Important Features of a French Landscape Garden

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The French Landscape Garden (Jardin à la Française) is a blend of garden and science, art and architecture. The French philosopher, Renee Descartes is responsible for influencing King Louis XIV during the early part of the seventeenth century. Borrowed from the Italian gardening styles of the Renaissance period, Descartes proposed the idea of mixing geometry with gardening. Much fascinated with this idea, King Louis XIV took a keen interest in it and thus gave way for the famous French garden (1638 to 1715).

French gardens share several fundamental characteristics. The most important one is that geometry plays a very important design factor. You will find all forms of geometric patterns; the combined presentation of which is unique from one French-inspired landscape design to the next.

Jardin à la Française

Jardin à la Française (Photo:


Most landscapers design French gardens on flat land in front of and expanding beyond a building. A balcony is a pre-requisite, placed centrally in the front, where one can see the vastness and presentation of the garden with a bird’s eye view. It is from the balcony that most of the presentation comes alive.

Central axis

Directly opposite from the balcony, centrally placed in the garden and with a height that blends in with the external limits of the garden, is a central axis or a statue, or a planned fountain. Every other feature of the garden surrounds this axis point.

Fountain and water

Bodies of water or fountains are strategically placed around the garden, presented in a geometric pattern. The rest of the garden partitions are planned around these geometric water bodies.


Also known as avenues, allées are straight-lined garden pathways that are made with a blend of colored soil and colored pebbles or stones. On either side of the allées are shrubs and trees, each partition with a particular theme. Topiaries may line the allée; one section being different from the next. Each allée may have different colored gravel lining its pathway.


Topiaries in a French garden are geometrically shaped. The plants are pruned and cut to geometric designs. The plants chosen for these are usually woody, evergreen, needle-leaved or small-leaved plants. European Box, Bay Laurel, Holly, Myrtle and Hew have been some favorite choices.


A parterre is a garden bed, or a designated garden space that has been designed with a specific theme. There are many such parterres as part of a French garden plan, each shaped geometrically on a flat piece of land and with specific themes or selections of plants. Some may be with a collection of annuals, some with only colored shrubs, while some may be of some specific plant families. Some garden parterres depict exclusive rare or exotic plant collections.

Garden gate

A French-style garden gate is part of French garden landscape accessories. . Gardeners may place additional gates at strategic points to beautify the garden.

Gazebo, Garden chairs, Statues

Gazebos, garden chairs and statues are part of large French gardens. Visitors may spend time seated in the garden or even admire the additional beauty of statues that are placed at specific spots.

French pottery

French pottery is a main attraction of the French garden. Plants may be grown in pots or these pots may also be featured to add to the garden’s aesthetic value.

While the above features give the basics of a French landscape garden plan, it does take careful planning and effort to pull-off a true French layout. There is a lot of mathematical planning that goes into play, balanced with an extensive knowledge of plants and their limitations. A gardener will have to know how to blend groups of plants to bring out their best. Some plants display better when surrounded by just lawn grass, while some may thrive better while in pots. A landscaper’s artistic and scientific skills are at its best when creating a French garden.

Better Homes & Gardens lists the top perennials for 2013 as Dianthus EverLast, ‘Pretty Lady Julia’ Anemone, Monarda (Bee Balm), Species of Hibiscus, Campanula ‘Ringsabell Mulberry Rose’, Geranium, Echinacea species, Shasta Daisy, Coreopsis ‘Mercury Rising’, and Russian Sage PEEK-A-BLUE. These plants will help create a colorful French Landscape Garden.

Amanda Dcosta

Amanda writes about botany and plants from the deserts of Oman where summer temperatures climb to 130 Fahrenheit. Amanda has a BSc in Botany and is a co-author of Encyclopedia of Cultivated Plants: From Acacia to Zinnia. Read more articles by Amanda.

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