A video tour of a French garden presents a slew of ideas to create pleasing features in our own home places. (The Aussie Garden makeover at the end of this post lays out how that works, practically).

Les Jardins de Maizicourt in Northern France

First, let’s look at this once formal design in Picardie, which has become one of France’s favorites. The formal bones of this French garden have been restored and filled with a variety of themes. That means it is rich with select ideas for us to pick.

Ideas?

  • Planting on a strong axis
  • Bringing the eye to a corner with a graceful planter
  • Editing color and using a set of structural plantings to best effect: lots of Annabelle hydrangea used throughout this garden.
  • Specimen plant framed by arched opening.
  • Strengthen the structure with small fencing, border hedges, walls, and arched entries. Use hardscape in linear ways, increase the geometric elements of your landscape.
  • Promote symmetry with matching pots, repeated plant groups, and balancing each side of the design.

Gerberoy, F-76

A Sense of Control

One of the main characteristics that I sense in French garden plantings, both formal and informal, would be a strong impression of control. Even in the more ebullient plantings such as Monet’s cottage style in Giverny, There are paths, arches, and ornaments that lend their form to a control of the natural soft landscape.

The presence of man’s hand is seen everywhere in clipped hedges and topiary.

topiary at Jardin de Maizicourt

More clipping than you may wish, but the occasional element could bring just the sense of form you desire.

A planned symmetry gives support to those structures. Cylinder shapes alternating with blocks, arches in neat rows, or a line of repeated perennials bring a strong sense of equality and evenness. The geometry of these components seems to rise from natures default chaos.

Focal Points

Great garden design makes use of focal points, and the French are adept at this technique. Fountains, urns, or topiary situated in the cross of pathways, or a statue or specimen plant within the frame of a gateway, it creates an irresistible attraction for the eye.

Unusual focal points within a garden might be the use of a large and beautifully formed planter at a corner, surrounded by low plants. Or the classic view of an inviting garden bench.

Potager

Combine the French love of food and strong design sense into the classic potager.  If you have the time for viewing the Monty Don video, it is chock full of delicious ideas to bring into your own vegetable patch.

What constitutes a gourmet garden?

 

Consider adding French panache to your raised garden beds and combine patio, potager, and flower beds into a cohesive sitting/dining area.
French Garden

One challenge for busy gardeners, “How to get the look without the work?”
To a degree, that is not possible, but a few tips to consider:

  • Don’t love boxwood, or keeping it contained? Herbal gardens used Teucrium as an edging. It is smaller and semi-evergreen.
  • Use hardscape elements to give permanency and form instead of maintaining hedges, or topiary.
  • Construct paths with easy care materials.
  • Fully utilize raised bed methods to cut down on weeding.
Marie Antoinette’s Charming Hameau de la Reine
Hameau de la Reine

Hameau de la Reine with many French garden elements.

When Marie Antoinette made her rustic village, it held cottages and surroundings of idealized farms and gardens.

Trim hedges, neat vegetable rows, romantic bowers, and flowering dooryards are inspirational details easily adopted in a modern yard.

Picket fences strewn with vines, pots of bright geraniums lining stairways have both a casual, yet somewhat studied charm that has simplicity at its roots.

 

034Hameau de la Reine.jpg
By deror aviOwn work, Attribution, Link

Bringing Ideas from Southern France into Your Garden

From start to finish, chock full of practical tips on how to give the look of the Provenςal countryside into your own backyard.

  • Utilize details throughout to give an air of authenticity.
  • As in interior design ideaboards, use photos and books to give a sense of French feel.
  • Choose materials to underline the overall impression.

You will want to see Part 2