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Parterre Gardening - Aug 1, 2011

by Lindsay Leahy, Horticulturist, Green Bay Botanical Garden

If you take a trip down to the raised beds below the Schierl Wellhouse this year, you will notice things look a little different. In place of the colorful annuals that typically make up the intricate patterns of the beds are young, multi-colored shrubs. In the next few years, these recent additions will grow into a manicured hedge reminiscent of the parterre gardens made famous by the 15th century gardens of the French Renaissance.

By definition, a parterre is a formal garden constructed on a level surface consisting of edged planting beds surrounded by gravel paths. These gardens were typically symmetrical in design and were a concept developed in France by Claude Mollet. One of the most famous examples of this design are the gardens at the Chateau of Versailles. This style of gardening lasted for many years, but as the naturalistic English landscape gardening phase began in the 1720’s, parterre gardening became a thing of the past. Then, in the 19th century, the trend of carpet bedding became popular. This trend involved mass plantings of flowering annuals which would create blocks of colors and elaborate designs. This style of gardening required flat surfaces, and many times a raised terrace from which to view the design, and thus the parterre style of gardening was reborn!


Green Bay Botanical Garden has chosen to switch from mass plantings of colorful annuals in favor of colorful shrubs in an effort to minimize our maintenance as the garden continues to grow. Creating this perennial design will ultimately save the garden time and money. In the past, the raised beds had to be replanted twice a year—once in early summer with annuals and again in the fall with spring blooming bulbs. Each planting was a time-consuming task as we meticulously measured the spaces between plants and the edges of the beds, taking great care to maintain the intricate patterns that create the view from above. To create our parterre we used a red barberry cultivar (Berberis thunbergii var. atropurpurea ‘Concorde’) and a chartreuse barberry cultivar (Berberis thunbergii ‘Talago’ a.k.a. Sunjoy® Gold Beret Barberry) in alternating v-shape and crescent shape patterns, framed by boxwoods (Buxus ‘Green Velvet’). The design features shrub liners that we will be able to shear as they grow, ultimately forming dense formal hedges, much like those that can be found at Versailles. We invite you to stop in and get a taste of France as our mini-version of Versailles takes shape!

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