French garden style

French Garden Styles To Inspire Your Own Backyard Design

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Garden design styles are just as unique as the culture of the people who live in that region. Just like the history, cuisine, and architecture of a country, so too do gardens have unique identifiers and backgrounds that make them distinguishable from others. French garden styles are no different.

Looking at traditional French garden design, you’ll notice certain features that appear again and again – with certain patterns that tend to reappear no matter if you’re looking at a local park or the formal gardens of the Palace of Versailles.

If you enjoy a more structured appearance in your outdoor spaces, with clean lines, cool colors, and a balance of organic and stone elements, then you’ll love traditional French-style garden architecture.

And if you prefer a slightly more relaxed look with less maintenance, then you’ll love the adjacent style more popular in French country garden design. Don’t worry, I’ll be covering those design elements at the end of this post as well!

Now, let’s dive into French garden design, starting with one of the most famous examples of French garden architecture.

The Gardens of Versailles

I couldn’t begin to cover the elements of French garden design without first discussing the gardens at the Palace of Versailles. Going back to the 17th century, the Palace of Versailles, located about 45 minutes from Paris, was King Louis XIV’s seat of power – and the palace, including the gardens, was a visual representation of the power he wished to exert.

Control was key, and the gardens of his palace were a way that he could create a visual display of that control – by controlling nature itself. King Louis XIV shaped nature in the gardens with architectural elements like clean lines, geometric shapes, and perspective.

the gardens of the Palace of Versailles

Traditional Garden Features

The Focal Point

The home is traditionally the focal point in the French style of gardens. Everything else is an extension of the home, and design typically becomes more minimalistic the further out from the house you go. You’ll find that there is often a concentration of color and interesting features closer to the home, with simpler elements closer to the periphery.

However, formal gardens often have multiple focal points. Reflection pools and water features, statues, outdoor dining areas, etc. can also serve as central points within the garden itself, around which other features stem from and lead toward.

Related: How to Create a Parisian Courtyard (Using Ideas Straight From Paris!)

Topiary

Topiary is the art of pruning hedges and trees into desired shapes. Boxwood shrubs, trimmed fruit trees, and shapes like circles and triangles are all markers of French garden style.

Creating clean lines and geometric forms that would otherwise not be found naturally in the wild is an exercise of control over nature – just like King Louis XIV was looking to do at the Palace of Versailles.

This is a timely effort and requires a lot of maintenance, but it most certainly contributes to a French-inspired formal garden. With some patience and dedication, this is a relatively low-cost (but labor-intensive) way that you can emulate the French formal garden in your own garden.

geometric shapes in French garden styles

Symmetry

Symmetry is another important design element found in the classic French garden. Whether you’re looking at a small courtyard garden or the sprawling grounds of Versailles, symmetry is a common element in the overall design.

What you find on one side of the garden, you’ll more than likely find on the other. Therefore, you’ll likely find yourself buying pairs or sets of elements that you wish to include in your garden – whether that be statues, trees, or planting beds.

symmetry in French garden styles

Stone Surfaces

Symmetry of elements isn’t the only place where balance is found in French garden styles. A balance of organic and inorganic materials like greenery and stone is also an important key to French landscaping.

Stone gravel pathways, fountains, gravel beds, and busts of cherubs or mythological figures are common elements that offset the lush greenery found throughout the garden.

Stone terraces are another common feature that you might find close to the home. They’re the perfect location for a bistro set or lounge chairs. After all of the work and time that you put into your French-inspired garden, you’ll want somewhere that you can relax and enjoy it!

Outdoor dining is another great way to enjoy your French garden. Whether you’re sipping a cup of espresso or hosting a summer dinner party, you’ll want to set aside a dedicated space for lounging, eating, and drinking.

French stone terrace

Related: How to Get an Authentic European Exterior

Color Schemes

French garden styles heavily favor a cool color palette. Blues, purples, greens, and pinks are especially popular. However, pops of color like pinks and purples take a backseat to more dominant appearances of blues and greens.

This is because French garden styles also often favor evergreen elements and water features. They incorporate colors like purple in smaller proportions, by including species like lavender in garden beds or movable pots.

Why lavender? Lavender has been an important part of French tradition for centuries after it was written to have been brought to the Provence region in 600 BC. For hundreds of years, the French have grown lavender to contribute to the fragrance industry.

French lavender fields

Straight Lines and Perspective

Straight lines create a uniform look in French garden styles. You can create these lines with boxwoods or other shrubs, planters, and stone or gravel paths. As typically the home is the focal point of your garden, all lines lead the eye toward the house. Straight paths help to achieve this.

Even if you aren’t recreating a large formal garden behind your home, a kitchen garden is just as fitting for a smaller-scale version of what you might find at traditional larger estates.

To add more practical and space-saving elements, try incorporating elements like window boxes or herbs, neither of which take up much ground space, but can help transition your home to the outdoors in a thoughtful way.

Perspective is another one of the main hallmarks of French gardens. French-style gardens are meant to be viewed from any angle – whether you’re looking out from a window, over a balcony, or at ground level. The symmetrical lines and interesting topiary shapes help to contribute to a garden that is neat, beautiful, and orderly from any vantage point.

Plant Types

Head to your local nursery to populate your classical garden. Common plant types that you would find in France would include olive trees, fruit trees, citrus trees, climbing vines like grapes, jasmine, and wisteria, and herbs like lavender, rosemary, boxwood, and clematis.

However, pay attention to your local climate when choosing plants. Choose native variations that will thrive year-round, or be prepared to bring pots inside over the winter if necessary.

French Country Gardens

If you are looking for French garden styles that are less time-consuming and labor-intensive, the French country style of garden might be a great option for you. They emulate many of the same features as more formal French gardens but aren’t as rigid when it comes to symmetry and color.

Shapes in a French country garden are also more organic, so there is not as much pruning and shaping involved. Flower or garden beds, however, are still lined or bordered in some way. Consider raised stone beds, stone edging, or some other sort of edging.

Far-Reaching Influence of French Garden Styles

French garden styles have had a far-reaching influence outside of the country’s borders. However, their inspiration originated from elsewhere as well. Italian Renaissance gardens originally inspired the French.

The French put their own spin on things, and then English gardens brought French inspiration to their own homes. The French even inspired American landscapes after the turn of the 19th century.

Recreating French Garden Styles at Home

You don’t have to live in a palace to enjoy the beautiful fruits of French garden style! Whether you are looking to commit to a complete overhaul of your outdoor space or are just looking for a few French-inspired elements to try out, any of the features above will help to provide a clean, classic look.

Once your French garden is complete, you’ll want to show it off by entertaining some guests to enjoy it with you! If you need an idea of what to serve, try a French-inspired dish like baked brie. Up Next: How To Bake Brie: Easy, Heart-Melting Baked Brie Recipe With Honey

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Hi, I'm Cassie! My husband and I have a full house with three furbabies, and when I'm not spending time with them, I'm loving all things fashion, travel, and romanticizing life's little moments. I'm also a self-described book nerd, and am always on the hunt for my newest read.