Designing a classic French garden can be achieved with ease as long as there is a delicate harmony between nature, architecture and art. Follow these eight steps to create a beautiful, timeless and elegant French garden.
One – Adopt a French garden style that suits your space and climate
France has many climates and regions to draw inspiration from, so it is important to choose the right one for you.
The most renowned and photogenic French garden regions are as follows:
Lush gardens of the Châteaux of the Loire Valley
Grand symmetrical parterres, avenues of lofty deciduous trees and meticulously espaliered fruit trees are commonplace in the French gardens of the Châteaux of the Loire Valley.
Trimmed hedges border garden beds while extraordinary topiary art is celebrated.
Sun-drenched Provencal country gardens
The key elements of a French Provincial garden can be easily replicated. Typical plants include olive trees, slender cypress pines, lavender and rose bushes, and climbing wisteria and jasmine. Large country gardens in Provence will often have a vast lawn that meets a vineyard, lavender field, prairie or olive grove. Hardscaping also features in Provincial gardens – driveways, pathways and garden beds are often finished with river stone and pebbles.
Exotic cliff-side Mediterranean gardens of the French Riviera
Salty coastal Mediterranean gardens are planted with flowering cacti and slender palms as though they were sculptures. They frame the glistening Mediterranean waters and provide much needed shade in the summer months. As winters are mild, frost sensitive plants such as citrus can thrive.
When selecting pots, ancient Biot jars are the most authentic choice and are found frequently in the coastal gardens of the Côte d'Azur. These clay jars were originally made for storing olives and oil, so they add an instant Mediterranean touch to any garden.
The shape itself is evocative of an olive and they can be mounted in a prominent position to ensure they are visible.
At night, they should be lit up with garden lights so that they can be enjoyed after sunset.
Coastal gardens of Normandy and the Atlantic
The homes of Normandy will often feature thatched roofs or exposed timber frames on their facades – they are wonderfully cozy with inviting open fireplaces.
As the walls are thick, there is plenty of space to accommodate a planter in the window bringing the outdoors in.
The gardens along this rugged coastline receive plenty of rainfall - lush lawns and huge hydrangeas can thrive in the French gardens of Normandy.
Parisian style courtyards
Petite yet chic – Parisian courtyards call for evergreen topiaries in antique planters and gorgeous paving snugly set between ancient stone walls of this historic city famed for stunningly beautiful and well-kept gardens like the Tuileries, Luxembourg Gardens and Palatial grounds of Versaille.
Small outdoor settings provide a nice place to enjoy a morning coffee or evening aperitif with friends.
Our collection of outdoor Antique French furniture includes small settings well suited to courtyards.
Rooftop terraces – peid a terre
A rooftop terrace is a luxury worth making beautiful with pot plants and French garden furniture. A rooftop terrace is an essential retreat from busy city and village streets below.
Geraniums will bloom all year round on a sunny terrace. A backdrop of potted trees and shrubs simply furnished with a bistro table, folding chairs and an umbrella is all that is needed to create a secluded getaway with unmistakable French flair. Throw cushions and a cozy blanket can be used in wintertime and breezy evenings.
Choose the right region for you
When selecting which style is right for you, consider your space and sun exposure and aspect. It is important to understand the climate and what the equivalent zone is in France. A quick way of doing this is comparing the United States hardiness hardiness zones, which range from one to thirteen (coolest to warmest).
Below are the comparable climate zones of regions in France:
Zone 8 - Paris, Loire Valley, Normandy and the Atlantic
Zone 9 - Provence, The French Riviera (Côte d'Azur)
Two – Design your garden around French architectural elements
Architectural elements such as stone walls, a fountain or swimming pool often feature in French gardens and are easy to incorporate into landscape design.
A swimming pool is frequently the centerpiece of a French garden, particularly in the South.
Even in small courtyard gardens, plunge pools are commonplace and look stunning reflecting stone walls and plants. In large country gardens, swimming pools are paved with natural stone which meets lawn and flowering garden beds that can be bordered with low topiary hedges. Large garden pots such as Anduze urns look superb around a swimming pool.
Fountains tap into the natural water sources across France. Simple and elegant stone fountains and a brass faucet make a focal point and add a sensory layer to the garden design with the soothing sound of running water.
Smaller water features can be easily created with antique French stone basins & troughs.
A special sculpture can be simple statement that makes a big impact.
Garden steps can also make a central architectural feature and are a lovely way to create true beauty in a garden.
The way that garden beds are shaped and planted will determine how people move through the garden – the circulation flow of the garden needs to provide places where sculpture or a view can be admired, or a quiet spot can be enjoyed. Outdoor rooms can be created through vertical planting to create screens while hedges and pairs can mark a threshold from one space to another.
Garden lighting can be used to enhance architectural elements and large trees so that they can be seen at night.
Using antique French lanterns can further add a French feel to your night garden.
Three – Plant trees en masse
Rhythm and structure can be added to a garden with repetitive planting. Avenues of plane trees, olive trees and cypress are typical of French gardens, particularly in Provence.
Think of creating a visual axis that may frame a certain view or natural landmark. A combination of evergreen and deciduous trees will add interest and color throughout the seasons well into fall.
Deciduous trees are pruned hard in French gardens and their healthy branches are of course exposed during winter which is most attractive – this kind of pruning and training is an art in France.
Four – Select French planters
Choose from a large range of French garden planters that will add a French touch to your garden, terrace or courtyard. Cast iron Medici urns are classic and timeless and often have handles which makes it possible to move them around the garden or enjoy blooms indoors.
Our classic French medici garden urns are carefully curated throughout France.
Anduze urns, adorned with floral gardens have been handmade since the eighteenth-century using terracotta and green and yellow glazes. They were traditionally planted with citrus trees – before planting lemons, limes, oranges or kumquats be sure to check what will work in your climate or be prepared to shelter them in a glasshouse over winter.
Depending on your desired style and finish you may prefer selecting either antique Anduze urns or artisan made Anduze urns.
Antique and vintage pots planted with greenery is a lovely way to create a focal point in your garden or to highlight architectural features such as a doorway or garden gate. The great thing about un-glazed garden planters is that they will develop their own patina as they are weathered over the years.
Here is a general selection of antique French garden urns and planters.
You can promote the growth of mosses by mixing moss with milk then painting it onto the planter. Moisture is key, so you may even be able to redirect a water sprinkler to reach the pots regularly.
Five – Fill your planters with shrubs and climbers
French garden planters can be enjoyed from indoors if placed on windowsills. Large collections of terracotta pots planted with boxwood topiaries makes a great impact in a courtyard or terraced area.
Typical French climbers include grape vines (muscat is a tasty variety), colorful bougainvillea with fuchsia and burgundy flowers (in Mediterranean gardens), scented star Jasmine, and ivy.
The climbers can be trained on wire and trellises to cover walls and provide vertical greenery where space is limited. French shrubs include lavender, hydrangeas, rosemary and seaside daisies for a French cottage touch.
Boxwood does well in shady gardens and the planning and maintenance are well worth the effort for a stunning lush display. Symmetry and axes are classic design features in traditional French gardens. Even if your outdoor space is petite, a few potted boxwood plants, carefully arranged will make a big statement and help to frame the space.
Determining circulation paths and access points is the easiest way to start planning your garden layout, then it becomes simple to place statement plantings.
When there is a view it can be framed with intentional plantings that will accentuate the view and direct the eye.
Six – Carefully select French garden furniture to compliment your architecture
French garden furniture is sought after for its quality craftsmanship, classic design and durability. Arras furniture is from the North of France and is made with wrought iron. The feet are the trademark with either hoofs or claws and this provides an indication of the age.
Bistro tables with marble or alabaster tops and cast-iron bases are compact while being weighty enough to withstand strong winds. They are evocative of sidewalks full of diners in cafes and bistros from Paris, Lyon, Aix-en-Provence to Marseille. Faux bois furniture is an attractive choice if you are looking for a natural modern aesthetic as it is made with cement in the shape and form of tree trunks and branches with bark.
The rough texture encourages mosses to grow when left out in the elements. It is extremely heavy garden furniture so it is better to leave it in one spot where you know it will be well used – for instance, under the shade of a tree, or on pea gravel look out to a view.
Our antique French outdoor table collection includes iron, marble, zinc, granite and faux bois table tops in a range of styles and sizes.
Seven – Decorate your garden with beautiful pieces
Collecting is a lifetime passion that will change as your garden spaces evolve and your trees and plants become more established. Copper and zinc watering cans bring a rustic country feel to a garden space and they look fabulous when displayed as a collection. It is possible to find eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century watering cans in all kinds of interesting shapes and designs. The very old models have great big heads which are almost like a blooming flower in their own sculptural way.
Explore our rustic antique French watering cans here.
Garden sculptures are also lovely to collect. Sculptures of animals add a fun touch while figurative sculptures are more formal and can be displayed differently. These mossy antique garden swans look gorgeous as they are or overflowing with spring flowers (note the faux bois table).
We have an eclectic collection of original and interesting French antique garden sculptures here.
Eight – Enjoy living and entertaining in your garden
The French enjoy spending time in their gardens – it is part of la vie quotidien.
Relaxing by the swimming pool or reading under a tree are moments to savor and enjoy together. An afternoon siesta on a comfortable sun lounge is the ultimate ritual!
Most meals during the summer months are enjoyed together outdoors in the garden. Colorful tablecloths from the weekly markets add color to an outdoor tablescape. Fresh cut floral bouquets make a lovely centerpiece and echo the surrounding garden.
Warm evenings are spent outdoors by candlelight enveloped in sweet wafting perfume from wisteria, jasmine and lavender. A glittering swimming pool will tempt guests to take a late-night dip.
Harvesting flowers and home-grown fruit and vegetables is such a satisfying task. They make a special gift for friends that are always well received.
Image credit: Chez Pluie Provence, La Paternelle by Kirsten Honeyman, Chateau Mireille Saint Remy de Provence, Brooke & Steve Giannetti Patina Farm, Cote Maison, Southern Living, Le Domaine d’Ablon, Pinterest.
Explore our collection of French garden furniture and planters here.
Explore our exquisite collection of French garden decor and add French flair to your garden.
Our timeless biot jars are handmade-to-order in France
Our classic Anduze urns are handmade by artisans in Anduze