7 steps to design your own French style garden

Are you in love with the sophistication, the harmony and the sheer class of French style gardens? In just seven steps, you’ll be able to design your own and bask in your own mini Versailles.


1. Create an inspiration board

Before you just dive right into the design process, it’s best to spend some time thinking about what you want. What aspects of the French style do you like best – and which do you think would be difficult to implement? Don’t just focus on palace gardens, since yours is unlikely to be quite as large! There are two main styles of French garden you’ll want to explore in your research – the formal landscape garden design or mansion gardens, and the slightly more relaxed country gardens. Country gardens are by far easier to maintain as they’re somewhat less rigid, though of course they therefore look less ordered than the formal style. Explore both, before settling on your favourite.

country gardens

2. Pick out key elements to focus on

There are certain key elements found in all French style gardens, and you’ll want to choose which to emphasise the most. Some of the main characteristics of French style gardens include flowing lines as well as straight edges; the house being treated as the centrepiece of the design; there’s a strong use of stone and similar borders and paths; water being used as focal points; and solid geometric patterns. If you have limited space, you will struggle to fulfil all of these completely, but that’s fine. Pick out those you think look best – perhaps you already have a water feature, so emphasise this. Maybe you have hay-fever, so you focus on the stone and path work, rather than collecting lots of ornate plants. Though the French style is strict, you can allow yourself some leeway.

3. Draw out your plan on paper

Don’t just head into your garden and start moving things around! A key aspect of the French style is precision and order, so planning it on paper first is incredibly helpful. Since the patterns are often geometrical, use stencils to create the desired effect and ensure accurate measures. For your first sketch, you’re just aiming for an overview as you may change your mind once you see it on paper. After you’ve settled on the ideas, you want to sketch it out to scale – this will make it much easier to implement!

french style garden

4. (Optional) Install your water feature

If you’ve decided one of your key elements is going to be a water feature, install it first. The process of installation can mess up your garden quite a lot, so it’s best to start with it rather than attempt it halfway through. You don’t need anything too fancy – a simple fountain or well-placed pond can often look more stylish than anything more over the top.

5. Choose your border and pathway materials

A vital part of the design is the detail – so you need to ensure you choose your border and path materials carefully. Gravel paths and stone edgings are common, and we recommend blue slate for a touch of colour that won’t overwhelm. You can also add stepping stones to the gravel to create a more stable walkway – though ensure they’re lined up neatly, as one inch out of place can ruin the whole design!

6. Pick out some beautiful plants

When choosing plants, there’s more to consider than just colour. You’ll need to look at when they bloom – you want a good mix to last throughout the year. Don’t just buy flowers, however – you’ll want some hardy, all-year round leafy plants to ensure it doesn’t look sparse during winter. If you’re going to add in bushes or trees, you’ll need to clip them and keep them in shape regularly. Finally, make sure you’ve checked what hardiness zone you live in and buy accordingly; otherwise you risk being disappointed when your plants can’t survive!

garden furniture

7. Choose some matching garden furniture

As the last step, it’s time to choose some appropriate garden furniture. These should become a focal point of the garden – hopefully you’ve incorporated an open space or patio into your plans, and this is where they would fit. We recommend matching the garden furniture to the borders and pathways, rather than the plants, as these are a more permanent feature. Avoid plastic, and go for wood or metal instead. Small is always better – so a couple of tables, rather than one large one may look best.

Erin Emanuel