Knot Garden Redesign for Bussaco Palace in Portugal

A knot garden is more than just a garden; it’s a living canvas where horticultural prowess meets artistic finesse. An intricately woven tapestry, a knot garden embodies the intertwining of plants in patterns that are visually stunning yet equally functional. The artistry lies in the arrangement, where plants are meticulously positioned to create a sense of continuous flow and harmony.

During my Garden Design course, I was presented with the task of sketching a knot garden that beautifully exemplifies this artistry of planting overlap, my mind instantly gravitated towards one of my cherished gardens – the captivating geometric garden design boxwood edges of the Bussaco Palace.

Nestled in the heart of Portugal, the Buçaco Palace and its surrounding gardens stand as a testament to the beauty that can emerge when nature and human creativity converge. Originally designed by monks to replicate the legendary Garden of Eden, this meticulously pruned garden transports visitors to a realm where botanical wonders and architectural splendour coexist.

This geometric framework is masterfully shaped in a circular configuration that draws the eye towards its centre it is the perfect canvas for recreating the knot garden concept:

In my endeavour to reinterpret the knot garden concept within the mesmerizing context of Buçaco Palace, I also went through the history of garden design, examining also French and English gardens, and one trend is clearly distinct: vast expanses of meticulously maintained lawns adorned with elegant topiaries. Many of the renowned gardens from this era were commissioned for royalty, serving to elevate the grandeur of royal palaces and chateaux. This style evolved over the centuries, drawing inspiration from the Victorian and Italian Renaissance periods.

In these gardens, one encounters a lush tapestry of flowering plants and verdant greenery, alongside classic features such as precisely sculpted topiaries, squared-off trees, graceful fountains, meticulously arranged flower beds intersected by gravel pathways, and central wooden gazebos, among other elements. These designs were intended to be appreciated from elevated vantage points, be it from towering turrets or the comfort of balconies. When viewed from above, they resembled intricate floor embroidery:

Achieving this effect relied on masterful techniques like patterned flower beds, skillfully trimmed trees, and intricate knot gardens, all of which were highly prized during that era.

The planting overlap, carefully arranged to evoke an intricate woven pattern, plays a pivotal role in distinguishing the knot garden from its simpler counterparts.

Drawing from the original circular layout and boxwood edges, I envisioned a transformation of the existing framework. By imbuing the edges with an elaborate and stylized knot design, I aimed to accentuate the garden’s sophistication while maintaining a minimalist approach within the central space. This would create an interplay of complexity and simplicity, giving prominence to the planting overlap while leaving ample room for the expected visual impact:

In today’s world, not everyone possesses the sprawling landscapes that once lent themselves to such exuberant garden designs. However, the essence of this style continues to influence contemporary European garden designs in various ways. Even on a more modest scale, these characteristics persist in gardens seeking a formal or classic identity.

To illustrate this perspective, let’s consider the recent project undertaken by Kevin Lee Jacobs in his own garden. He transformed his backyard, once a mundane parking area, into a breathtaking rose garden. In this endeavour, we can discern echoes of the French style, a testament to the enduring legacy of these historical garden design principles.


On the other hand, I tend to see the Cottage Style gardens as an “evolution” of this formal, classic lineage, but maybe a bit more focused on simplicity, that comes with the feeling of life in the countryside, a good example of contemporary applications is the Bury Court garden designed by Piet Oudolf, a tranquil setting with a wild streak and has strong English style influence not only with the knot garden in the front garden but also a grid pattern of rusted steel-edged beds and gravel paths.

By: Karine Nieman

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