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What Are the Key Elements of European Garden and Landscape Design?

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European Garden is well known for its beauty and history. There are many famous gardens we try incorporate small peaces in to our backyard oasis.

This are key elements of european garden and landscape design:

  1. Water features
  2. Slopes
  3. Patios and Terraces
  4. Lush Greenery
  5. Paths
  6. Vision and Decisions

Lets dive deep and discover different types of European Gardens, interesting tips and different elements more closer.

European Garden and its History

Once upon a time, gardens served humans on a very basic level: to provide food for themselves and their livestock. It is impossible to say exactly when gardens transitioned from being household fixtures of necessity to becoming places that provided inspiration, a connection to nature, and a place to display artistic license.

It is however, widely accepted that the Roman Empire was responsible for influencing that transition as their soldiers, their roads, and their ideas spread across the European continent over the years. Different European countries brought this transformative idea to fruition in various ways. This is hardly surprising considering the differences of the cultures on the continent.

While there exists an obvious diversity among these famous European gardens, there also lies some common themes. As we delve into three decadent and famous European gardens, challenge yourself to find some similarities.

Italian Gardens

The Boboli Gardens of Florence, Italy are considered one of the best classical European gardens. The planning, design, arrangement, and cultivation of these gardens took over a century to complete.

I love how green is presented in Boboli Gardens. Is definitely striking and is flat in some areas, while sloping in others. The water features are thoughtfully situated near strategically placed terraces to showcase the beautiful fountains.

A common element unique to Italian landscape design is a “grotto”. A grotto is a carved indention in a portion of a wall in the garden that usually displays a sculpture. Sometimes grottos are large enough to provide seating for visitors to sit and rest as they appreciate the artistry.

Italian gardens are also often hidden behind walls. You must actually enter the garden to appreciate its beauty. It is possible to walk right by a momentous beauty and have no idea because there is a wall separating you from it.

French Gardens

Let’s take a look at the Gardens of Versailles. French formal garden with clean lines, symmetry, pattern, shape, crisp greens, paths, and water would be my shortest possible description for them.

They are intentionally designed for the beholder to enjoy no matter their perspective: as you walk through them along the straight and winding paths, or sit on a thoughtfully placed stone bench, or behold them from a terrace strategically placed for a maximum “wow” factor. These gardens showcase a tight control over nature and are a model for other formal gardens.

The lack of colorful blossoms hardly matters when confronted with such deep, lush greenery trails with the pale colors of the paths. The curving, swirling trails themselves also provide a sharp contrast to the harsh lines of the perfectly manicured greenery.

English Gardens

Next let’s take a look at the gardens of Bowood House in England. These gardens were designed over 200 years ago by a popular English landscape designer Capability Brown.

When you look at images of the gardens at Bowood House, immediately stark differences to Boboli and Versailles come to mind. The gardens at Bowood aren’t so heavily manicured. You will find more blossoms and color present with less sense of rigid symmetry. No striking geometric shaping. Like Versailles and Boboli however, you cannot miss the oceans of green, and the beautiful water features.

English gardens present an appearance more in line with a harmony of nature as opposed to the strict order imposed over nature in the French and Italian gardens.

Key Elements of European Garden and Landscape Design

When you compare those famous gardens, you can instantly observe that they are very different in style and design. However, when you looked with the intention to find similarities some do emerge.

Water features, slopes, patios or terraces, greenery, and paths. Are key elements to any European Garden or landscape design. Let’s go more into detail about them and how they can impact the mood, and the style in your own garden.

Water Features

Water features are a must in European garden design. Ponds, streams, fountains, pools, waterfalls or a combination of them are always part of landscape in European gardens. Selecting a water feature will set the tone of what sort of style you want to present.

Ponds, streams, and waterfalls that naturally occur on your property can be enhanced and displayed. If your property does not already house a body of water, you can have one constructed or opt for a fountain. When choosing a fountain for your landscape design, consider carefully the style, and the sound you want to have.

The sound of gently running water can be calming and soothing, but water features that have only still water may be easier to install and maintain. 

You should also pay close attention to size of your water feature. A large water feature in a small garden may overwhelm the rest of the beauty of the space. You want the water feature to draw the eye, but not detract from the rest of your garden.


If your property has uneven ground, don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that you need hard labor to level it out. Slope in European garden is often accentuated and enhanced rather than ruthlessly leveled out.

Sloping lands will encourage the viewer to wander, and leave some of the gardens delights to be discovered along a walk. Slopes can add a sense of space to a small area but beware of soil erosion. Creating a natural stairway along the slope or edging it with an arrangement of boulders can help with potential soil erosion while your plants get established. Terraces are also sometimes built into a slope to break up a steep gradient.

Patios and Terraces

Patios and terraces are another common element found in European landscaping. A terrace is a flat but raised or elevated open space that is strategically placed to provide the beholder with a landing to view and appreciate the gardens around them. They are often built along an edge of a hill or slope.

Many confuse the term “terrace” with the term “patio”, and understandably so. Patios usually are adjoined to the house and are flat open spaces, but not elevated or raised. Both patios and terraces are spaces intended for dining. European gardening combines the desire to showcase beauty and nature and to be present with it.

Eating lunch with your friends or family on the terrace or simply having a cup of coffee while reading the newspaper on your patio while listening to the water babble in the fountain nearby is a delightful experience, and a common one among Europeans.

Lush Greenery

Greenery is probably most important element of European gardens. Whether manicured and shaped, or rolling slopes and hills of grass, or various trees swaying in the wind; green abounds in European gardens.

This may be in part because of the limit of colorful flowering plants Europe once had before importing from other lands and crossbreeding. European climate is cool for much of the year. With so much effort involved in landscaping a garden, the intention to have color for as much of the year as possible no doubt also plays a role in the vast seas of green seen in Europe.


A path or walkway is an essential element of European gardens. They are intended to be appreciated and explored. Paths can be gravel, dirt, or stone and are formed with artistic and practical intention to take the viewer on a journey. The practicality of a path should not be ignored.

A path serves to provide you with direction from one point of your garden to another without dirtying your shoes or accidentally stepping on your precious plants.

Constructing a path in your landscaped garden will also connect the different areas of your garden that may otherwise feel disjointed. If your path winds and bends it can allow for a sense of mystery as you wander to discover what is out of sight.  It acan also serve to lead you to pause in front of a particularly beautiful view. Straight paths of stone with right angles will reinforce a more formal landscape design, while gravel will serve as a more natural harmony with nature.

You may be interested in my blog post about different Japanese garden paths

Vision and Decisions

These key elements of European Garden and landscape design that we have discussed will provide you with a basic framework to build upon. The diversity we see among various European gardens demonstrates the enormous potential for individual creativity, and uniqueness in design.

Be sure to allow yourself and your landscape designer to find inspiration and express creativity within that framework for your vision. 

Consider which of these elements your garden or property already possesses and incorporate them into your vision. Discuss your ideas and desires with your landscape designer so they can provide a voice of guidance and functional practicality. Decisions about masonry, plant variety, terraces, water features, paths, and slopes are all fun avenues for the expression of your artistic license.

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