French Country Gardens

Designing French country gardens. How to achieve French garden style no matter where you live. Creating shaded seating areas, planting a parson’s (cottage) plot.

French Cottage Garden Outside Cafe Les Nymphias in Giverny

French countryside gardens are gardens of many faces.  They range from green and serene to colorful plots overflowing with bountiful bloom. 

All of them embody the heart and soul of France.

Unlike the cool and haughty formal French gardens which surround the palaces, these are the gardens of the people.  As you might expect, they exude the warmth and display the charm of this captivating country for all the world to see, enjoy, and emulate.

It is my hope that the images on this page will inspire you to recreate a tiny piece of the French countryside right in your own backyard, wherever that may be.

How to Plant a French Cottage Garden

Monet’s House and Garden in GivernyA jardin de cure or parson’s garden, is a plot where flowers, vegetables, and carefully managed fruit trees grow abreast.  It’s the French version of an English cottage garden.In creating a French cottage garden, there is one rule you must not break:French Country Garden of Painter Claude Monet

Do what you will with the hardscape, but, for heaven’s sake, do not skimp on planting material.

The thing that makes a cottage garden cottagy is the sense of unrestrained profusion you get upon entering it.

This effect can only be achieved by planting just a little too much of whatever you decide to populate your plot with.

A parson’s garden may be the perfect garden style for those of us afflicted with a natural tendency to overdo things.

Plants with which to Populate Your Parson’s Plot

Monet’s House and Garden in Giverny

A List of French Garden Flowers

The rose has been the glory of French gardens since the time of Josephine.  Tree roses are often installed where space will not permit a shrub to grow.  Climbing roses may also be trained flat against a wall as a space saving measure. 

Where space is abundant, there is nothing more romantic than a rambling rose scrambling over a garden arbor or potting shed.

Other plants commonly used in French home landscapes:

  • Use conifers (especially those with blue or gold foliage) for permanent structure.
  • Geraniums are a good choice for annual color.
  • Box is the most popular hedging material for planting low parterres.

Flowers Cover the Walls of the Breton Home in Brittany, France

This picture demonstrates, better than any words, the floral effect that may be achieved even where there is no soil.  Vertical gardening at its absolute best.

Cover the Ground in Gravel

The French Garden at Duke Gardens in Hillsborogh, NJ

Gravel has been the ground cover of choice in French country gardens  for centuries.  If that is not excuse enough for using it, consider its practical value:

  1. Gravel is cheap compared to other paving materials.
  2. Nothing is easier to maintain.
  3. It makes that delightful crunching sound underfoot.

The one drawback to gravel paving is that it is unfriendly to bare feet.  Use something smoother in areas where you plan to walk barefoot.

Water is a Wonderful Design Element for French Country Gardens

Marie Antionette’s Hamlet in Versailles

A pond is a thing of beauty in any garden, and this one, with a the cascading branches of a weeping willow swaying in the breeze and ducks congregating on its banks, is downright idyllic.

French gardens usually contain some sort of water feature.  Many house more than one.

If your property does not possess a natural body of water and space or budget restraints won’t allow you to install an in-ground pond, invest in a less expensive patio water garden (in a container) or fountain instead.

Use Trees or Arbors to Shade Seating Areas

French Cottage Garden Around the Dairy, Chateau VersaillesThe Same Garden in a Different Year

A sitting or dining area on a shaded terrace is another common theme in French country gardens.

If you have the space to accommodate their sometimes extensive root systems, shade trees are the most cost effective way to provide any outdoor room with cooling shade.

You can find a list of the best trees to use for landscaping, here.

Although London plane trees (Platanus × acerifolia) are a French tradition, it is best to plant trees that have a track record for performing well in your neighborhood.  An unhealthy tree will be of little help to you in creating the garden of your French Riviera dreams.

Albeit more expensive, installing a grape arbor will likely add more je nes se quois to your landscape than any tree ever could.  Grape vines also grow more quickly than trees providing you the wanted shade that much sooner.

This page will tell you which grapes perform best in your state.

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