Natural Perfection: France's Garden Wonderlands

By Olwen Woodier

In the 17th and 18th century, gardens in France were created in elaborate designs of formal parterres of clipped boxwood, and sweeping majestic vistas. This is the time of Andre Lenotre, who designed the stately landscapes of Versailles, and Vaux le-Vicomte, garden styles which were imitated all over Europe. The Palace of Versailles near Paris is one of the greatest examples of how art dominates the landscape in the form of a rectilinear design that produces long straight drives with rectangular borders. The design is appreciated when looking down upon the vast garden rather than walking around it. However, many private French gardens were created and planted to reflect a more intimate, less formal style ranging from romantic rose gardens to walled fruit gardens.

Giverny, Vernon.
You know Giverny, the former country house and gardens of impressionist artist Claude Monet, from his famous water lily series A serious and masterful amateur gardener, Monet began to create the Water Garden and Clos Normand Garden in 1883. He spent 43 years in these gardens creating his Impressionist landscapes. The Clos Normand Garden is a wonderful series of formal beds, which flow from the pink stucco house in linear fashion. Monet filled these beds so that he could experience a succession of blooms, starting in February with flowering bulbs in whites, blues, and yellows. In late spring tulips, peonies, and roses offer pastel colors, which give way to summer perennials in strong hues of yellow, red, oranges, and purples to create the famous images the world has come to know.
Moutiers, Varengeville-sur-Mer, Normandy.
Set on a site high on the Norman cliffs near Dieppe, Moutiers house and garden (both national landmarks) are the result of collaboration between English architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and renowned gardener Gertrude Jekyll. From March to November, the gardens are in bloom with tapestries of colors in the form of massed white and orange azaleas, and red rhododendrons; allees of pink mountain laurels, magnolias, and camellias, box-hedged beds of white roses and hydrangeas. White, pink, yellow, and blue hydrangeas bloom profusely in summer.


Olwen Woodier, an advanced master gardener living in Virginia, has written several books on the subject and numerous magazine and newspaper articles, including chapters for the Time-Life series on gardening. She combined her love of plants with a passion for cooking in her award-winning Apple Cookbook and teaches adults in both endeavors.

Published: 21 Feb 2001 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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