parterre garden is a type of formal
garden created by 16th Century French nursery designer Claude Mollet.
Mollet based his design on the square boundaries and elaborate interior patterns
of English knot
gardens. However, he conceived of the parterre garden as fulfilling a
different purpose for French
landscapes. Instead of being viewed by people who were passing by them
on the ground, Mollet wanted his gardens to be viewed from the high vantage
points of open windows, balconies, and palisades. He therefore
divided the single square into four squares, with gravel paths that intersect in
the middle. He also changed the vegetation contents from an emphasis on
herbs and small flowering plants to larger growth that could be better seen from
clipped box to use in forming the boundaries of the parterre garden. He
relied heavily on other shrub species as well to provide variation in structure
and color. The English, of course, objected to this. Herbalist
and poet Gervase Markham wrote that box had a “naughty smell” and should not be
used in a garden. Markham had missed the point. Mollet’s intention
was to create a visual experience for the Elite to quietly enjoy from the
opulence and comfort of their balconies and open windows. It was far
more important to see the garden as a unity than it was to smell individual
flowers and herbs at close range. This was the main reason that shrubs
became predominant in parterre gardens, because when different species are
planted together, the variations of green can be stunningly
reached the zenith of their form under the reign of Louis XIII at the Palace of
Versailles. King Louis’s head gardener, Jacques Boyceau, defined the best
elements of the parterre gardens as follows:
• Borders that
are made from several shrubs of different shades of green.
should be clipped in such a way as to create compartments and pathways within
the general space.
• Passements, or embroidery patterns, should be
formed out of shrub elements
• The use of repeating geometry (known as
Arabesque) is often appropriate, along with selective use of animal forms in
• Distorted forms and interlacing patterns should be clearly
visible and proportional to the whole.
fell out of style after the French Revolution. The new, favored form then
became the 18th Century English naturalist garden. However, in the 20th
Century, parterre gardens experienced a resurgence in popularity. While
they still remain true to the same aesthetic intentions of Boyceau and Mollet,
the use of four perfect squares is not typical except on very large, private
estates that have the acreage to support them.
typical Houston parterre garden is often one of many elements found throughout
the landscape. It can be planted with either linear or contoured geometry
to compliment the aesthetic of exterior architecture and outdoor forms.
This was done in a project we did some time back for a West Houston couple who
loved all things French. We sculpted a parterre garden around a paved area
that was designed in the shape of a horseshoe. Originally used for parking
a boat, this area was later covered with gravel and used to mount a
statue. The surrounding greenery created a backdrop for this piece that
looked both organic and elegant at once.
companies such as ours use a combination of boxwoods and holly trees when
designing parterre gardens. Boxwoods create excellent garden boundaries,
and hollies add vertical dimension. This simple combination is often very
useful in a yard that has lacks a fence. When planted along the property
line, it creates a superb and highly aesthetic natural boundary between two