French formal parterre at Villandry in the Loire Valley
A formal garden is a neat and ordered garden laid out in carefully planned geometric and symmetric lines. Lawns and hedges in a formal garden must always be kept neatly clipped. Trees, shrubs, subshrubs and other foliage is carefully arranged, shaped and continually trimmed.
The simplest formal garden would be a box-trimmed hedge lining or enclosing a carefully laid out flowerbed or garden bed, such as a knot garden. The most elaborate formal gardens contain pathways, statuary, fountains and beds on differing levels.
The European formal garden had its origins in sixteenth-century Italian gardens such as Boboli Gardens behind Palazzo Pitti, Florence, laid out by a series of architect-designers for the Grand Duchess Eleanor of Toledo. The formal parterre was transferred to France, where some of the earliest formal parterres were those laid out at Anet. Claude Mollet,the founder of a dynasty of nurserymen-designers that lasted deep into the 18th century, introduced the formal parterre.
Features of a formal garden:
Formal gardens were a feature of the stately homes of England from the introduction of the parterre at Wilton House in the 1630s until such geometries were swept away by the naturalistic landscape gardens of the 1730s, but perhaps the best-known example of a formal garden of gravel, stone, water, turf and trees with sculpture is at Versailles, which is actually many different gardens, laid out by André Le Nôtre. In the early eighteenth century, the publication of Dezallier d'Argenville, La théorie et la pratique du jardinage (1709) was translated into English and German, and was the central document for the later formal gardens of Continental Europe.
Formal garden laid out at the Abbaye de Valloires, Picardy, by Gilles Clément, 1987
Formal gardening in the French manner was reintroduced at the turn of the twentieth century: Beatrice Farrand's formal gardens at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC and Achille Duchêne's restored water parterre at Blenheim Palace are examples of the modern formal garden. New York City’s Central Park features a formal garden in the Conservatory Garden at the northern sector.
Link : Wikipedia