What is a Knot Garden?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A knot garden is a garden which carefully structures herbs, shrubs, and flowers to create a detailed and symmetrical design of knotwork. Knot gardens are particularly associated with British and French culture, although they can be found all over the world. They vary widely in size from massive gardens which can only be truly appreciated from on high to small garden accents in larger gardens. Many estates have beautiful examples of historic knot gardens, and intrepid gardeners might want to try their hands at making one.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

The concept of a knot garden first emerged in Elizabethan England. Elizabethan knot gardens were designed to mimic the beautiful embroidery designs which are associated with that period in British history. They were often made with aromatic herbs and plants, and meandering walkways which allowed people to enjoy the sights and smells of the garden. In some cases, a knot garden was meant to be viewed from raised walkways and terraces.

France picked up the concept, with many French estates and castles adopting the knot garden for their own uses, and spreading the idea slowly into the rest of Europe. Some historical knot gardens are hundreds of years old, although the original plants are not all intact. They may be immensely detailed as well, with knots of bright color and gravel, brick, or wooden paths.

A traditional knot garden is enclosed in a square, and it typically does not feature hedges. Some people, however, plant low hedges of boxwood, trimming them tightly so that they remain close to the ground. A knot garden may also have a central feature like a fountain or a statue, and it has a very formal overall look and feel. The garden is also usually aligned with the cardinal directions, and some gardeners establish symbolic plants so that the garden has a deeper meaning.

In order to establish a knot garden, a gardener must be a meticulous planner. It helps to take precise measurements of the area, and to draw up very large plans. Typically, slow growing plants are planted very close together so that the form of the knot garden emerges almost immediately. The plants must be carefully trimmed and cared for to ensure that the knot garden keeps its shape, and the gardener should put some thought into access to the garden through carefully laid out paths, so that the garden can be maintained without risking damage to the plants.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


There is a very nice knot garden at Harkness Memorial State Park,in Waterford,CT. It shows the French influence with Fleur de Lis design and is part of the elegant gardens of the Harkness Mansion. There are actually two knot gardens there, side by side,bordered with box.


A fine example of a knot garden exists in the Musum of Garden History at Lambeth in London, England. It is a wonderful place to visit but should you wish to see it -it is available for you to view if you search for museum of garden history in Lambeth in London. England


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