If you're looking to add a touch of elegance, formality, and classic design to your home's exterior, consider planting a French garden. Known for their distinct, symmetrical lines, precisely trimmed hedges and shrubs, simple color palettes, stone elements, and use of lavender, French gardens have a long history as the most formal gardens and outdoor spaces you're likely to find.
History of French Gardens
Did you know that French-style gardens were originally inspired by Italian landscape design? A traditional Italian garden features lots of evergreen plants clipped into precise, geometric lines, as well as pergolas with fragrant, climbing vines and natural stone features. The Italian-inspired gardening techniques adapted by the French were then widely used by British gardeners. British gardeners blended their own styles into these gardening techniques, which influenced later French-style gardens.
Famous French Gardens
Some of the world's most famous gardens employ French-style gardening techniques, but none are more well-known than the gardens at the Palace of Versailles. Some other famous French gardens include the gardens of Vaux-le-Vicomte, the gardens of Château de Villandry, and the gardens of Eyrignac Manor.
Key French Garden Elements
Whether you're working on a small or large scale, every French-style garden should possess several key elements. Here's how to get started:
-The residence should be the focal point of your garden. In traditional French gardens, the home or residence is the center of the garden, with paths that run perpendicular to the structure. -Stucco or stonework homes are ideal focal points for a traditional French garden, but other styles of homes can work, too. Consider adding window boxes to blend your home into the landscape.
-Use symmetry. Precise, symmetrical lines are vital to a French-style garden. Incorporating boxwoods into your French garden can give it a traditional touch, but these easy-to-grow hedges can also make maintaining clean, geometric lines easier. Just be sure to trim them as often as needed.
-Garden beds and planters should be kept neat, symmetrical, and free of debris. Feel free to experiment with other geometric shapes, like diamonds, semicircles, or triangles in your design.
-Incorporate stone surfaces. Gravel paths and stone steps not only define an area in a French garden, but can also provide much-needed drainage during a rainy season.
-Add water features and design elements. Reflecting pools, fountains, and other water features look elegant and harken back to traditional French-style gardens, while decorative features, like urns or cream-colored planters, can add texture and personality.
-Stick to a simple color palette. French gardens typically have a cool color palette, so choose plants that are white, blue, or purple. Lavender is a must-have in any French garden. During Autumn, you can use a more earthy palette, including tones of brown.
-Make space for eating and relaxing. If you want to feel like you're dining in the French countryside, add a bistro set to your garden. Look for simple furniture that can be exposed to the elements (an open-air ceiling is key).
French Garden Maintenance
Maintaining a French-style garden can be a lot of work. Be prepared to dedicate several hours each weekend to trimming hedges, deadheading or replacing flowers, and clearing debris like leaves or grass clippings from your hedges and garden beds.
When selecting the plants for your French garden, be sure to consider each plants' seasonality and placement. Annual and perennial plants are typically used to fill borders, but if you choose plants that bloom in autumn, you'll need colorful mums, dahlias, purple pansies and yes, even bright yellow sunflowers!
Tending to a French-style garden can be hard work, but the reward is a beautiful, elegant, and classic garden to showcase your home's exterior. If you love French-style gardening but don't want to dedicate the time to maintenance, consider a French country garden. French country gardens maintain the same order and design elements as a French garden, but feel a little more relaxed and natural.