I love beautiful gardens. Down to my core. But up until now, I have never, ever wanted to be a gardener. Ever. But I just got knocked out by the most amazing gardens in the French countryside, and now, the flame is lit.
Dan is the big traveler in our family. Usually, I prefer to wave goodbye to him when he heads off on a new adventure. But this spring, I dusted off my passport and we went for a holiday in France with a few dear friends.
As a child of the Midwest, where everything is pretty understated and new, I never tire of seeing the historic and majestic sites of France. But this time, it was the flowers that set my heart aflame.
We traveled through Normandy and visited a part of France I have never been to before: The Loire Valley. Our guide, the delightful and infinitely patient Michel with Berlines-et-voyages introduced us to lovely country inns and gardens. (The photo above is one of the places we stayed, La Reserve in Giverny.) We’d never done a private tour before, but I think it’s what made this trip so magical for me: We all got to sit back and enjoy ourselves, as Michel brought France alive for us one story at a time.
My new favorite spot on earth is Les Jardins de Roquelin. The photo above is from their website – nothing we took did this garden justice. It was in this old farm, turned into a showplace garden in the span of just 15 years, that I had my conversion into a wanna-be gardener. Right now, I want to learn how to transform my own yard into a romantic getaway like this one. (Another home and garden that had me hyperventilating was Sharon Santoni’s, one of my favorite lifestyle bloggers. But that story is for another day….)
I know that this feeling may be the same one you have when you start a new diet or workout program. You’re all excited … for about a week. But right now I’m still in post-vacation euphoria, and I can’t wait to pick up a trowel and get to work. Many of the ideas are actually obtainable, and here are a few I’m excited to try:
Let the garden be wilder.
Something that always strikes me when we travel to the French countryside is that the gardens are wilder, looser, more forgiving. There don’t seem to be as many rules. I like that.
Vines are allowed to snake up the sides of buildings or around trees, bushy and unkempt. Bushes are allowed to grow together willy-nilly.
While we were in Giverny, we visited Monet’s home and garden. Here’s a shot Dan took of the famed water lilies. The whole spot just looks rustic and peaceful, not fussy and trimmed.
I also loved how aged and worn flower planters and garden statues were in the gardens we visited. Flowers were planted in old clay pots that were chipping and covered in moss. There was no effort to make these aged beauties look new. So often, if one of my iron garden urns starts to peel, I feel like I have to sand it down and repaint. I’m going to stop that. I want to embrace the aged patina and the story it has to tell.
Layer together different plants.
I’m a huge fan of layered décor. When lots of different pieces are brought together in a room to tell a story, it’s more interesting and charming. In the gardens in Normandy, I saw the same technique used in the gardens.
I was struck by how climbing roses in a variety of different colors were allowed to grow together, all mixed up. I have been focused on giving each of the plants in my garden their own space. Not any more.
Dan got this shot looking through Monet’s garden, up toward the house. I was transfixed by this house, and its blue and white kitchen. But that’s another story. What struck me about this famed garden was that it was a wild riot of color.
Experiment with the floors and ceilings in outdoor rooms.
I’ve been pretty limited in my thinking when it comes to creating outdoor rooms in my garden. Les Jardins de Roquelin got me dreaming of new possibilities. I loved this private spot created by a twiggy arbor, the perfect place for a photo op for Dan and me.
I was amazed by how many French gardens incorporated a variety of materials into the pathways that wound through the flowerbeds. Gravel paths laced through Monet’s garden. Why not mine? My next step is bringing in some pea gravel.
Mix up your garden furniture.
In my garden, I want to include more spaces that invite you to stop and linger, like this simple wooden bench that called to Beth, Kate and me at Les Jardins de Roquelin.
I was intrigued by the furniture in this garden. Instead of having a uniform look, there was a hodge-podge of different styles. Here are some photos from the garden’s website to give you a feel.
Whether it was La Feuillaie, an inn where we stayed, or the other gardens we visited, many had a mix of old iron furniture and wood pieces that had seen better days, topped with cushions with faded fabrics.
Somehow, it looked charming, not cluttered or shabby. Maybe that’s because the gardeners were more focused on giving visitors a place of respite and peace, an escape into a world of profound, simple beauty. Now I know, perfectly imperfect is perfect for me.
Next Week … It’s almost Independence Day! I will take you to a friend’s lake cottage where she’s hosting a family Fourth of July gathering.
Peg Burke saysJune 19, 2017 at 8:28 am
I’m hoping to visit Nell Hills when I visit my daughter in Lawrence, Kansas this August. Traveling from NE Pennsylvania. Loved this post about your French garden visits! Hope you get the garden of your dreams!
Julie @ Creating This Life saysJune 19, 2017 at 9:35 am
I also adore the French’s forgiving style. It inspires me to get out and try things in my landscaping, instead of having everything planned perfectly. Thank you for sharing these gorgeous pics. Can’t wait to see what you do in your gardens.
Connie Simonnet saysJune 19, 2017 at 11:42 am
I lived in France for more than seven years. England six years. I too am in love with the Loire Valley, their wine too, another story, as you like to say, and this makes me smile. I also visited Monets’ home and gardens. If you have not visited, a must is Chateau de Malmaison, former home and gardens of Empress Josephine de Beauharnais. So much beauty in our world. My small garden, was designed and planted by my own hands. It rewards me with each season. Love of nature knows no restraints. My garden statues and urns, only bathe with nature.
Judy Mueller saysJune 19, 2017 at 11:46 am
I have a little advice. When we bought our first home, I wanted an English country garden. I planted, watered, sprayed and fertilized with dismal results. Our Midwest climate is just too harsh. When we moved to the country, I didn’t give up on the dream. I attended a landscaping workshop at the University of Nebraska. They promoted prairie landscapes with hearty native plants. We now have the lush, carefree look that requires little work. Our yard is home to birds and butterflies and we actually have time to sit on the patio and enjoy a cool drink. Bloom where you are planted and have fun in your garden.
Sharon Womach saysJune 19, 2017 at 12:04 pm
Mary Carol Your pictures just blew me away! BEAUTIFUL BEAUTIFUL !
Rosanne Potts saysJune 19, 2017 at 3:53 pm
Beautiful, I love gardens like this. Thanks for sharing and I love France. I have a friend who lives like an hour from Paris, he showed me pictures of his renovation and his gardens they are just so inviting, wants us to go for a visit I just might do that next year! Nancy looking at these pictures got me thinking of letting him and his pretty wife know I am coming for a visit. LOL! Again thanks for sharing.
BARBARA SANCHEZ GIRAUD saysJune 19, 2017 at 5:18 pm
Just beautiful, thank you for your notes.
franki saysJune 19, 2017 at 8:41 pm
Thanks for letting us live vicariously through your lens!! A magical trip!! franki
Beverly Hanley saysJune 20, 2017 at 8:10 am
What beauty abounds throughout the French countryside!! We too have been throughout the Loire Valley, Normandy, Dordogne River Valley as well as Provence and the French Riviera. My husband is the gardener and we’ve visited some of the most recognizable as well as stumbling upon the “off the beaten path” beauties!
Vive la France!!
Carol Cottrell saysJune 20, 2017 at 9:50 am
Who doesn’t love France? We stayed at la Reserve up the hill from Giverney as well. One of my favorite places to stay. I wonder if the lovely couple still owns it.