What is a French garden ?

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The French garden is the prerogative of castles and large French residences, but what are its characteristics ?

Designed by André Le Nôtre

It is the prerogative of most castles and large French residences, but it also adorns many estates in Europe which have followed this vogue with the fame of the gardens designed by André Le Nôtre in the 17th century. However, the French garden draws its influences from the Italian gardens of the Renaissance. These were strictly ordered, offering symmetrical lines punctuated by a myriad of ornaments, including flowers, statues, fountains and water features. Most were built on hilly, sloping land, which favored the development of water games and waterfalls, as at the Villa d’Este.

An architectural inspiration

The garden is designed like a building, in a succession of rooms that the visitor crosses according to a pre-established route, from the vestibule to the ceremonial rooms.
The vocabulary used in the description of the French garden unambiguously translates the architectural inspiration. We are talking about halls, bedrooms or open-air theatres. We move between arbor walls or along water stairs. The ground is covered with lawn carpets embroidered with boxwood, the trees are pruned like a curtain along the paths.

General characteristics

• the plan is geometric;
• the terrace allows the visitor to grasp the layout of the garden at a glance ;
• the axis orders the basins, the parterres, the groves, the paths punctuated by statues and topiary, the alignments of trees.

The issue of perspective

Since the beginning of the 17th century, the “corrected perspective” has set itself the objective of anticipating and rectifying the distortions linked to the effects of flight.
From these observations are born original solutions:
• progressive widening of the paths and compartments: this process used in France since the 1630s, but which Le Nôtre endeavored to amplify at Vaux-le-Vicomte, allows the perspective to be crushed and thus makes the garden smaller than he is not actually.

• spacing of tree alignments in relation to the theoretical axis: a solution adopted at Tanlay

Art of the terrace, perspective and parterre

The three elements
Terraces, parterre and perspective are the fundamental elements of the French garden. An art brought to perfection by André Le Nôtre…
Horticulture, forestry, earthworks, optics, hydraulics… Far from being purely aesthetic, the French garden turns out to be eminently technical.
Breaking with the closed and protected medieval garden, the Italian Renaissance garden opens onto the outside.

The French garden was born from the political stabilization of France and the development of progress in terms of geometry, optics, hydraulics and topography.

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