French Garden Design

French garden gardens use the same of geometry and symmetry that André Le Nôtre established in the 17th Century. The Lodge at Versailles had originally been a quite retreat used for royal hunts, but Le Nôtre turned it into a palace that became the envy of the European Elite. Based on a pattern of parterres gardens divided by radiating walkways, reflecting pools, and ornate stone coping, the Versailles Gardens reflected an awareness of order and system that brought intricately sculpted individual elements into a complex, interconnected unity visible only from a balcony or palace room. This style was rapidly adopted as the standard landscaping design of all the French aristocracy.

French gardens used in landscapes today are much smaller than their historical predecessors built around 17th Century chateaus. However, the same emphasis on parterres and radiating pathways is used today both on larger estates. Scaled-down or modified versions of this pattern are used throughout local residential neighborhoods. Even though the typical Houston home resides on far less land than even a modest Old World Estate, the topography of the Gulf Coast highly favors a variety of French garden designs. Just like much of France, Houston resides on a very level plane that naturally lends itself to the type of formal bedding used in French parterre gardens and knot gardens.


The parterre itself is the key motif around which every French garden is cultivated. 17th Century parterres were originally four perfect squares set side by side, divided by walkways criss-crossing in between. Today, parterre design does not have to follow this hard-fast pattern. They can morph the geometry of a perfect square into a rectangle, or they can be sculpted like segments of a sundial to create a curved perimeter or support a central landscaping feature like a sculpture or a fountain.

No matter how the original pattern is bent, its effect remains undiminished so long s the original elements of formal beddings, trimmed hedges, and repeating geometry combine together in a tangible sense of balance and proportion. Within this one aesthetic fundamental, multitudinous possibilities exist for the landscape designer to create all sorts of shapes and colors to compliment exterior architecture, outdoor gathering areas, and special landscape ornaments and water features.

While the French garden is still quite breathtaking when viewed from an upstairs balcony or second-story window, it is no longer necessary to limit this design to one that can only be enjoyed from far above. When placed around an outdoor structure or landscaping feature, a French garden adds a formal element to any seating area or gathering spot. Places like arbors, private patios, pool decks, and outdoor rooms are all landscaping elements that can be greatly enhanced by the formality of the French garden design.

Boxwoods are typically used to frame the edges of parterres, with low-growth perennial flowers, herbs, and even special grass constituting the garden interior. Color choices can range varying shades of green to a rainbow of colors blooming throughout the different seasons. The only requirement that somewhat constrains plant material options is the need to create horizontal space that appears visibly larger than vertical space. The larger the length and width of the garden; the taller the shrubbery within it can be without diminishing the aesthetics of balance and proportion. Provided the formal element of flat, cultivated, and highly sculpted planting areas remains readily apparent from every intended vantage point, the options for flowers, plants, and low-level shrubs are both multitudinous and diverse, to say the least.