By Catherine Rush Thompson
French gardens are a feast for the senses. They can provide a visual array of beautiful colors, fresh herbs for culinary magic, and delightful fragrances to create world-famous perfumes or simple sachets. In his closing words of Candide, Voltaire wrote, "Il faut cultiver notre jardin” (“Let us cultivate our garden”). What better way to start Spring than to design and cultivate a beautiful French-inspired garden!
Many are familiar with the famous gardens at the Palace of Versailles, designed by André Le Nôtre, a French landscape architect and the principal gardener of King Louis XIV of France. Creation and renovation of the gardens started in 1661 and lasted for more than 40 years. His inspiring gardens represent the French formal garden style, or jardin à la française, featuring symmetry, geometrical designs, gravel paths, manicured hedges and topiary, and fountains with cascading water running into tranquil reflection pools. No doubt Moliere saw these gardens being created as he wrote Impromptu at Versailles (1663), a one-act prose play about the rehearsal of a play ordered by King Louis XIV.
Take a closer look at these magnificent gardens: en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/estate/gardens
Other familiar gardens include “Les Jardins de Monet à Giverny” that inspired Monet’s series of impressionistic art. While less formal, Monet’s gardens offer unique perspectives, symmetries and colors. Asked in 1905 what colors he used, Monet said: "The point is to know how to use the colors, the choice of which is, when all's said and done, a matter of habit. Anyway, I use flake white, cadmium yellow, vermilion, deep madder, cobalt blue, emerald green, and that's all."
The transcendent beauty of Claude Monet’s gardens is captured in his masterpiece, Water Lilies, also known as The Agapanthus Triptych. This painting is one of two triptychs by Monet that can be found in the United States. As you wait for this winter to end, you can fully immerse yourself in Monet’s Water Lillies at the Nelson Atkin’s Museum of Art’s special exhibition. To learn more about this exhibit see: nelson-atkins.org/news/water-lilies-moved/#:~:text=Feb.,12
In 2003, Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens dedicated their Monet Garden with cascading flowers, inviting visitors to walk across the bridge and view the upper and lower gardens along the path. This inspiring one-acre garden features hundreds of species of flowers, trees and shrubs, creating the same ambience of Monet’s garden in France. Learn more: https:/www.visitoverlandpark.com/things-to-do/attractions/arboretum-botanical-gardens/
As you reflect on the many options for adding French flair to your garden, consider several characteristics of French gardens that make them unique and appealing. Formal French gardens incorporate more symmetry, order, and alignment of garden elements. Informal French gardens rely on less structure to achieve their romantic atmosphere. Here are some elements to consider when planning your garden, whether it be on a grand scale or an intimate place to retreat:
As you imagine your garden, consider the following:
As for any design, sketch out the areas you plan to fill with your French garden. Allow space for perennials to fill in between larger plantings. Limit your plant selection to those that offer beauty and color throughout the summer and fall, considering colors that provide a pleasing palette. And, finally, imagine yourself sitting in your garden enjoying a nice glass of wine and reading a play by Molière.
Claude Monet’s Agapanthus Triptych.www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5nPXFv517w
Design Tips for The Ultimate French Garden In Kansas City.
Life on La Lune: A journey through life in Southwest France - Glorious French Gardens. https://vanessafrance.wordpress.com/2010/06/09/glorious-french-gardens/
Life on La Lune: A journey through life in Southwest France - Monet’s Garden at Giverny. https://vanessafrance.wordpress.com/2014/10/19/monets-garden-at-giverny/
The Monet Garden at the Overland Park Arboretum.
Palettes and Techniques of the Impressionist Claude Monet. https://www.liveabout.com/impressionist-masters-palettes-techniques-claude-monet-2578614
Robert Schwartz. “France in the Age of Les Misérables, Formal Gardens.”
Wikipedia. “French formal garden.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_formal_garden
Zanger, A. Acting as Counteracting in L'Impromptu de Versailles. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3208118?seq=1
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