What is the Difference Between an English Garden and a French Garden?

Kris Roudebush
Kris Roudebush
Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

There are as many differences between and English garden and a French garden as there are similarities. They’re both founded on the principles of the original English garden which the Romans introduced to England upon their arrival in the 1st Century A.D. The English garden is a style of landscaping garden that was popular across the European continent. The French garden took its roots in the 16th Century with heavy influence from the Italian gardens of the time. The French garden is directly associated with Andre Le Notre.

English gardens were an attempt to blend into the natural landscape, growing a little on the wild side, while blending in romantic elements. Romantic elements were introduced in the 18th Century and included ponds or small lakes, bridges or long docks on the water, imitation ruins, and sculptures. “Chinese” pavilions are also commonly associated with an English-style garden. Each of the romantic elements in an English-style garden is incorporated into the foliage to enhance the wild look of the garden.

French gardens are also called formal gardens and are exactly that; formal. They follow very strict geometric lines. Plants are arranged so that they maintain the geometric and symmetric layouts. They are trimmed and pruned on a regular basis to keep them from obtaining that overgrown look, typical of an English-style garden. In larger gardens, lanes or paths branch off from the center, which, according to tradition, is a building façade, going outward so visitors can stroll through each section. Lanes are often paved with gravel. French gardens traditionally include lawns for large scale gardens.

French gardens have their own romantic elements; however they borrow a lot from the English garden. Where an English-style garden may have a pond, the French garden will have a reflecting pool accented with fountains or sculptures and always following a geometric pattern. Large-scale French gardens will also have parterres. They are the construction around the plants and consist of stone or carefully maintained hedges to create symmetrical, or even geometrical, patterns. Claude Mollet is credited with the creation of the parterres.

If you’re looking to plant a garden and want a specific look, remember these basic pointers. French gardens are very geometric. The center should have some sort of façade and emanate outward. They are high maintenance but well worth the effort. If you’re after an English garden look, let your plants get a little wild looking, add at least one romantic element, and use foliage that naturally adds color to the landscape.

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Discussion Comments


No matter how hard I try, my garden area tends to become overgrown. I like the look of a carefree garden, but have also been fascinated with those gardens that are always kept so meticulous.

I think there are more English garden ideas that would suit my garden space so that is the style I tend to go with.

One neighbor on my street has a very formal, French garden and spends hours every week out working in his garden.

I think if you are going to go with this style of garden, you also have to be committed to put in the work that is needed.

I just know my time to garden is very limited and if I went with a French garden design, it would probably get out of control in a short time.


I enjoy both garden styles, and have different garden designs in my yard. I have a small English garden area in the back where I love to sit and read.

There is an arbor with a clemtais growing on each side of it that leads into this garden. This is a relaxing place to be, and one that is a little easier to maintain.

In the front of my house, I have more of a French garden look. This includes many hedges that are kept trimmed and neat, and some larger statues in the garden area.

I think each different garden design has its place - I just happen to love both of them. Since I have the space for lots of garden areas, I try to incorporate a few different styles and designs.

All of it takes work, but this is something I really enjoy doing. Whenever we travel, one of my favorite things is to visit other gardens to get ideas and inspiration.


Even though an English garden may look like it is free-flowing, there are several things to keep in mind when you are planting one.

I like to make sure the flowers that I plant contrast well together. As with all garden spaces, you also want to make sure you have the taller flowers in the back of your space.

One of my favorite spring English garden perennials are pansies. These are shorter flowers that do well in the early spring, and always look cheerful.

I think it is hard to go wrong with an English garden. This is the style my mom also has, and it is so easy to buy cute and whimsical accessories for her to put in her garden.

My flower gardens could be described as a little on the wild side, and sure looks more like an English garden than a French garden.

I have always enjoyed more of a casual look when it comes to garden design. Even though I don't follow a specific English garden design, my gardens closely follow that particular style.

I love to use elements such as cozy garden benches, or a small pond to add interesting features to my garden.

I seldom plant hedges because they have to constantly be trimmed and maintained. I prefer to use bushes that still might need to be trimmed, but don't look so formal.

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