How to Create a French Country Garden

Can you create a French country garden where you live??  In most parts of the United States, the answer is: yes.  I live in the Pacific Northwest, & while a full-on French country garden isn’t possible for me, I’ve definitely taken inspiration from French country style & symmetry.   If you’ve ever been to the castle-filled Loire Valley, then you’ve seen some of the country’s most spectacular, formal gardens.  And while they’re certainly beautiful: it is in fact the more informal, rustic French gardens that I feel have the most charm…which is good news for all of us avid & aspiring gardeners!  In this post, we’ll learn how to create a beautiful French country garden, no matter your budget or where you live!

How to Create a French Country Garden, Girl Who Travels the World

This is a perfect example of a more relaxed, informal French country outdoor dining area: the pea gravel & central water feature are two crucial elements of outdoor French country style ~ & neither need to cost you a fortune.

Hallmarks of French Country Garden-Style

  • The use of pea gravel, stones, stepping stones, cobble-stones, a rustic stone wall ~ basically, any kind of stones you can think of! The more weathered & worn-in, the better
  • Informal, or formal, dining areas set amidst the garden, surrounded by profusions of flowers. 
  • French gardens love symmetry, geometry, & shapes: often times, they’ll use boxwood hedges or rows of trees to create these shapes (I’ve done this in my own garden, using rows of Emerald Green Arborvitae to create a privacy hedge that has a more formal look, & French garden feel). 
  • Water features! You’ll be hard-pressed to find a French garden that doesn’t make use of at least one water feature, whether it’s a simple bird bath, a multi-tiered fountain, or small pond.
  • Words that capture French country style: refined, elegant, rustic, symmetrical, geometric, lightly distressed, charming, weathered, worn-in, muted & soft colors, effortless, fountains. 
  • Two of the most popular & “signature” French country flowers are hydrangeas & of course, French Lavender.

 

How to Create a French Country Garden, Girl Who Travels the World

There are many elements of French style in this home: the stone walls of the house, French doors, a quaint outdoor seating area, multi-colored containers used closer to the home for a cozy feel, with larger trees further away for both privacy & beauty.

How to Create a French Country Garden, Girl Who Travels the World

Though my own garden has many PNW elements to it (from cedar chips to ornamental grasses), I’ve incorporated several French elements: such as the symmetrical placement of my raised garden beds, the use of paths leading to a central, pea gravel-covered dining area, & rows of arborvitae for privacy, & also to create different “rooms” in the garden. I’ve placed circular bird baths behind the raised beds, surrounded by rocks & European pavers, to add interest & a counterpoint to all the plantings.

How to Create a French Country Garden, Girl Who Travels the World

Few flowers are more French than lavender, which lines the countryside all over the South of France.

 

 

 

Photos of French Country Gardens…

The main idea of this article is to gather inspiration ~ & the best way to do that is to look at photos of beautiful, French country & cottage gardens.  Just remember: your French country garden does NOT need to be super formal (like a mini-Versailles)!  You can use elements of French country style in small ways, like adding a fountain as a focal point, or a simple bird bath.  Adding pea gravel & natural stone is also a great way to add a French country feel to your garden….

How to Create a French Country Garden, Girl Who Travels the World, Versailles

The most famous French garden(s) are the gardens at Versailles, which are definitely on the formal end of French gardens. BUT: there are elements you can copy here, albeit on a smaller scale. French gardens love to play with geometry & shapes: trees form hedges & draw the eye towards the central feature, which in this case is a large, circular pond. In your own yard, you could create a circular, central dining area, or a central water feature surrounded by stones to truly highlight it. Photo courtesy of Paris Insiders Guide.

How to Create a French Country Garden, Girl Who Travels the World

Rather than thinking of an uber-formal place like Versailles, when I think of French country gardens (& homes), I think of something more like this: a beautiful stone building covered with trailing vines, an informal seating area surrounded by flowers, & an irregular, cobblestone walkway. Rustic, informal perfection like this can be found all over the Provence region. Photo courtesy of Cottage Garden.

How to Create a French Country Garden, Girl Who Travels the World

If I could create this exact scene in my own garden ~ OH MY would I ever! Alas, I think the high winds on my property would absolutely kill those chandeliers! Ha ~ but if you have a beautiful shaded area of your yard that’s protected from the wind: it’s possible to create a delicious scene like this… (Note the mismatched chairs & distressed table: French country does NOT = perfect!)

How to Create a French Country Garden, Girl Who Travels the World

A charming entrance like this is signature of a more cottage garden feel. Photo courtesy of The Cottage Journal.

How to Create a French Country Garden, Girl Who Travels the World

Don’t simply place a fountain in your yard randomly! French country style tells us to bring drama to that fountain: create a winding or straight path that leads up to it, surround the fountain with either stones or flowers ~ or BOTH, to really create a statement.

How to Create a French Country Garden, Girl Who Travels the World

Hidden “rooms” are not only a French country thing ~ but many English cottage gardens utilize the same idea. Best used in larger gardens, the idea is to create different areas with different looks & feels: these could be sitting areas, a grove of trees with a reading bench underneath, a hidden area with a fire pit, etc. Photo courtesy of Holly Lepere Studios.

How to Create a French Country Garden, Girl Who Travels the World

This garden has a slightly more formal feel again with fewer flowers, but both the wrought-iron furniture as well as the series of large urns are quintessential French garden style.

How to Create a French Country Garden, Girl Who Travels the World

The “Shabby Chic” style, created by Rachel Ashwell, is a cousin of French country style ~ with its subtle color palette, distressed & weathered-looking furniture, & an overall calming, tranquil feel.

Other Beautiful French Gardens…

If you type “famous French gardens” into Google, you may come up with the names of these two castles in the Loire Valley: Chateau Villandry & Chateau Chenonceau.  Though both are formal (& massive) gardens, you can certainly take inspiration from them, & incorporate small elements into your own garden.

How to Create a French Country Garden, Girl Who Travels the World, Chateau Villandry

Chateau Villandry is one of France’s most famous gardens. In this photo, you’ll see several elements of French style: pea gravel pathways, symmetrical garden planning using distinct shapes (both square & rectangular) created by boxwood hedges, & grand, wide paths that lead up to the Chateau itself.

How to Create a French Country Garden, Girl Who Travels the World, Chateau Chenonceau

The gardens at Chenonceau were my absolute favorite, & I found, more charming than Villandry’s ~ with the decorative use of ornamental grasses, hearty shrubs, & trees shaped into globes punctuating the edges of the lawn.

How to Create a French Country Garden, Girl Who Travels the World, Chateau Chenonceau

Another thing I loved about Chenonceau’s gardens; the use of wildflowers to make the gardens seem less “formal,” as well as the use of a row of similar plants to create a circular shape ~ which is a little more unique than a simple hedge.

How to Create a French Country Garden

 

 

 

 

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How to Design a French Country Garden, Girl Who Travels the World