Planting a French Country Garden: The Basics

With its unique variety of flowers and herbs, a French country garden can be a beautiful, fragrant, and functional addition to your landscape. Here you will find answers to the top five questions about how to successfully plant and maintain a French country garden.

Question 1: What plants are in a French country garden?

French country gardens house a variety of plants that range from aesthetic wildflowers to functional herbs. For flowers, choose lavender, sunflower, geraniums, and a wildflower mix of violets, primrose and poppy – all of which are native to southern France. Lavender is the primary staple in a French country garden. Found in gardens all over Provence, this flowering plant will provide a beautiful fragrance and light purple color to your garden. Sunflowers add great height and dimension to the garden, while potted geraniums add a fresh splash of color that draws the eye down. In order to keep the charming casual atmosphere to your flowerbed, add in wildflowers to keep the garden looking natural instead of planned and contained.

For herbs make sure to include thyme, rosemary and marjoram. These three herbs add texture and greenery, but they can also be used in cooking, making them a very functional part of your garden.

Question 2: Where should I plant a French country garden?

All of the flowers and herbs listed above need lots of sunlight, so the area of your yard that receives the most sun would be the best place for a French county garden. One of the great things about this garden is that it can conform to whatever size space you have- it even flourishes in pots for an apartment balcony garden. The only exception is the sunflower. If you choose to include these flowers, be sure you have lots of vertical room, as these beauties can grow to be 6-feet or taller!

Planting a French Country Garden: The Basics
Planting a French Country Garden: The Basics

When you design your flowerbed, keep in mind that a French country garden is meant to be informal. Straight lines and tight formations are just too harsh for this type of casual garden. Make sure that your herbs are within easy reach by adding a path through a wide garden, or by keeping the herbs and other smaller plants along the outside border of a narrow garden bed.

Due to their fragile nature, some of the plants listed above may need to stay in pots. For this reason make sure you choose an area where there are spaces of level ground so that your planters don’t take a tumble down a hill or tip over on an uneven surface. Also, make sure that the space you choose for your garden has adequate drainage: soggy herbs are unhappy herbs!

Question 3: When should I plant a French country garden?

Since the herbs and some of the flowers do better when seeded in pots, you can start your French country garden at any point during the year, provided you have enough window space indoors to accommodate the planters.

If you do not have enough space indoors, start planting in the spring. These plants do well in warm sunny areas, so make sure that you plant after the last frost. Planting in the spring also gives you time to thoroughly prep your garden site by removing vegetation and allowing a layer of organic compost to enrich the soil before you start planting.

Question 4: How should I plant a French country garden?

Starting with the flowers, plant the sunflowers either in the center of a freestanding garden, or at the back of a narrow garden that is against a wall or fence. Because of their large size, space your flowers a few feet apart to avoid crowding. Fill in the space in between with wildflowers. The varying height and color will add that informal charm to the back or center of the garden- making it the focal point.

Next plant the lavender. Stagger each shrub a few feet apart in front of the sunflowers. By staggering the plants you will avoid creating a hedge, which would look too formal in this setting. Geraniums add beautiful color to a French country garden. Because they are fragile, keep these bright flowers in individual pots so that you can bring them inside when the weather gets too cold or wet.

And finally plant the herbs in an accessible part of your French country garden towards the edges or front where they can easily be reached. Thyme is best planted from a snipping of a mature plant. According to Gardening Know How, for a successful division, make sure that your cutting includes a root bulb.

Marjoram and rosemary are two herbs that can easily be damaged by frost. If your garden is in a climate that gets cold spells, consider keeping both of these herbs in pots to bring inside along with the geraniums. In their blog, The Herb Gardener suggests checking out Madalene Hill: a hardy variety of rosemary that can handle colder temperatures.

Question 5: How do I maintain a French Country Garden?

French country gardens are not difficult to maintain. Regular watering and pruning will help keep your plants healthy. One of the great things about this type of fragrant garden is that, while we enjoy the taste and scent of many of these plants, a lot of destructive pests stay away. The Helpful Gardener states that the lavender and herbs are not appealing to many harmful insects, thus eliminating the need for harsh pesticides.

For additional guidance with planting a French country garden, consult your local garden center for planting and maintenance tips specific to the types of flowers and herbs you choose.

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