My New Crush: Perfectly Imperfect Gardens in France

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.