Theme gardens are a popular way to give unity to a garden design, or to tie multiple garden rooms together. When designing your garden, you can use a number of design elements that have been borrowed from great European gardens to give your own garden an old world sense of place.
When you think of topiary, you may think of the fanciful shapes that artists create at Disneyland. But geometric topiaries date back to ancient Egypt, where dense hedges were clipped into artificial shapes in ornamental gardens. It was the Romans who first began to cut shrubbery into fanciful, geometric shapes on a large scale. Once Rome fell, medieval monastery gardens continued the practice of topiary. Some of the most famous topiary gardens are mazes made entirely out of boxwood or privet hedges, where travelers may wander for hours inside winding pathways.
Medieval cottage gardens were not just places to grow a few herbs or vegetables. The medieval garden served as a home medicine cabinet, larder and kitchen. To keep livestock out of the garden, fencing was often composed of sticks woven into a basket weave fence known as wattle. Wattle fencing was so strong and tightly woven that raised or sunken beds could be constructed using the fencing as walls. Though colonial Americans used wattle fencing in their own farms, the practice was abandoned in favor of sturdier fencing forms. Because of this, the rustic appearance of wattle fencing reminds one of old-world gardens.
Espalier is a way in which fruit trees could be made to grow in a compact area, such as right against a wall to provide ornamental interest, yet still bear fruit. The tree was frequently trained into a two-dimensional shape such as a menorah or a chevron by gently bending the branches into position while they were still young and tying them to a trellis or anchor in the wall until the tree naturally grew into the desired structure. Espalier trees need frequent attention. Undesired branches must be pruned, and the tree must be retied every few months to account for growth periods. Good candidates for espalier include dwarf apple or pear trees.