French Garden Design – 500 Years of Beauty

Creating a garden is, in many ways, creating art. No more so than traditional french garden design and style. Classic french gardens are known for being highly organized and formal. They also feature many classic geometrical shapes borrowed from Roman architecture.

What we consider to be traditional French garden design and style was developed and refined between the 17th and 18th centuries. Most often, the gardens were created as living extensions to the chateaux they surrounded.The variety and size of the design elements fountains, menagerie, sculptures and aviaries included were statements to the wealth, power and station of those living there.

Gardens of Versailles

Perhaps the best known example of french garden design and style is the garden of Versailles located just outside Paris. Commissioned by King Louis XIV the gardens of Versailles are the most lavish gardens in France.

Royal Gardeners Claude Mollet and Hilaire Masson designed the original gardens in 1632. Thirty years later Louis XIV created the Versailles Gardens as we know them today. Landscape architect Andre Le Notre both expanded and embellish the gardens. The gardens have meticulously manicured lawns, geometric shapes, abundant blooming flowers, extensive statuary, and 11 main water fountains.

Elements of French Garden Design

The most notable feature of a French garden are geometrical designs. Squares, rectangles, triangles and circles are created using low clipped hedges of various shrubs and bushes. These geometrical areas are packed with lawn grass, flowers, vegetables and herbs, following a predetermined color scheme.

Apart from the hedges, no other flowers, vegetables or herbs are permanently planted inside the beds. The colors planted inside the beds are changed every season. Flowers with pastel colors as well as yellow, red, lilac and blue are used predominantly in French garden designs.

Water Features

Traditional French garden design makes extensive use of water features. Fountains, cascades, pools and even canals with bridges across them are a very powerful aspect of traditional French garden design. The movement of water creates a cooling effect within the large scale the gardens are built on and provide the gardens with a fluid flow in its designs.

Landscape Features

Because traditional French gardens are built on such large scales, pathways leading to other elements and components within the garden are necessary. These pathways tend to be laid with stones and bordered with small trees, neatly clipped hedges or perhaps a wall covered with a trellis of roses. Along the way a visitor will be treated to many statues, sculptures, sundials, columns, birdbaths and other garden ornaments.

Traditionally, a terrace overlooking the garden or small gazebo made up of cobblestones with wrought iron chairs painted white along side matching tables, where guests enjoy a glass of French wine while viewing the gardens, were also incorporated within the design. To enjoy the garden throughout the harsh winters, an orangery is also an important component of traditional French garden design.

All French garden designs were strongly influenced by their creators and their owners’ standard of living and thought. The designs were characterized by their control and manipulation of nature, by instilling strong geometrical elements in them. The French garden designs have undergone changes over time, but what still remains unchanged is the wonder they invoke.