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GARDENING: A touch of je ne sais quoi

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In celebration of 500 years of French Renaissance heritage, the 2019 Lifestyle Garden Design Show in Gauteng draws inspiration from elements used in classic French green spaces

The order and symmetry of the famous 17th-century Gardens of Versailles, designed by landscape architect André Le Nôtre, are the epitome of French garden design.

Known as jardin à la française or “gardening in the French manner”, French design brings geometrical precision to the garden. Other characteristics of French garden design are defined areas and structures and colours on the cool side of the colour spectrum.

The garden encompasses a main feature – usually the residence or chateau or a prized fountain, statue or ornamental urn within the garden space. Where the formal French garden imposes order on nature, French country gardens are less formal but are still structured.

A printed vinyl backdrop provides a view of the Parisian skyline in the Green Scene rooftop apartment garden. Picture: Lifestyle Home Garden

Showing off flares off colour

Currently on at Lifestyle Home Garden in Randburg in Gauteng, the 2019 Lifestyle Garden Design Show is inspired by 500 years of French Renaissance heritage and its influence on garden design.

The show comprises seven interlinked French-themed garden spaces, designed and built by students and lecturers from Lifestyle College. The show forms part of the practical component of the college’s landscape design course, affording students an opportunity to put theory into practice.

Designs link the controlled Renaissance period to the freedom and modern expression of today’s French lifestyle. From alpine heights to country meadows and soft ambient alfresco dining.

“Visitors will find inspiration and practical ideas from the garden to use in their own spaces as well as new and innovative ways to use product, plants and props,” says Mike Rickhoff, show organiser and senior lecturer at Lifestyle Design College.

Rickhoff says the alpine garden is a South African rock garden with a twist, and the town square garden can be replicated on a patio. Called Bouquet, the space leads off an alfresco dining scene and is awash with colour and a carnival atmosphere.

The rooftop garden space boasts a planted green wall dominated by rich ornamental grasses on the outside and synthetic lawn on the inside.

“This design is perfect for an apartment and shows what can be achieved in a small space,” says Rickhoff. Soup and Salad showcases the traditional potager or kitchen garden. Herbs and vegetables spill over a tiered raised planter central to the garden, and fruit trees complete the edible offering.

A French-inspired garden

A fountain on a raised plinth provides a focal point in the Bouquet. Picture: Lifestyle Home Garden

How can you add elements of French garden design to your green space? Draw inspiration for hard landscaping, outdoor dining spaces and a colour palette in cool tones.

Create structure: Plan pathways and choose square or rectangular shapes for beds. If you choose a large square bed, add stepping stones for easy access. Even in a small garden intercepting pathways with a centre fountain or statue pack panache.

Think straight lines: Trees along the property border or low-growing edging for pathways. Plants suitable for low hedges include lavender, buxus and rosemary. Trellis, arbours or pergolas can be added for shade and planted with climbers for height interest. Parterres, a collection of beds edged with low-growing hedges, may be created with formal and symmetrical patterns, or less ordered and planted up with flowering bedding plants.

Go big with stone: Use flagstone, pebbles, gravel and natural stone for containers and pathways, on patios or for terrace walls in larger gardens. Include a stone or concrete bench near a small water feature.

The Classique Magnifique garden reflects wealth and influence. Picture: Lifestyle Home Garden

Add a fountain and statuary: Choose statuary and fountains according to the size of your garden. Reflecting pools reflect the sky and create a sense of space.

Book space for alfresco dining: Food and festivities play a significant role in French culture. Select a dining area which provides a view of the garden, ideally at a slightly higher vantage point than the rest of the garden. A round wrought-iron table and chairs are reminiscent of the French bistro.

Introduce cool tones: Colours used in the French garden are those on the cooler side of the colour spectrum – monochromatic hues of greens, blues, purples and violets, with splashes of white for vibrancy.

Plants to include are lavender, agapanthus, dahlias, echinacea, salvia, roses and climbers like wild jasmine (Jasminum angulare) or traveller’s joy (Clematis brachiata). Opt for locally indigenous species or water-wise Mediterranean plants. Window boxes can be used for pops of more vibrant colour.

Hardy and water-wise ivy leaf pelargoniums that spill over the rims can put a colourful local spin on window boxes.

Grow topiaries and hedges: Hedges, topiaries and shrubs clipped into ornamental shapes provide structure and symmetry in the French garden.

Popular hedging plants include abelia, dune crowberry (Searsia crenata) or Viburnum tinus. For topiary, try buxus, ivy, holly, rosemary or magenta cherry (Syzygium paniculatum).

Show details: Lifestyle Garden Design Show 2019. On until May 31 at Lifestyle Home Garden. Address: Corner Beyers Naudé Drive and Ysterhout Avenue, Randpark Ridge, Randburg. Entrance is free. For more information, call 011 792 5616 or see


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