Parterres are symmetrical in shape and a formally patterned garden created this way will look beautiful at any time of the year, whether dusted in frost or framing exuberant planting.

It’s a versatile style of gardening that has stood the test of time, but the parterre’s longevity is not only down to the infinite variety of designs that can be created by using hedges to enclose plants, hard landscaping and ornaments.

It also comes from the ease with which a parterre can be shrunk or enlarged to adapt to varying sizes and shapes of garden, yet still work well providing the original proportions are kept.

Parterre garden

If you are creating a parterre garden, firstly read our guide that will help you make a plan – and, we also have tips and advice for the best plants for your edging. Below we will take you through planting in-between in a parterre garden. Read on to find out more….

The planting in-between…

Whatever the hedging, there is then the question of filling each bed – the answer could be as simple as gravel or pebbles, or as complex as tiered planting designed to bring interest in all four seasons.

In the same bed, winter hellebores can be underplanted with a succession of bulbs – snowdrops, narcissi and grape hyacinths. Then, as the first flush of bulbs dies back, alliums and tulips take over whilst alchemilla, aquilegias, heucheras, euphorbias and hardy geraniums carpet the ground, concealing the bulbs’ withering foliage.

Infill for summer


Parterre garden

By summer, taller perennials such as Verbena bonariensis, campanulas, foxgloves and poppies bring plenty of colour. Or there are annuals such as snapdragons, French marigolds, cosmos, tobacco plants or nemesias.

Herbs also look good – oregano, marjoram, fennel, bergamot, yarrow and feverfew have a delightfully disheveled habit that contrasts well against the clean-cut box.

Roses look stunning in summer, but the ground does look rather sad in mid-winter with nothing but the pruned, naked stems remaining. For a completely different, architectural look, each bed could be filled with clipped evergreens – bay, box, yew or pittosporum – to create rounded, spiraling, pyramid or cubed silhouettes in different textures and shades of green.

Whatever colour blends, textural combinations or seasonal delights most appeal, the over-riding consideration when planning a parterre’s planting scheme is proportion. It helps to imagine a concave outline in which the plant heights are carefully graduated upwards towards a central feature.

This means arranging the plants so that the eventual height and spread of each is neither overpowering nor lost within the overall scheme. This is especially important in a small parterre where it is best to avoid invasive ‘thuggish’ plants such as yellow loosestrife, Japanese anemone or golden rod, all of which will eventually crowd out others.

Choose herbs and scented plants


Parterre garden

Most British herbs have been cultivated since Roman times, and can be divided into culinary, aromatic and medicinal, with different areas devoted to each. A culinary bed includes borage, basil, caraway, sage, chives, parsley, sorrel, tarragon, lemon balm and mint – any mints are invasive and best grown in pots to prevent them spreading via vigorous roots.

An aromatic bed could not be complete without lavender, rosemary, thyme, oregano, santolina, bergamot, fennel and bay – both rosemary and bay clip into lovely standards.

Finally, a medicinal bed includes rue, anise, feverfew, chamomile, soapwort, yarrow – a mediaeval cure-all – and mugwort.

Many herbs fall into all three categories, so there is a strong case for being design-led, and creating the best plant combinations. Finally, most herbs spread with maturity, so as a general rule of thumb, 30cm (12in) should be allowed between each plant.

More parterre garden advice…

How to: Plan a parterre garden Which plants to use as edging