French accents in the garden – giving your garden a little va-va-voom!

It’s no secret that I’m a francophile – the name Jardin gives that away. And I’ve just returned from 10 days touring gardens in various parts of France. So, with that fresh in my mind, I thought I’d give a quick impression of what, perhaps, constitutes a typical French garden .. and how to add a little je ne sais quoi to your own yard

1. Restraint is key, whether it be colour, planting or statuary.

Structure and formality were the hallmarks of the jardin a la française.  More here.

Structure and formality in a French garden

Structure and formality in a French garden

Less is (nearly) always more in French gardens, so stick to a colour palette of pastels – I like Farrow and Ball’s “Green Blue” for doors and wooden furniture.

Blue-gray paintwork on a French door. Try for French style numbers.

Blue-gray paintwork on a French door.
Try for French style numbers.

2. Key plants are lavender, wisteria, agapanthus and rosemary, with pastel shades of blues and pinks predominating.

Agapanthus in a terracotta pot.

Agapanthus in a terracotta pot.

Single species planting is common; hydrangeas, hortensias, somewhat out of fashion in England and Ireland, are a favourite. This year I noticed the showy Hydrangea paniculata ‘Vanille Fraise’ (‘Renhy’), a product of French breeders, making a big appearance.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Vanille Fraise'

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Vanille Fraise’

Pink trailing geraniums were everywhere for summer planting in pots and windowboxes.

Pink trailing geraniums

And of course, roses. Their wonderful names alone add romance .. ‘Félicité et Perpétue’, ‘Blush Noisette’, ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ …

French roses

French roses

3.Potagers, or ornamental kitchen gardens dating from the French Renaissance, are often found on a small scale, with herbs and vegetables, as well as flowers for the house, in regimented rows.

Pumpkins in the potager.

Pumpkins in the potager.

4.Terracotta pots, the bigger the better, add that Mediterranean look.

French terracotta pot

Topiary and terracotta pot on a gravel terrace.

And of course, Versailles tubs or planters. There are many reproductions available.

Versailles tubs or planters

Versailles tubs or planters

5. Topiary is used for year round structure – all the great gardens have plenty of it, but smaller gardens often have one or two specimens to add interest. All beautifully clipped of course.

Topiary in terracotta pot

Topiary in terracotta pot

6. Gravel and stone are the order of the day for paths and terraces. Gravel has the added advantage of being easy to spread and less expensive than laying stone but will require maintenance and can become a nuisance when traipsed into the house.

7. Treillage or decorative trellis or latticework, not always intended to support climbers, but to add interest to blank walls or as trompe-l’oeil to create a three-dimensional illusion.



8.Garden furniture – white metal cafe-style sets, of which there are many reproductions available. Or folding park chairs – I’ve picked up a number of these in brocantes.

French outdoor chairs

Large old wooden tables placed under pergolas suggest long summer lunches with friends and family – just add a provençal tablecloth, baguettes and camembert. Bon appétit!



19 thoughts on “French accents in the garden – giving your garden a little va-va-voom!

  1. Some of your observations on French gardens can also apply to the French flute music I studied when I was younger! 🙂 A bit restrained, not heavy and flashy. It was difficult for me, an American native-English speaker, to effectively project the french style. Native French speakers have such a beautiful, light way of playing!


    • That’s fascinating Cindi. My gardens are often said to have a “French look”, but yet trying to distil what exactly that is, is not easy. The French do have innate style I think which is quite difficult to emulate – in fashion, interiors, exteriors and, it seems as you say, music.


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