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From gorgeous geometry to wondrous water features – check out la crème of French garden design…

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When you think ‘France’ and ‘the French’, ‘garden’ does not immediately come to mind. Perhaps it should though, since the French are responsible for the largest and most splendid gardens in Europe – the Gardens of Versailles – as well some of the most recognisable horticultural and landscape design styles. Le jardin à la française is formal, ordered and highly styled – the gardening version of the Descartian school of thought of imposing order over nature. Straight lines, intricate geometry and perfect symmetry, taken together are intended to impress both the eye and the mind. The typical French garden features beautiful, intricate spaces, long avenues of trees, large ponds and fountains, lots of statuary and striking topiary.

Much like the English and the Irish, the French take their gardens very seriously, so much so that they think nothing of bringing them inside too, as seen at last year’s Dior’s spring/summer haute couture show.

Our top five favourite French gardens, most of which are listed by the French Ministry of Culture as ‘jardins remarquables’, are:

1. The Gardens of Marqueyssac in the Périgord in Central France made the Architectural Digest ‘spectacular topiary gardens’ shortlist.

2. The garden of the Château du Grand-Lucé in the Loire Valley castle country is a French National Landmark and was the playground of Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot and Goethe.

3. Château de Villandry, close to Tours, was the last of the great Renaissance wonders built on the Loire and once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother.

4. The Ephrussi de Rothschild Villa & Gardens, located in spectacular Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, between Nice and Monaco, is now owned by the French Académie des Beaux Arts and is a haven for artists.

5. Le Jardin Plume, a majestic example of contemporary French garden design and a fantastically-coloured paradise of waving plumed grasses in Normandy was the winner of the first Gardens Illustrated Garden of the Year in 2008.

If you want to create your own little French paradise, head here for some tips on the the basics of designing a French-style garden, or check out Les Plus Beaux Jardins, the French garden-design bible, conveniently available in English.

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