Formal garden feature of symmetrical and level plant beds with gravel paths laid between
Restoration work on a parterre at Wrest Park, England
The palace at Oranienbaum, Russia, with six colours of mineral base, and red flowers.
Kensington Palace engraved by Jan Kip for Britannia Illustrata (1707/8).
Parterre with only grass and gravels, Peterhof Palace
Victorian parterre at Waddesdon Manor (2016).

A parterre is a part of a formal garden constructed on a level substrate, consisting of plant beds, typically in symmetrical patterns, which are separated and connected by paths. The borders of the plant beds may be formed with stone or tightly pruned hedging, and their interiors may be planted with flowers or other plants or filled with mulch or gravel. Parterres need not have any flowers at all. The paths are constituted with gravel or (much less often in historical examples) turf grass.[1] Typically it was the part of the garden nearest the house, perhaps after a terrace. The view of it from inside the house, especially from the upper floors, was a major consideration in its design.

French parterres originated in the gardens of the French Renaissance of the 15th century and often had the form of knot gardens. Later, in the 17th century Baroque garden, they became more elaborate and stylised. The French formal garden parterre reached its greatest development in the gardens of Versailles, which inspired many similar parterres throughout Europe.[2]

Parterre-style areas reappeared in many large gardens from the mid-19th century, now much more lavishly planted with bedded-out flowers, and with less strictly geometrical designs. From around the mid-21st century, as interest in Baroque gardens were revived, many attempts to recreate or restore Baroque parterres have been made, at least as regards the layout; planting often continues to be much thicker, and the height of hedges higher, than would have been the case in the originals.


Claude Mollet, from a dynasty of nurserymen-designers that lasted into the 18th century, developed the parterre in France. His inspiration in developing the 16th-century patterned compartimens (i.e., simple interlaces formed of herbs, either open and infilled with sand, or closed and filled with flowers) was the painter Etienne du Pérac, who returned from Italy to the Château d'Anet near Dreux, France, where he and Mollet were working. Around 1595, Mollet introduced compartment-patterned parterres to the royal gardens of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Fontainebleau. The fully developed scrolling embroidery-like parterres en broderie first appear in Alexandre Francini's engraved views of the revised horticultural plans of Fontainebleau and Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1614.[3]

Clipped boxwood met with resistance from horticultural patrons for its "naughtie smell" as the herbalist Gervase Markham described it. By 1638, Jacques Boyceau described the range of designs in boxwood that a horticulturist should be able to cultivate:

"Parterres are the low embellishments of gardens, which have great grace, especially when seen from an elevated position: they are made of borders of several shrubs and sub-shrubs of various colours, fashioned in different manners, as compartments, foliage, embroideries (passements), moresques, arabesques, grotesques, guilloches, rosettes, sunbursts (gloires), escutcheons, coats-of-arms, monograms and emblems (devises)."[4]

By the 1630s, elaborate parterres de broderie appeared at Wilton House in Wilton, England that were so magnificent that they were engraved, which engraving is the only remaining trace of them. "Parterres de pelouse" or "parterres de gazon" denominate cutwork parterres of low growing herbs (e.g., camomile) as much as closely scythed turf grass. The separation of plant beds of a parterre is denominated an "alley of compartiment".[citation needed]

Many parterre designs were only grass and gravel, often of different colours. Reddish "brick dust", mostly brick waste crushed to gravel-sized pieces, was a popular addition to stone. These required less maintenance, and looked good from the upper storeys of the house. In country houses the owner was often only in residence in the summer, when the relatively small range of flowers available at the time had mostly finished their display. Stephen Switzer, an English gardener of the early 18th century, advised against using flowers at all in country house gardens for this reason, an extreme position, not often followed:

the nobler Diversions of the Country take place ... [after the end of May]... when the Beauty of Flowers is gone, and Borders are like Graves, and rather a Blemish than Beauty to our finest gardens.[5]

Parterre gardens lost favour in the 18th century and were superseded, within the naturalistic English landscape garden style, which emerged in England from the 1720s by flower gardens, or shrubberies from the mid-century, both very often planned round a snake-like serpentine path. In particular, Capability Brown, the most prolific garden designer of the mid-century, often brought a wide lawn right up to the terrace of the main garden front, to give Neoclassical houses the appearance of classical buildings in paintings by artists such as Claude Lorrain. Many English parterres were dug up as a result. The flowering plants were often moved to the side of the house.

Parterre at Cliveden with restored 19th-century style planting.

In the 19th century, however, parterre gardens were revived, coinciding with the rise of Neo-Renaissance architecture and the availability of carpet bedding, which was realized by the annual mass planting of non-hardy flowers as segments of color which constituted a design. Level substrates and a raised vantage point from which to view the design were required, and so the parterre was revived in a modified style.[6][7][8][9]


Parterre at Hanbury Hall, Worcestershire, viewed from a first floor window.

Parterres tended to survive better the further east one went in Europe, and the imperial Russian palaces have many of the best remaining examples.

At Kensington Palace, the planting of the parterres was by Henry Wise, whose nursery was nearby at Brompton. In an engraving from 1707–1708, (illustration, right), the up-to-date Baroque designs of each section are clipped scrolling designs, symmetrical around a centre, in low hedging punctuated by trees formally clipped into cones; however, their traditional 17th century layout, a broad central gravel walk dividing paired plats, each subdivided in four, appears to have survived from the Palace's former (pre-1689) existence as Nottingham House. Subsidiary wings have subsidiary parterres, with no attempt at overall integration. At Prince Eugene's Belvedere Palace, Vienna, a sunken parterre before the façade that faced the city was flanked in a traditional fashion with raised walks from which the pattern could best be appreciated. To either side, walls with busts on herm pedestals backed by young trees screen the parterre from the flanking garden spaces. Formal baroque patterns have given way to symmetrical paired free scrolling rococo arabesques, against the gravel ground. Little attempt seems to have been made to fit the framework to the shape of the parterre. Beyond (in the shadowed near foreground) paired basins have central jets of water.[citation needed]

In the UK, modern parterres exist at Trereife House in Penzance (Cornwall), at Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfriesshire and at Bodysgallen Hall near Llandudno.[10] Examples can also be found in Ireland, such as at Birr Castle. One of the largest in Britain is at Cliveden in Buckinghamshire, which covers an area of 4 acres (1.6 ha; 160 a; 16,000 m2; 170,000 sq ft); it consists of symmetrical wedge-shaped beds filled with Nepeta ("catmint"), Santolina and Senecio, edged with box hedges. Sentinel pyramids of yew stand at the corners. Some early knot gardens have been covered over by lawn or other landscaping but the traces are visible as undulations in the present day landscape. An example of this phenomenon is the early 17th-century garden of Muchalls Castle in Scotland. At Charlecote Park in Warwickshire the original parterre from the 1800s has been recreated on the terrace overlooking the river.[11][12]


See also


  1. ^ Suzanne Staubach (29 October 2019). A Garden Miscellany: An Illustrated Guide to the Elements of the Garden pp. 148. Timber Press. ISBN 978-1-60469-977-7.
  2. ^ Derek Plint Clifford (1967). A history of garden design. Praeger.
  3. ^ O’Malley, Therese; Wolschke-Bulmahn, Joachim. "John Evelyn's "Elysium Britannicum" and European Gardening" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2005-05-08. Retrieved 2005-06-30.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Jacques Boyceau, Traité du iardinage selon les raisons de la nature et de l’art, pp. 81-2, as quoted by [Mark?] Laird.
  5. ^ Quoted in Quest-Ritson, Charles, The English Garden: A Social History, p. 115, 2003, Penguin, ISBN 978014029502X
  6. ^ C. F. Ferris (1837). The Parterre; Or, Whole Art of Forming Flower Gardens. Bull. pp. 39–.
  7. ^ Richard Bradley (1718). New Improvements of Planting and Gardening: Both Philosophical and Practical; Explaining the Motion of the Sapp and Generation of Plants. W. Mears.
  8. ^ A.D. d'Argenville. The theory and practice of gardening. Рипол Классик. ISBN 978-5-87957-770-9.
  9. ^ Judith Wade Bernardi; Judith Wade (14 September 2002). Italian gardens. Rizzoli. ISBN 9780847824953.
  10. ^ Trereife Park
  11. ^ Marie Luise Schroeter Gothein (11 September 2014). A History of Garden Art. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-108-07615-9.
  12. ^ Kenneth Woodbridge (1986). Princely Gardens: The Origins and Development of the French Formal Style. Random House Incorporated. ISBN 978-0-8478-0684-3.


External links