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. This romantic design style can look just as beautiful in 21st-century yards.

By: Marie Hofer

©Shellene Mueller

Photo By: DK - Garden Design © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

©Cynthia Dodd

©Cynthia Dodd

Photo By: DK - Garden Design © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

©Courtesy of Shellene Mueller

Photo By: DK - Garden Design ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

©Cynthia Dodd

©Shellene Mueller

Photo By: DK - Garden Design © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: DK - Garden Design © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

©Cynthia Dodd

Photo By: DK - Garden Design © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Blending Styles

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.

Formal Tiered Terrace

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.

French-Style Front Yard

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.

Perennial Borders

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."

Romantic Planting 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.

French Country Garden

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.

South of France-Inspired

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.

Formal French Fountain

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.

Must-Have: Fragrant French Lavender

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."

Herb-Lined Walkway

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

Iron Accents

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.

Flea Market Finds

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.

No Garden? Try Windowboxes

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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