The formal gardens of former French royalty deserve admiration for their sheer over-the-top fussiness. Clipped and hedged and plotted within an inch of their lives, these spaces are lovely but not exactly inviting. In fact, most people who don’t have full-time help would probably find these gardens nicer to look at than to live with. On the other end of the spectrum, we find cottage gardens, which not only invite us in but ask us to stay a while relaxing in French country garden furniture.
Prim and prissy these verdant places are not. The French cottage garden likes a bit of overplanting to achieve an overstuffed look. Flowers and more flowers sit cheek to jowl. One trick is to mix two types of flowers in the same bed; start with a flowering ground cover, such as purple verbena, and within it plant long stems, such as lupine or coneflowers. Don’t be afraid to mix colours.
Give the area shape with flower beds and a simple path of decomposed granite, pebbles, flat stones, or bricks – embedded in dirt is just fine, even preferable. Environmentally, permeable ground is much better, and the paved-over look is not what we’re going for here.
If your space is small, go vertical and train flowering, climbing plants up walls, trellises, or even simple upright structures.
This is a great style of garden for those who hate lawn care: create your haven with earthen paths between flower beds with a profusion of colour. Use a few planted or potted conifers as framing elements.
Visual texture and scent are essential to any garden design, and you’ll get both from English lavender. Its long, grassy stems are hardy, too, able to withstand cold better than French lavender. The Royal Horticultural Society recommends planting English lavender on a mound. It can thrive even in relatively poor soil, but the roots don’t like to be kept wet. The RHS also advises annual pruning to keep the plants from running amok. They can grow up to 4 feet tall so can serve as a screen for areas you might want to hide.
Seating and accessories
Wrought-iron tables, chairs, and benches are the classic functional elements in French country garden furniture, and you’re spoiled for choice. This is a place you’ll want to spend time in, not just look at from the window, so a bench is a must. With these types of gardens, the living things are your decoration, so instead of statuary, dot the area with lanterns.