French Garden Style

France was greatly influenced by the Italian Renaissance, and travel and trade between the two countries led to a sharing of ideas and styles. French landscape design thus has much in common with the Italian style. Because the great gardens of France were built in flat areas, the simple geometry and balance of the Italian style did not work well in every situation. Without natural level changes to create interest, the French developed a more complex and elaborate system of landscape geometry.

The gardens at Versailles and Vaux-leVicomte were prototypes for the French formal garden. Although the designers adhered to the principles of symmetry and balance on which the Italian landscape is based, they enlarged upon these principles to develop the multi-axis and complex woven patterns. Parterres of intricate design, flowers of many colors, long vistas, and tree-shaded alleys and garden walks became the symbols of traditional French landscapes. As in Italy, water played an important role, not so much for its playfulness but for its use as a design form. Long reflecting pools, moats, and diverted rivers became a major part of the French-style garden.

A large, older home on an expansive, flat site with grand views is well suited to the French landscape style. The intricacy of this style and its emphasis on symmetry, balance, and order make it the perfect setting for long rows of trees, flower beds, clipped hedges, and large expanses of lawn. This type of garden is particularly suitable for strolling around and for displaying perennial and annual collections.

Trees found in the French landscape typically include horsechestnut (Aesculus x carnea), London plane (Platanus x acerifolia), and Lombardy poplar (Populus nigra ‘Italica’). Common shrubs are boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), holly, and yew (Taxus baccata). Coniferous trees such as pine, false-cypress (Chamaecyparis species), and cypress (Cupressus species) are sometimes used. Perennials and annuals contribute a spectrum of seasonal color.