre like the one here along a foundation structure with an interesting appeal and not consume huge square footage in the process. Just plain and simple with use of gravel,which I would have made brightly colored for contrast,and only minor trimming to keep it low.
However you are not limited to just the plain green structure. You can make an evergreen outline of (calling these knot gardens for convenience sake)of your knot garden using various plants and creating squares,rectangles,or octagons and placing mass plantings of annuals,perennials,herbs and vegetables in the center of your parterre giving it the final pastiche or blend.
WHAT IS REQUIRED FOR A SUCCESSFUL KNOT GARDEN-PARTERRE?
The knot garden in the traditional sense always employed small hedges to provide a contast in the color of the garden. These hedges could be comprised of several different types of shrubs but choosing only one to form the border. The border shrubs considered for the design could be English boxwood,germander, or winter gem boxwood. Although it is not strictly necessary,in my opinion,it is recommended that parterres be placed so they maybe viewed from above even if it is just a slightly elevated position. The ideal situation would be to place your knot garden in a flat area where it can be observed from your house all year long. This way you need not be concerned with decks or terraces. However if you have either then by all means take advantage of them in constructing your garden or parterre. Here we are going to discuss the plants that can be used in the design of your garden.
This picture depicts how well a finished parterre would appear using English boxwood in combination with flowers and plants in the center.The classic hedge for formal foundations and landscaping, English Boxwood is slow growing but worth the wait. Resistant to deer and other pests, it makes a great edging and was Widely used in old colonial landscapes as an edging plant along walks or flower gardens. It should be spaced 2 feet apart. It will eventually attain a width of from 2-4 feet and requires sun to part shade.
If you want a quick start to your garden border than you can turn to Bush Germander. It is an evergreen requiring full sun and is also deer resisitant with blue azure flowers in late spring or early summer. Unfortunately to maintain the formal clipped hedge look requires trimming which will remove the spikes of flowers from the bush. It will however tolerate poor and rocky soil and does perform best in alkaline conditions. It will obtain heights of four to six foot tall and spreads of six feet. However for the purposes of the garden it should remained trimmed to between two and three feet. The germander picture here is a little taller than recommended for your garden border.
The winter gem boxwood is my choice for the garden border. This is a reliable and hardy boxwood and can take harsh winters better than your English boxwood. This particular boxwood maintains its color well in winter adding interest to your garden even the coldest of weather. Many other boxwoods tend to "bronze" in winter with a burnt looking shade of gold-brown. This boxwood engages in a rapid growth cycle so you will need to trim it back two to three times in the season to maintain your formal garden border. It can reach heights of four feet and this is why it is necessary to keep it trimmed. The width comes in around three feet for the winter gem. This plant wins my vote for the border over the others discussed here for the reasons citied above.
SPACING AND DESIGNING YOUR KNOT GARDEN
It is important to make a diagram at this point of how large a space you want to devote to the knot garden. This will determine how many border plants are required before considering what you intend to plant inside of the borders. You may want to consider a path giving access to the interior of the garden and you may also want to consider a focal point in the center of the knot garden surrounded by flowers.
Now do you buy large border plants or small border plants to begin your garden? Obviously if you buy large plants you will have an instant border but at what expense? It would be best to increase your spacing between plants by the purchase of one gallon plants and cutting down on the number required unless you are constructing a very small knot garden.This I regard as somewhat technical but the best way to calculate the number of plants required is by taking the total linear footage you intend to devote to the garden border and divide by the average size of the plant you are buying. Then by adjusting the space between your plants you can obtain the exact number of plants required. You can continue to adjust this number so you arrive at the number of plants that best suits your budget. The diagram below is from MOUNTAIN VALLEY GROWERS and depicts a simple but beautiful walled garden using germander for the border and plantings of herbs.
This garden is really an easier version of the typical knot garden depicted earlier on this page. If you keep it simple as shown in this design than you have a more realistic effort for today's gardener. This is strictly designed as an herb garden but could be expanded to include flowers,flowers alone or a mix of both. You could also modify it to include a path for closer viewing. It is really all about what you choose to accomplish.
A good touch would be to plant something centrally in the garden as a focal point or add a bird bath in center or a dense planting of ornamental grasses. You can go to ornamental grassesand find some good information on how to work with grasses in your garden
Here is another example of how to layout your flower beds. This utilizes a wall and a building for some of its border. You could do the same thing with a fence or man made rock wall to add variation to this design. I truly believe that your garden or parterre is only limited by your imagination. I will be discussing this more in the future.
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