Romance in the Garden, French-Country Style

The marriage of colorful cottage-style gardens with formal design, clipped hedges and stone hardscapes inspired the 19th-century French impressionists — and this romantic design style can look just as beautiful in 21st-century yards.

Courtesy of Shellene Mueller

French-country gardens 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 this French-style garden, while unclipped flowering trees, vines and perennials lend a romantic feel.

Terraces Provide Elegant Transition from Home DK - Garden Design © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

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.

Image courtesy of Cynthia Dodd

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.

Image courtesy of Cynthia Dodd

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.\"

Colorful Plantings Create Romantic Border DK - Garden Design © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

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.

Courtesy of Shellene Mueller

In this design by Shellene Mueller, wrought-iron garden accents, loose mounds of flowers and a low stone wall frame the entrance to a serene patio garden. A stone sculpture framed in an iron arbor serves as the focal point.

Gravel Border Features Ground Cover Plants DK - Garden Design © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

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.

Image courtesy of Cynthia Dodd

In this Cynthia Dodd design, an Old World-style water feature is set on a circular bed of pea gravel. The formal aspects of French country \"is a container for the wild part,\" Cynthia says.

Courtesy of Shellene Mueller

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.\"

Limestone Path Creates Patterns of Thyme in Joints DK - Garden Design © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

The wide joints in the pale limestone paths create patterns and allow thymes to colonize. Lavender-blue shades are virtually the only flower colors.

Lavender and Purple Sage Creates Country Calm DK - Garden Design © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Purple sage and lavender add to the serene color palette of this garden with a Lutyens-style bench against a backdrop of hedging.

Rusting Iron Sculpture has Weathered Patina DK - Garden Design © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

A rusting iron sculpture, reminiscent of a flowering plant, works well in this Mediterranean-type setting. As the surface weathers, the patina will subtly change.

Image courtesy of Cynthia Dodd

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.

Adapt Ideals of Gardens from World Travels DK - Garden Design © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

You can help create that French-garden feeling even without the benefit of solid ground: Grow lavender in pots on the patio or fill window boxes to the brim with ivy-leaved geraniums.

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