Knot gardens are the primadonnas of all garden design. Sharp, sophisticated, demanding and show-stopping. They can also work incredibly well in small garden spaces if you have the time and the diligence to pander to their every want. This guide will give you the low down on formal knot gardens to decide if they are for you!

For the most part knots in life are a pain. They may be causing drama tying your shoelaces, snagging up your weave or preventing you from rearranging your garden climbers due to tightly tied twine. One place where a knot is welcomed is in the formal garden design style of knot gardens. Knots here are celebrated and a key part of the design architecture. So let’s take a closer look at what a knot garden is and whether it is a suitable garden design for your green space.

What is a knot garden?

Knot gardens are symmetrical formal garden layouts based on the style of a knotted rope often using herbs or aromatic plants to infill them. They are usually based on square patterns to create pure symmetry. These patterns of garden flower beds are often filled with herbs, culinary plants and clipped topiary. Repetition, control and exacting symmetry are essential. You can fold these gardens on either axis with them lining up perfectly.

Knot gardens were first established here in England in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I during the 16th Century.

Garden Ninja in a topiary maze looking at Plant specimens

Knot gardens often get mistaken or confused with parterre garden designs. For most garden designers’ formal, knot and parterre gardens go hand in hand. I like to split them out for new gardeners to help fully understand them. Parterres are very similar to knots but form more intricate design patterns using evergreen plants to edge the beds and come from medieval times. Parterres tend to keep hedges at the same level, sometimes knots undulate to follow the rise and fall or rope.

Garden Ninja paints a knot garden
My interpretation of a knot garden – using rectangles instead of squares – for a client with a long thin garden

Knot Garden Features

Below are some of the key features of knot gardens. If you feel enthused when reading the below criteria then maybe a knot garden is for you. If they fill you with dread then maybe a more informal garden design is for you.

  • Symmetrical
  • Sensory and aromatic with low growing herbaceous perennials or herbs
  • High maintenance
  • Order and control using clipped topiary, gravel and neat matching boundaries
  • They use square layouts or frames for their designs
  • Must be kept neat for full effect
Clipped hedging in a formal garden

Plants used in Knot Gardens

Usually, aromatic plants are used in knot gardens to create scents as visitors brush past them adding a true sensory element to them. Plants are used that encourage guests to run their hands through them and slow down their journey throughout the garden. Given most of these plants are found in warmer climates most knot gardens and parterres are found in south facing gardens or full sun positions to accommodate them.

Classic knot garden plants may include:

  • Germander
  • Marjoram
  • Thyme
  • Artemisia
  • Lemon balm
  • Hyssop
  • Tanacetum (Costmary)
  • Acanthus
  • Mallow
  • Chamomile
  • Rosemary
  • Calendula
  • Viola
  • Santolina
Santolina knot garden plant

There are plenty more plants you can use with a knot garden, or any garden style. The above is the more traditional list but why not investigate other herbs and aromatic plants that may work for you and your knot garden?

Summary

Knot gardens are a true form of beauty for a smaller garden space. Whilst they require a lot of hard work both in design and maintenance their symmetry can create arresting garden spaces. If you have the time and the green fingers then maybe a knot or parterre garden is the design style for you?

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What do you think? Why not let me know on Social media! Why not TweetFacebook or Instagram me with your pictures! You can also follow me on Youtube where I’ve got plenty of garden guide vlogs.

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