5 WAYS TO CREATE A FRENCH GARDEN IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD
Outdoor + Garden
Image by Stephanie Russo.
Let’s be honest, those of us who love landscaping + gardening scroll Pinterest and Instagram and see these stunning, well-kept yards only to come home and see patchy grass and less-mature plants in our own backyards. For me, I constantly struggle with wanting time to speed up. I want the plants to grow faster, look more lush and have more blooms, rather than simply enjoying them for the growth stage they’re in. We’ve been in The Lovely Cottage for almost three years now and we’ve planted new things and made new flower beds each season. We’ve made mistakes, figured out what will grow and what won’t in our region, and even tracked the sun hour by hour for optimal growth opprotunity. The hours + sweat we have, and continue to, pour into our yard are endless, yet it’s so gratifying. Over the years and especially since we’ve lived in this house, we’ve learned a thing or two about creating the outdoor oasis we strive for, all while planning for the future of our space. (POOL, stat!) There’s nothing better than stepping back at the end of a long day and enjoying your hard work with a glass of rosè in hand. Or, seeing your plants come back to life year after year, bigger and better than before. It’s therapeutic in it’s own way and creates a space, with friends + family in mind, that people long to come back to.
That said, here are a few things we’ve learned about how to accomplish that lush, beautiful French garden we all long for.
ONE. // KNOW YOUR SUN.
Planting beautiful things is the easy part, but knowing your sun pattern and what will thrive in your yard is often overlooked. For instance, blooming plants typically need more sun than others – the more sun, the more blooms you’ll have. Some plants prefer morning sun that’s not quite so hot, while others enjoy that hot, afternoon sun when the temps are at their peak. One of our most asked questions is ‘what would you plant here or what should I plant in this flower bed?’ and our answer is always the same – ‘how much sun does it get?’ This time of year, it only takes a couple of days of purposefully tracking the sun in your yard to know exactly what will or won’t work. A couple of years ago, I made a note in my phone: Spring + Summer sun. Hour by hour, as the sun changed + shifted, I noted which part of our yard was getting sun and for how long. I know, I know – that seems a bit over the top, but I’m telling you, it’s such a game changer when planning your flower beds. Because we all want that lush, mature look to our yards, knowing your sun pattern is everything.
TWO. // CONSISTENT WATERING.
Another thing that’s key in helping your yard to thrive – consistency in watering. You can plant the most beautiful plants perfectly, but if they don’t get water for a week after doing so, they won’t make it. For two years, our yard + flower beds didn’t have irrigation and I spent two hours outside every morning, mid-March through October, watering everything. Finally, last Fall we’d saved enough to finally install irrigation and let me tell you – it’s a game CHANGER. It’s one of those things that’s so much easier to do in the beginning, but we knew if we wanted our yard to thrive year after year we had to do it. It doesn’t solve everything, I still have pots and a few things I water each day, but not spending your time dragging a hose around the yard allows you more time to actually maintain the plants and care for them properly. Regardless, irrigation works so well because of it’s consistency. Whether you have it or not, your plants are like babies – they like a schedule and it’s important to pay attention to what they need. If your plants look droopy at the end of the day because it’s 95 degrees out, you may need to double up and water twice. On the flip side, if it’s going to rain for three days, you get a break from watering and/or should turn your irrigation off for a bit. Simply being mindful of a consistent schedule is key!
THREE. // KNOW YOUR REGION.
This one is really hard for me. I know what I want and where I want it, but that’s not always a reality. For example, lavender. In my opinion, there’s nothing more French than a bed full of wild, overgrown lavender and it’s one of my favorite things in the world. However, it just won’t live here in South Carolina. It likes dry, well-drained soil and lives really well in less-humid climates. We’ve spent so much time and money trying to make all different types of lavender work, but we fail every time. (That said, if you know something I don’t – please share because I’ll never truly give up!! Haha!) There are a handful of things that I want “the look” of that just won’t live in our region, but you don’t solely have to have French plants and herbs to create a French-inspired garden. It’s more about the cohesiveness and feel, which I’ll get into a bit more in number four, but knowing what will not only live, but thrive in your region is essential when it comes to not wasting time + money. Usually your local nursery can answer those questions for you or even better, give you a work around. Olives are another plant that love a warmer, more dry climate, but we’ve found a way to make those work and they’re perfect! It just depends on where you are and the time + care you’re willing to give your yard to make it work. Let me know below if you want to see a full list of everything that’s in our yard and/or tips on olives specifically!
FOUR. // COHESIVENESS IN EVERYTHING.
J and I learned this once we moved into The Lovely Cottage. We loved our yard at our last house, but it was more things that were given to us or simply whatever we could afford at the time. There’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever, but with this house/yard, we knew we wanted to be intentional about setting the tone for our space – especially since we live outdoors this time of year. Having some type of consistency and cohesiveness in your garden and flower beds allow for a more ‘finished’ look. It’s tempting to want to plant things where they fit, even if they have no rhyme or reason, but once the plant matures, having one of something, rather than a row (or a few of them) just doesn’t flow as well. If you pay close attention to those lust-worthy images you find on Pinterest and Instagram, you’ll usually notice that there’s consistency in what’s planted. Color is a big one for me, too. I can appreciate a garden full of color, but for my neutral-loving soul, I love a yard full of nothing but green and white. Whatever you go with color wise, quantity is key. For example, a row of one specific type of hydrangea is going to be much more stunning than one hydrangea wedged in between two other bushes that you don’t know the name of. Sidenote: just because something is living + mature, if it’s an eye sore for your yard, it’s okay to dig it up. Replant it somewhere else or simply put it by the road. In a couple of years when your new plants are growing together + thriving, you’ll be glad you did! We’ve always heard to plant in odd numbers and layering, as of late, has been our go-to. The more green and lush, the better!
FIVE. // BLOOMING, BONES + CLIMBING.
One thing that helps your garden look alive + healthy all year long is a mix of all three – things that bloom, bones in your yard that keep their leaves all year long and things that climb + take over your corners and nooks. Especially when wanting to create layers and different textures throughout your yard, you need things that will bloom and grow at different times throughout the year. Think of it this way, bones are the staples of your yard. They’re usually the back layer, things that give you privacy or create a hedge, and the plants that keep their leaves. Blooming things are going to be what you look forward to coming back each year. Your hydrangeas, climbing vines, roses, etc. A lot of those will still keep their leaves, too, but they look more dormant in the colder months. (However, we love keeping our dead blooms on a few of our hydrangeas, specifically limelights, throughout the Winter because they look so beautiful.) Your climbing vines are going to be the showstoppers of your yard – confederate jasmine, climbing roses, creeping fig, everything that takes over in the best way. The plants that vine/climb on your fence, porch, chimney, etc are going to give you that lust-worthy, French garden feel that we all crave + love.
Other tips to create a French vibe in your outdoor space – incorporate pea stones, curvy lines give you a cozy feel rather than straight and perfect, mix textures and metals when you can, allow your pots and outdoor furniture to age naturally, and give your plants the space to grow + connect to each other. It’s less about what you’re planting (let’s be honest, most of us don’t live in France, but we can pretend) and more about that creamy color palette and feeling you + your guests get when they enter your little backyard oasis.
If you have any questions for us, feel free to let us know below! Be sure to follow @thelovelycottage on Instagram for more behind the scenes on our yard + projects!