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.

  • 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

    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.\"

  • Colorful Plantings Create Romantic Border

    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 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

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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

    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

    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

    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.

  • 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

    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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