(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on July 8, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
Kensington Palace from the south by Jan Kip
Note: Although small scale parterres are less intensive to care for than a true knot garden they do require a great deal of maintenance. The border hedges must be frequently clipped to maintain the gracefully symmetrical order of the parterre. This is a high maintenance garden.
The word parterre is from the French (par terre) meaning on the ground. There are two distinctive definitions of this word. The first, and the one which relates to this article, is that a parterre is an ornamental garden with paths between the beds. The second definition is in reference to the area behind a theater orchestra.
This article relates to the designing of a small scale flower parterre. Keep in mind that you may plant anything you wish within the compartments (planting beds) of the parterre, or you may wish to plant nothing at all. The parterre is easily admired with only shrub edgings and gravel or turf paths, because the basic outline of the parterre is designed to please the eye as one wonders through it or admires it from afar.
The decorative planting beds of parterres are designed in gracefully symmetrical patterns. Their true beauty and form are better appreciated from an elevated position such as a deck. The individual beds are bordered with shrubs and demarcate neat compartments. These compartments form the planting beds. Paths of stone, turf, sand or other material direct the admirer through the parterre. Parterres are sited on a level service near a home. It is as though you are designing a stage to exhibit your choice flowers, so choose a location near your home. In this way the parterre may be admired throughout the year.
Research everything. Go to your local library and check out books on parterres.
Perform an internet search on parterres. There are countless photographs to be found. They will inspire you.
If you live in an area which receives snowfall during the winter use hardy evergreens such as the boxwood, Buxux microphylla 'Winter Gem' for the border hedges. There is nothing more strikingly beautiful than freshly fallen snow on the gracefully curving edges of a parterre or even a knot garden.
Design your parterre
Design your parterre or locate a design in books, on the internet or within some other resource such as garden clubs. An excellent design can be found here.
Use grid paper to draw your design before you plant. If the space you choose is small then keep your parterre simple. A larger space can be more intricately designed. Look for fully developed parterres on the internet or elsewhere to fully stimulate your creativity. Bodysgallen Hall has a rare 17th century parterre still in existence today.
The key to designing the parterre is to keep it formal. Design a symmetrical set of beds around a core, or center. The center can be another planting bed, statuary or a water element. The choice is entirely yours.
Choose the location. It is best to locate the parterre on a level site, in full sun especially if you intend to plant vegetables or herbs in the planting beds.
Using stakes and string stretch a line between the corners to be certain the parterre borders are symmetrical. Prepare the planting area using a tiller or by hand. Amend the soil as needed.
With this complete place each plant according to your parterre design.
Water, fertilize and clip your parterre as needed to maintain its beauty.
A small list of suggested plants for the flower parterre is below.
For the borders use Buxus microphylla boxwood.
For the planting beds explore information regarding cottage garden plants or try annuals for instant color and form. Lavender works well. Any type of rose, other than climbers and large shrub roses, would be a wonderful addition. Why not try tulips, for waves of elegance in the spring.
Good luck on your flower parterre.
All photographs in this article are public domain.