The French formal garden, the most popular style of the 16th and 17th centuries, was designed to impose order and structure to nature. These gardens were well known for their highly manicured styles or symmetry and design. The Gardens of Versailles is the best known example of the French formal garden and the style was copied extensively during those centuries and still today.
The Beginnings of the French Formal Garden
The concepts of planting flowers and shrubs in a symmetrical, shaped pattern originated first in Italy and moved into France at the beginning of the 16th century. The French put their spin on the style, of course, and the full French formal garden was born.
In the French style of formal gardens, the flowers are carefully arranged by style and color so that they are truly idealized and contained. The pathways are laid out in a symmetrical pattern with geometric shapes included in the design. The planting beds or parterres are contained within the pathways and are usually viewed from all sides as they are closely contained by the walkways.
In fact, the full garden was usually contained by walls designed to make the land holding easy to defend. The Gardens in the Italian style where beautiful, but not as harmonious and fluid as the full French formal garden would become over time.
The Jardin à la Française
A true formal French garden, or Jardin à la Française, does not focus solely on the plantings and pathways. Instead, the French formal garden is designed to be integrated with the style and form of the house as well. A true integration of style is required to make the garden flow harmoniously with the chateau, or home, as well as the surrounding areas.
The French formal garden grew to include symmetrical pathways and plantings as well as carefully placed and designed statues, evergreens, fountains, basins and topiaries as well.