Setting the Stage
Summer in Provence is hot and dry, and drought-resistant garden practices reign supreme. You won’t see many lawns. Instead, to define their outdoor spaces, water-wise Provencal gardeners favour patios or even gravel-covered surfaces. As soon as the weather warms up in the spring, you see little tables pop up on patios and in gardens everywhere. For al fresco dining with an authentic southern French look, choose a long wooden table and benches. For a more formal atmosphere choose a wrought iron set. In Provence, a large tree, often right outside the door, shades and cools the terrace from the blazing sun. If you don’t have a shade tree in your garden, use a brightly coloured umbrella.
It’s All about Colour
Use accessories that borrow colours from the ancient farmhouses and centuries-old Roman ruins that dot the landscape. You can take your cue from Provencal-style table linens that are available here. You’ll find them in shades of burnished yellow and gold, deep green, and russet and wheat; often accented with brilliant sunflowers or olive branches.
Provencal gardeners achieve a striking contrast in their outdoor garden spaces with doors and windows painted in bright splashes of periwinkle, cornflower blue, ochre, sunflower yellow or lavender. If that’s too drastic for you, try painting window boxes or a wooden bench with a vibrant hue to make a similar statement.
Brightly coloured flowers are a feature in Provencal gardens. Planters filled with fire engine red pelargoniums (we commonly call them geraniums here) are in virtually every garden. Brilliantly hued verbenas, petunias, gazania, and other sun loving annuals spill over window boxes; while richly toned roses grace metal arbours and trellises. Pergolas covered in vines (often grape vines) are another common element.
Though bold colours are typical, some Provencal gardeners subscribe to a more subdued approach, one that is inspired by traditional chateau gardens, which do not feature loudly coloured displays. Those who have a preference for all things pale choose colours with a sun-bleached look that contrasts nicely with the earthy shades of terracotta and sandstone. Blooms in cream tones, pale butter yellows, and soft apricot complete the picture. Plants with both green and silver foliage find a place in these gardens, and are frequently complemented by white, blue, and pale pink flowers.
Many Provencal gardens favour formal rather than casual designs. You can get this look by dividing garden beds into symmetrical sections using a low hedge. Topiary adds a formal touch too. Use large urns or containers planted with evergreens clipped into geometrical shapes circular, square, or conical.
In any garden texture is important, adding dimension and interest. In the south of France texture is created not only through the use of plants, but also from the aged limestone farmhouses in the area. You can accomplish this look by incorporating a weathered or worn materials such as recycled brick, flagstones, and concrete pavers. You’ll find many accessories at your local retailers that, although new, have a centuries old look and feel to them.
This part of the world is renowned for its lavender fields and heady culinary herbs. French gardeners traditionally interplant edibles and decorative plants in their gardens, so be sure to include herbs in yours. Thyme, rosemary, summer savory, tarragon, chervil, sage, marjoram, and basil do double duty in the kitchen and as ornamentals. Also, include lavender in your garden. Nothing quite compares to its soothing fragrance on a sultry summer evening.
Every garden should have the sound of water. The sound of trickling water soothes the soul. In Provence, water features are simple. Small fountains or ponds are more common than watercourses or cascades. To create an authentic look, choose a fountain with a weather-beaten appearance.
For a garden reminiscent of the south of France, pelargoniums, herbs, lavender and roses are a must. Be sure to include brightly coloured flowers like marigolds, lobelia, verbena, sunflowers, and petunias to provide the punch of colour that best defines the sun-splashed gardens of this region.