Generally speaking, French Gardens celebrate the pleasures of nature and farming and play with volumes, shapes, colors, perspective, and fragrance. They weave beauty and utility and do not hesitate to intermingle fruit, flowers, and vegetables (even grand chateaux!). Hedged with dwarf boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) or herbs, beds may contain artichoke, peas, asparagus, and espaliered fruit combined with lavender, sunflowers, alliums, sweet peas, or roses. Aside from the indisputable charm of this French potager style, this type of companion planting also enables gardeners to discourage harmful pests or diseases without losing beneficial allies.
Unlike Italian gardens, French country gardens have an amazing variety of flowers. They burst with color – much like a Monet painting, from climbers enveloping houses and walls to roses or herbaceous perennials, not to forget pots overflowing with blooms. All senses are stimulated in delightful scenes, including dense plantings, often blending formal with informal design elements.
Great plants to consider for a French Mediterranean garden:
- Acacia decurrens dealbata (Mimosa) – evergreen shrub with finely divided gray-green leaves and fragrant yellow flowerheads, borne in terminal clusters in late winter
- Brassica oleracea acephala (Kale) – edible, purple to green-leaved vegetable
- Buxus sempervirens (Common Boxwood) – a large, slow-growing evergreen shrub, compact in habit, with small, glossy oval leaves
- Camellia japonica ‘Korean Fire’ (Japanese Camellia) – a large evergreen shrub considered to be the hardiest of the japonica species. Its large, flat, bright scarlet flowers with striking yellow stamens bloom March through May atop the handsome, glossy dark-green foliage.
- Cynara cardunculus (Globe Artichoke) – robust perennial forming a clump of silvery-gray, spiny leaves up to 3 ft. in length (90 cm) and large thistle-like purple flowers in late summer and fall
- Euonymus europaeus (Spindle) – a spreading deciduous shrub with narrow, ovate leaves turning yellow or red in the fall, and panicles of small yellow flowers followed by red fruits which split to reveal orange seeds
- Helianthus annuus (Sunflower) – fast-growing annual with yellow to brown, daisy-like flowers and dark center disks in summer atop stiff upright stalks.
- Heuchera micrantha ‘Palace Purple’ (Alum Root) – with brilliantly colored foliage, contrasting well with the sprays of tiny white flowers
- Juniper communis (Juniper) with dark green, needle-like leaves, and small dark blue cones. Many cultivars are available, ranging from dwarf, spreading to columnar in shades of silver-green and gold
- Ilex aquifolium (Holly)- evergreen glossy, dark green, spiny foliage with tiny white or pink flowers followed by attractive, red berries in winter
- Laurus nobilis (Bay Tree) – lovely glossy green leaves great for use in the kitchen. Versatile plant that needs no watering in summer and is highly resistant to shade and salt spray.
- Lavandula (Lavender) – queen of the Mediterranean garden with its silver foliage and delightfully scented flowers
- Lilium candidum (Madonna Lily) – perennial with glossy dark green, scattered leaves, and delightfully fragrant, trumpet-shaped pure white flowers carried in racemes of up to 20 in summer.
- Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’ (Oregano) – forming dense mats of small aromatic leaves and short spikes of mauve flowers in summer
- Punica granatum (Pomegranate) – grows into an informal shrub with foliage color in both spring and fall, and orange, red or white flowers in summer.
- Rose Mermaid – large climbing rose with reddish, thorny stems and almost evergreen, dark green, glossy leaves. Single, primrose-yellow flowers with prominent stamens from summer to fall.
- Rose Zephirine Drouhin – a lax to climbing, thornless, deciduous shrub bearing pinnate leaves with ovate, toothed, mid-green leaflets and fragrant, cupped, double, deep pink flowers in summer and fall.
- Syringa vulgaris ‘Angel White’ (Lilac) – Abundant, pleasantly fragrant, large white blooms against a background of blue-green foliage. Unlike most common lilacs, it is adaptable to mild winter areas and does well in a warm climate.
- Syringa vulgaris ‘Blue Skies’ (Lilac) – Spectacular clusters of pale lavender-blue flowers and bright green foliage which maintain an attractive appearance all summer.
- Viola odorata (Sweet Violet) – Exceptionally fragrant, with dark green, heart-shaped, slightly downy leaves and short spurred flowers in early spring. The sweet-scented flowers are generally deep purple, but lilac, pale rose, or white variations are also frequent.
- Santolina (Cotton Lavender) – with fine-textured foliage and yellow, button-like flowers.
- Taxus baccata (Yew) – medium-sized bushy evergreen tree with narrow, leathery, very dark green leaves, and fleshy red fruits
- Trachelospermum jasminoides (Star Jasmine) – a vigorous evergreen twining woody climber with glossy dark green, oval leaves, often turning deep red in winter, and clusters of very fragrant white flowers
- Viburnum tinus (Laurustinus) – a vigorous, bushy evergreen shrub with dark green ovate leaves and flat cymes of white flowers in late winter and spring, followed by blue-black berries
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.