Origins: Much of the period formal architecture we see relates to the Georgian period, which dates back to the reigns of kings George I to George IV (1714 to 1830). The austere, squared-off homes we call formal or Georgian are reproductions, given that there weren’t very many stately homes going up in Upper and Lower Canada during that period.
Characteristics: Formal homes have symmetrical façades and balanced proportions. Front doors are usually centred and may include fanlights and sidelights. Ionic columns, small-paned, sashed windows and chimneys at each end of the houses are other common elements. The look is restrained and elegant.
Design: Formal buildings are best paired with symmetrical gardens. Neatly trimmed hedges and straight-edged walkways lined with interlacing trees or standards (called allées), punctuated with a classic ornament at the opposite end, are common treatments. Locate walkways so they neatly bisect the front garden and follow a straight line. If a garden pathway needs to make a turn, use a right angle rather than a sweeping curve.
Surface materials: Pea gravel paths look right, as do walks or patios made from tightly laid, square-cut flagstone. Use pea gravel to mulch beds of boxwood or other evergreens.
Structures: Low brick walls topped with concrete coping, porticos over front entrances, fences or screens using square-opening (not on a 45 degree angle) trellises and simple iron railings look appropriate.
Finishing touches: Black cast-iron urns with a tasteful sculptured swag or two atop a pedestal make perfect containers for a formal garden. Flank a doorway with matching rosemary, rose or myrtle topiaries, or a pair of slender, upright evergreens. Concrete spheres atop short brick columns could mark an entrance. A square or round lily pond or a formal fountain outlined with neatly trimmed boxwood is a classic water feature.
Plants: limit the plant palette to keep the focus on texture and form. Monochromatic colour schemes with lots of greenery provide a cool, serene look. Clipped evergreens such as boxwood, arborvitae (Thuja spp.) or holly are traditional choices. Large expanses of English ivy (Hedera helix), Japanese spurge (Pachysandra spp.) or periwinkle (Vinca minor) are good substitutes for grass in shady areas.