French-American Gardens

French-American Gardens
French-American gardens still show the far-reaching effects of French garden design.

So much of American gardening has been influenced by European and British garden designs. We hear a lot about the English role, but not so much on the French. The French influence was particularly strong in the Deep South, especially along the Mississippi River and the Gulf.

Part of this was due to the French claims there, but it was also because of the arrival of the French Huguenots in America after 1685. They mainly settled in South Carolina, Virginia, New York, and Massachusetts.

Examples of the French influence can be seen in the U.S., such as that of Middleton Place. It is also seen in the plantings from the Capitol to the White House along Pennsylvania Avenue.

To understand the importance of the classical French garden and its examples in America, it is necessary to first look at the gardens created by Le Notre in France.

Le Notre, who died in 1700, would be very proud for these living works of art he created still exist to some extent. Some of his original gardens have disappeared, but in other cases as at Versailles parts of his work remains.

Le Notre began as a gardener to the French royal family because his family had also held such positions for generations. The garden staff decided Le Notre should be sent to school to learn to read and to receive art lessons. This was during a time when illiteracy was the rule.

Through genius and hard work, Le Notre became Louis XIV’s royal gardener and garden designer. He also designed gardens for members of the French nobility. The gardens he created at Versailles were major achievements in garden history for he determined what the idea of the French classical garden design should be. He choreographed everything within view into a harmonious whole. Classical gardens are based on the idea of subduing and controlling nature. In Le Notre’s case, this involved things like creating hills, moving rivers, and the like.

Le Notre didn’t write about his ideas of garden design, but his principles are evident from the gardens he created. First, the garden must be in harmony with the climate and the land. It must form a unity with the house so far as style and scale are concerned. Finally, the garden must fit the owner’s lifestyle and income.

The medieval influence of the feudal layout with its walls and moated castle can still be seen in his designs. In this medieval style, the house stands between the gated entrance, which would have been like a guardhouse, and the garden. Typically the house has a terrace with a series of enclosed garden rooms. Ponds and fountains to be viewed from indoors are integral parts of the garden.

Examples of the French classical gardens can be seen in France and in French-American gardens.

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This content was written by Connie Krochmal. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Connie Krochmal for details.