French garden design blend the elements of formal design with informal, almost cottage-style planting beds. “You have clipped hedges, and you also have more natural plantings that look a little wild,” says garden designer Shellene Mueller. “It’s a plant-driven style.”
Here, parterre and topiaries create the formal “bones” of the French garden designs, while unclipped flowering trees, vines and perennials lend a romantic feel. The overall structure of the French-country style typically follows a formal rectangular or circular pattern, with at least some symmetry. Here, the terraces are identical except for the direction of entry. Hardscaping is often done in stone. Circular beds with romantic flowers and sculpted tree forms flank a water fountain and stone surfacing in this front yard. “It’s easy to incorporate [elements of French-country gardens] into your own design style,” says Cynthia Dodd, president of Plantscapes. In French-country design, perennial borders are carefully planned to appear natural and informal. “There’s intention in the beginning, but once they’ve grown in, it looks like a wildflower garden,” says garden designer Cynthia Dodd, “as if the plants were just thrown into the bed.” The perennial beds in a French-country garden offer an explosion of color — much like a Monet painting. Walkways may be flagstone, pea gravel or stone dust. In the South of France where summers are sunny and dry, drought-tolerant plants thrive. This gravel border features mostly Mediterranean-style groundcovers, including thyme and catmint. A luxurious sweep of lavender flanks this very French hillside garden designed by Shellene Mueller. Stone boulders echo the rose- and vine-draped pillars above.
French gardens “celebrate the senses,” Shellene says. “You’re visually stimulated, you’re smelling lavender and thyme, there’s interesting texture — all the senses are stimulated.” The wide joints in the pale limestone paths create patterns and allow thymes to colonize. Lavender-blue shades are virtually the only flower colors. Purple sage and lavender add to the serene color palette of this garden with a Lutyens-style bench against a backdrop of hedging. In this landscape bed designed by Cynthia Dodd, a stone pedestal plus container garden is a striking focal point. Cynthia says flea markets and antique shows are great places to shop for unique garden artwork.