A great knot garden is like a great wine: nice at first, but as it matures it takes on complex, sometimes unexpected characteristics that enchant and delight the senses.
Knot gardens are wonderful for residential gardens, estates, botanical and public gardens, institutions like government and university landscapes, and many more applications. A design technique that is thousands of years old but is just as relevant today is rare, but the knot garden is a perfect example.
Do you dream of having one of these charming gardens, but you’re not sure where to start? Here is a comprehensive guide to building a perfect knot garden.
Table of Contents
Step 1: Choose your Style
Knot gardens are versatile, and they work well in many garden styles.
Do you want a Cottage Knot Garden, containing drifts of mixed flowers and herbs? The low hedge serves as an anchor in this carefree garden style, providing some structure to keep things looking relaxed instead of chaotic.
Do you want a Formal Knot Garden, with intricate designs mimicking those of Versailles?
Low hedges have traditionally used to line paths radiating out from a center point of interest, like a fountain or sculpture. The resulting look is clean, tidy, and elegant. Formal knot gardens are typically surrounded by a taller privacy hedge to separate the formal area from the rest of the garden.
Or do you want a Modern Knot Garden, using geometric shapes and patterns for visual impact?
A clean, modern look is easy to attain using neatly-trimmed low hedges. The living structures help soften materials like stone, wood, and metal that are often used in modern designs.
Decide on your style, and you can move forward with a clear vision!
Step 2: Design
If you are comfortable creating your own design, do it! If not, find a designer you trust who understands your style. Consider the size and topography of your space, the style you have chosen, and which existing parts of your garden you want to direct attention toward.
Your knot garden can be incredibly intricate, creating a maze of footpaths to lead visitors around the garden. It can also be very simple, with long stretches of hedge to create a peaceful mood and fill large spaces.
Consider which, if any, existing plants in the area would be well-suited to your new knot-garden style and should be kept. Any that are incongruous can be removed or relocated.
Hardscaping elements such as paving stones and water features should be installed after the design is complete but before planting begins.
Step 3: Choose Plants
The all-time favorite choice for knot garden hedges is boxwood, for its versatile evergreen appearance that suits any garden style. It can easily be clipped to desired shapes, and looks just as perfect in a traditional formal garden as in a modern garden or cottage garden. It is deer-resistant and easy to grow. It has a wide hardiness range, making it suitable to grow in most parts of the United States. Popular varieties are Green Mountain, Green Velvet, Green Gem, Green Beauty, Winter Gem, and Common Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens).
Certain varieties have fallen out of favor in recent years due to their susceptibility to Boxwood Blight. The main culprit is the English Dwarf Boxwood, Buxus suffruticosa. It has long been prized for its compact growth habit, but the dense branching also means limited air flow, which creates a prime breeding ground for the blight fungus. Looser-growing varieties tend to be less likely to be infected, and certain varieties like Green Mountain have shown even more superior resistance. If you are planting in an area known to have fostered boxwood blight in the past, you may want to consider a boxwood alternative. Some options are dwarf hollies, privet, cotoneaster, and euonymus. Not all these options are evergreen or as easy to maintain as boxwood, so you will want to research fully before choosing one of these.
The fastest and easiest way to create a boxwood knot garden is to use Boxwood InstantHedge. This product allows you to install 32”-long segments of pre-finished boxwood hedge. Request it by name from your designer or local garden center, or order online from WaysideGardens.com.
To fill the beds created by your knot garden, choose plants that fit your chosen style. For best year-round interest, plant things that will bloom in different seasons. Plant bulbs like daffodils, winter-blooming daphne, hellebores, flowering currant, and other late winter/early spring bloomers to start the season. Follow with tulips, hostas, irises, peonies, and other springtime bloomers. Summer has an endless mix of possibilities. Herbs like lavender are a great choice here. Autumn stays colorful with dahlias and shrubs and trees with bright fall hues.
Cottage Knot Gardens are suited to a casually abundant mix of flowers and herbs, as well as flowering trees and shrubs.
Formal Knot Gardens complement stately trees, topiaries, and sophisticated flowers and shrubs (consider a fountain or other hardscaping option as well). They can also be simply filled with lawn, which gives a very sophisticated look.
Modern Knot Gardens can either be very spare, with more stone and metal than companion plants, or they can be lush with foliage and sculpted trees.
Anything goes but choose a concept and stick to it!
Step 4: Installation
Depending on the size of your knot garden, you can dig your trenches by hand or with a mini-excavator. Trenches should be the same depth as the root ball on your hedge plants and twice the width.
If using Boxwood InstantHedge, planting is easy! Lift each unit from its pot and set it in your trench. Place units end-to-end. Once planting is finished, fill in with native soil and water well.
If using individual plants, space them evenly and keep them straight while planting and filling.
Step 5: Maintain
After planting, the easiest way to keep your new hedge watered is to use drip irrigation. You can also apply slow-release fertilizer and mulch to give the new hedge a strong start.
Trim your boxwood border twice per year to keep in perfect shape. Prune first in late May or early June, after the first flush of growth. Prune next in September or October, as long as it is well before your first frost. You can prune with hand shears or electric shears, just make sure the blades are sharp! Try to prune on a cloudy day to avoid excessive leaf damage.
If using a boxwood alternative, you’ll want to look up specific pruning instructions for that type of plant. Some may need less or more trimming each year.
One trick for pruning hedges is to prune the top half slightly narrower than the bottom. This will allow light through to the bottom branches, keeping them fuller and healthier.
And that’s it! Planting a knot garden will add structure, interest, and charm to your landscape for years to come. You can easily swap out the plants inside the beds for a change, while your hedge borders keep getting better and better.
Knot Garden Ideas (Photos)