An introduction to classic French garden pots, planters, urns, and olive jars


Oh, the joy of French garden vessels! France offers the highest quality of pots and urns, some of which have been handcrafted following traditional methods for centuries. These beautiful artisanal products cover a tremendous breadth of styles, including: Anduze urns, Biot jars, Medici urns, Castelnaudary planters, Willy Guhl Eternit Planters, Faux Bois planters, pot plant stands, cachepots, window planter boxes, small flowerpots, Saint Jean-de Fos Pottery, and Orangerie Versailles Planters. Special, unique, playful, enchanting, many of the pieces also are preloved so you can rest assured they are an eco-friendly consumer choice.
Some pots are named after towns, communes, or villages, where a long established tradition of crafting ceramics has made the area famous. For example, earthenware vases have been made in Biot, a town in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region near Antibes, since the Middle Ages. Although Biot jars were originally made to store food and liquid such as olives and oil, the famous Biot Vase is still highly sought after as a decorative item today (credit: The Office of Tourism in Biot).
The map of France below points out the names of towns where traditional artisan products are made:
Map of key pottery villages in France

Anduze Urns - timeless, elegant

Antique French garden urns

These beautiful bell-shaped urns are named after Anduze, a commune in the Gard department of southern France, close to Uzès and Alès. Handcrafted using a centuries-old technique, this is pottery at its finest. Anduze garden urns are decorated with distinctive classical reliefs depicting garlands and the faces of gods. Traditionally planted with citrus trees (like lemon, kumquat, or orange) these terracotta planters will add a formal French elegance to your home.

Antique French Anduze urn planter terracotta patina
Anduze urns come in a variety of forms, sizes, and colors. Below are some examples.
French Anduze urn with cyclamen
The above bespoke prestige Anduze urn has a natural antique finish.
Green glazed anduze urns antique finish made to order
The above photograph shows examples of natural antique and green-glazed Anduze urns, olive jars and lanterns
Flame glazed Anduze urn in French summer kitchen terrace boxwood
Anduze urns also look striking planted with a well-trimmed topiary boxwood bush placed in a courtyard, entryway, or terrace.
Anduze urns planted with topiary
It is possible to find antique Anduze urns, or to order one artisan-made, glazed in your preferred color.
Flame glazed green glazed anduze urns and olive tubes
Above is a photograph presenting Anduze urns and olive jars glazed in beautiful honey, green, and flame.
Bespoke hand crafted Anduze urns and coupes made to order
The Blue Lagoon glaze is pictured above on bespoke cachepots, Medici vases, lanterns and Anduze planters.
If you live in an area where temperatures fall to below freezing, Chez Pluie can make sure a water repellant treatment is applied to your urn prior to sending - please request this when you submit an order.
Olive pots green glaze Anduze
Olive jars (pictured above) also were made in Anduze in the Languedoc region of France, inspired by the shape of the Medici urn. Traditionally they are very tall and glazed deep green. Although a very different design they served the same purpose as the olive jars from Biot.

Biot Jars - the French olive jar

Antique French olive jars from Biot

Olives and olive oil originally were transported and stored in beautiful large vessels that were glazed only on the interior. Since the Middle Ages the Provençale village, Biot, in southeastern France has been making these pots, known as Biot jars.
Antique French olive jars
The glaze on the inside and around the neck of the jar prevents the olives and oil from seeping into the terracotta. The jar traditionally is sealed with a wooden lid or bouchon - sometimes it is still possible to unearth the original lids. The terracotta of Biot is an unusual beige color and each pot usually is stamped with the atelier’s name (note the five circular impressions in the largest jar in the photograph above).
Eighteenth-century Biot olive jars are a more upright shape (pictured below) - resembling the form of an olive, while nineteenth-century olive jars have a noticeably more bulbous form.
Antique French Biot Jar
Many of these jars are still displayed indoors today, but more likely filled with branches, walking sticks, or used as a cachepot than storing olives or oil. Antique Biot jars look beautiful without ornamentaion as well. Either way, they evoke a quintessential Mediterranean feel!
The technique for making Biot jars is equally fascinating. To give a brief summary, first a wooden armature is assembled and ropes are wound around the framework. Wet clay is then 'thrown' over the tightly-wrapped rope. After the clay dries and the framework and rope are removed, a beautiful horizontal pattern and lovely texture remains on what has become the inside of the jar. Antique olive jars of various sizes can still be found today and are sometimes available on our website. Chez Pluie also has a range of artisan-made olive jars made to order from Anduze. For more detail on Biot Jars see "The Biot Jar - an ancient French tradition" and to learn more about the mesmerizing making process see "Building a Jar" by Lauren Kearns.

Medici urns - classic beauty

Antique French Medici urns

Medici urns are named after a famous marble decorated with bas-reliefs made in Athens in the 1st century BC. Lost for centuries, this huge object, or krater, reappeared in Rome in 1598, discovered in the inventory of the Medici Villa. Since the late-eighteenth century the vase has been displayed in Florence at the Uffizi Gallery. It is a gigantic one and a half meters tall.

The krater has inspired many artists and designers - Stefano della Bella etched it (a beautiful example is in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago), JMW Turner drew it (Tate Gallery), Angelica Kauffman painted it (Attingham Park, Shropshire, UK), and Wedgewood imitated it. See the photograph below of the heart-stopping Wedgewood vase in the V&A collection.

Vase top image

The Industrial Revolution enabled the manufacture of cast iron versions on a large scale so it is possible to find many examples from the nineteenth century in an array of sizes and designs.

In French châteaux Medici urns ornament symmetrical gardens overflowing with flowers or perch on top of grand staircases and gateways.
Pair of Medici urns in french garden
Some Medici urns imitate the original krater by having handles, while others are looser interpretations decorated with with lion heads or angels rather than classical figurative scenes. Click here to explore current urns available at Chez Pluie!

Castelnaudary planters

Glazed emerald green these splendid garden planters from Castelnaudary generally date to the nineteenth century. Castelnaudary is a commune in the Occitanie region of France (a new region in the area of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées).

Antique French garden planter with green glaze and handles
At the Mayor's request, Castelnaudary planters graced the boulevards of Toulouse during the mid-nineteenth century. As they have a drainage hole in the base they can be enjoyed as a planter or simply laissez-faire.

Willy Guhl Eternit Planters

Willy Guhl was one of the first industrial designers in Switzerland; he had trained as a carpenter before studying at the Zurich School of Applied Arts, where he later taught. Guhl experimented with new materials and became well known for his minimalist creative forms.
Original Willy Guhl planters buy online worldwide shipping

In 1901 Ludwich Hatschek discovered that a particular combination of asbestos fibers, cement, pulp mixed with water, and air would be frost-resistant. Hatschek patented this and named it Eternit. In 1951 the Swiss Company Eternit, commissioned Guhl to create a range of attractive, durable planters using Eternit, including the Mouchoir and Diabolo.
Willy Guhl rippled planter at Patina Farm
Willy Guhl's Mouchoir or handkerchief planter is a playful and elegantly simple design. As pictured above, they look fabulous planted with moss, succulents, or orchids.

Willy Guhl spindle hourglass diabolo planters worldwide shipping from France

Guhl designed the Diabolo in the shape of an hourglass.
Guhl’s planters are highly collectible and increasingly hard to find. Each one is a little different, has rich patinas, and some deliberately were made to tilt. 
Willy Guhl planters on Faux bois table with antique gilt mirror
Chez Pluie has an assortment of Guhl planters in different shapes and sizes, including square vintage planters and rectangular planters. We have a rather large Guhl planter that comes in two pieces in 39 and ½". Available also are rare small Willy Guhl flower pots that make good collector's items as well.

Faux Bois Planters

Faux Bois is French for false wood and refers to the method of making tables, chairs, and planters with stone or cement to mimic the surface texture of wood or rock.
In France, this technique is known as Rocailleur and was crafted by hand without gloves to give the style its delicacy and naturalness. Rocailleur objects were made mostly to decorate public spaces, often imitating whole trees. In the 1930s, masons who were skilled in the Rocailleur technique opened their own businesses and made faux bois furniture on smaller scales.

Among Chez Pluie's fantastic range of Faux Bois objects are: a trio of tree trunks, a small log, flower pot, and two baskets. Available as well are French faux bois planters raised on three legs that would look delightful indoors or outdoors (photographed above). Two adorable dog kennels are as well, but – alas! – that belongs on a different blog post!

This rustic nineteenth-century Black Forest or Foret Noire planter is composed of branches and pine cones. Adorned with a fern, assortment of moss, or boxwood spheres, it would suit an Adirondack-style abode and bring a warm festive atmosphere in the wintertime.

Arras Pot plant Stands

Arras furniture is a delight. One of rarer Arras treasures is the multitiered Arras plant stand.
This authentic piece would look simply stunning overflowing with pots of flowers or used as a presentation stand in a shop. Discover Arras furniture currently in stock at Chez Pluie.
The Arras designers were well known for their imaginative attention to detail, visual appeal, beautiful curves, and organic shapes. Notable also for their unique trademark feet of cast iron horse hooves - or the lion’s paw in earlier designs.
The Arras Foundry was located in northern France. It began in 1848 with garden furniture, all hand-forged and riveted. Their designs were popular in parks and public spaces. The foundry designed exquisite outdoor furniture until operations ceased at the beginning of the First World War when the building was turned into a munitions factory. It is no surprise that Arras designs are highly sought-after collector's items. They are characterful and charming. Each piece can be identified by the brass plaque stamped with the factory's name.

Plant stands

The various styles of pots, planters, and stands mentioned above can bring a French aesthetic to an outdoor or indoor space. Chez Pluie also has a number of other unique plant stands.

Early 20th-century French iron and zinc pot plant stand
If you love the delicacy and sophistication of Art Nouveau, Chez Pluie has an early-twentieth-century iron and zinc pot plant stand with beautiful decorative details and curves (pictured above).
These vintage 1950s wrought iron plant stands photographed above are embellished with foliage enhanced in places with paint to give an antique effect and have beautifully shaped legs. Plant stands are fabulous for summer blooms or filled with greenery, such as ferns.

Cachepots

Cachepots are ornamental receptacles usually used to provide additional support to a vase of flowers or conceal flowerpots. Cachepots often are composed of glass, ceramic, iron, tin, clay, cement, or cloisonne and they do not have drainage holes. They are essentially a tabletop version of a jardiniere. Postioned on top of a bookcase, fireplace, or tabletop they look great filled with orchids, paperwhites, or ivy.
19th-century French tole cachepot with lions feet - Toneline Paris 13½"
Chez Pluie unearthed a nineteenth-century French tole cachepot (pictured above). It has decoratively embellished metal with two handles for lifting and a luscious verdigris coloring that enhances the ornamentation.
Late nineteenth-century French copper cachepot with lion's head handles and claw feet 8¼"
Chez Pluie has available an incredible late nineteenth-century French copper and brass cachepot with lion head handles and brass claw feet (pictured above).

A cachepot could be a special and unique wedding gift!

Window planter boxes

Chez Pluie has a range of stylish rectangular planters that would give a mid-century feel to a garden and fit well on an exterior window ledge. Willy Guhl's fantastic and iconic examples have been featured above. Chez Pluie also has fabulous sets of rectangular planters which have a similar modern design and metal industrial handles. The patinas on the cream color planters have a crackle-like finish, but some styles have the rich sage green coloring associated with France (pictured below).

Small flowerpots

Chez Pluie has an excellent selection of small planters.
Pictured above are two unusual Castelnaudary planters with D-shaped handles from the 1940s. They were not glazed and so are exposing their natural beautiful terracotta coloring to the world. They would bring fresh style to any garden or balcony.

Chez Pluie recently had available a pair of early-twentieth-century French garden planters with a tulip shape made from cement and with a delicate leaf motif (pictured above).
Pair of small antique French Medici urns
Recently sold was a pair of French Medici garden urns that work well in a classical garden. Their small size is unusual and gives lots of possibilities for display.

Saint Jean-de-Fos Pottery

Saint Jean-de-Fos is a small village in France where the River Herault emerges from its gorge. In the 1800s, there were over 70 artisans in residence.

It is where a style of absolutely beautiful garden urns, planters, pots, and attractively shaped water jugs are made - some have brilliant and well-known French emerald-green glazes.

Orangerie Versailles Planters

In 1670 the Versailles planter was conceived by landcape architect André Le Nôtre. Le Nôtre is famous for designing and implementing the Versailles gardens as they looked in the 17th century. The classical grandeur of the vast gardens, which included focal points such as parterres (ornamental flower beds), bosquets (open-air rooms surrounded by high hedges), sprouting fountains enclosed by clipped trees and topiary, has influenced landscape designers and gardeners ever since. 
Le Nôtre needed to find a way to keep Louis XIV's beloved exotic citrus trees alive over the harsh winter. The solution was to make the trees mobile by growing them in large wooden planters that could be wheeled inside when the cold weather set in. The design allows for the boxes to be opened so the soil can be replenished. The planters are still used today, but since the 1800s the frame has been made of cast iron. There are some wonderful videos produced by the Palace of Versailles on this subject. Naturally the planters are not limited to growing just oranges but boxwoods, hydrangeas, olive trees, palm trees, and topiaries work well too.
Pair of vintage French Versaille planters - teak
Chez Pluie recently had a pair of square teak planters evocative of a Versailles planter with handles on all sides (pictured above).
Coveting a product that is on reserve or was recently sold? Please feel free to engage the Finders Service at Chez Pluie, Susannah and Hugh will be only too happy to help.
Et voilà. Thank you for reading this blog about French pots and urns!
Image credit: Terrres Vernissees by Christine Lahaussois (French book), Chez Pluie Provence, AD France, Velvet & Linen (Patina Farm)

Frequently asked questions

1) Why does France have so many different kinds of pots and urns and where can I learn more about them?

Like many regions in the world, historically France has been a place that has a strong tradition of arts and crafts. The country is fortunate that many of these age-old practices have been preserved up until the present. The making of pots and urns is an example of one area which is still in the hands of artisans. Villages and communes dotted all over the large country became famous for their own specialized and idiosyncratic techniques of making ceramics, which passed down through the generations. These objects are made following precise methods that produce very distinctive pieces. In addition to this blog, learn more about Biot jars, Anduze urns and Medici urns here, "Artisan Anduze Urns & Biot Jars" blog.

2) Are there any modern-style French pots or planters?

Yes. Faux bois are relatively new. The first examples were made in the late 19th century by garden craftsmen in France, known as rocailleurs.

3) Where can I buy a second-hand French pot?

It is possible to buy old French pots through Chez Pluie or by visiting local brocantes in France. 

4) Can I buy pots to order?

Yes. It is possible to order custom-made pots and urns through Chez Pluie that are made following traditional techniques in Anduze, France.

5) What should I plant in a French pot and how should I display it?

Plant evergreen, woody foliage in pots and planters, such as boxwood, bay laurel, myrtle, and privet (these work well for topiary). Herbs, such as rosemary and basil look great in pots as well. Flowering fruit trees are also common choices for a French pot, such as kumquat, lemon, lime, and olive. If gardening in a region that is prone to freezing, it is best to line clay and terracotta planters with plastic liners and plant inside those to avoid the risk of cracking the pot.

Related Posts:
Anduze urn timeless elegance
Biot jars - traditional olive oil jars of France

The most beautiful French gardens - Dominique Lafourcade

Dominique Lafourcade French gardens


7 comments


  • Peter Lebopa

    Pure art, pure magic! Pottery is spiritual experience.


  • Sheila

    I am packing my bags to to!


  • Diane

    Lovely, inspiring photos….thank you.


  • ANne

    Love love the urns & pictures. My favourite style for house & garden is French Country. Thank you.


  • Vicki

    Informative and beautiful! Thank you.


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