Gravel paths winding through olive and cypress trees and swathes of lavender have brought a formerly empty patch of ground to life
When a couple and their children took up residence in this typical Provençal country house just outside Aix en Provence, France, the neglected garden was no more than an undeveloped rural field. To design the grounds, the owners called in landscape architect Thomas Gentilini.
“When the couple contacted me, the house had been built four years earlier. Together, we developed a plan for the outdoor spaces and opted for Mediterranean plants to preserve the soul of the region as much as possible,” Gentilini says.
Garden at a Glance
Who lives here A couple with children
Location A village next to Aix en Provence, France
Size 75,347 sq ft (7,000 sq m)
Project length Four months
Landscape architect Thomas Gentilini
The starting point of the project was to design a water-saving garden requiring little maintenance and honouring the spirit of the countryside. It was inspired by the interior Provençal landscape rather than the gardens of the French Riviera. Thomas Gentilini designed the whole project with the couple – from the gardens to the swimming pool to the paths.
“An expert built the basin according to our plans. Then we figured out the decorations around the swimming pool, the stone walls and stairs, and all the green spaces. The owners liked some of my creations in Gordes and Aix en Provence and wanted to recreate the same kind of atmosphere at their place. So we imagined how the exterior spaces could remind them of the origins of the Mediterranean gardens of rural houses,” Gentilini says.
“In the 17th century, the Italian gardens flourished,” Gentilini continues. “Built on terraces, these kinds of gardens were decorated with pottery and sculptures. Stairs connected the terraces, each of which presented a different atmosphere.
“Under Napoleon III, English landscape gardens appeared all over France, especially in the south, where many English people had holiday homes,” Gentilini says. “Little by little, Italian and English gardens merged and gave birth to the Mediterranean gardens as we know them today.”
A small stone building contains the equipment room for the swimming pool. On the other side of the swimming area is a pool house, which includes, among other rooms, a summer kitchen.
Around a dovecote there are blooming strawberry trees, pomegranate trees, flowering perennials, such as erigeron, and other plants typical of the Mediterranean region.
The preparation of the soil was the most difficult part of the project. The poor clay soil needed much work to become fertile ground.
In front of the house, a circular flowerbed divided into sectors, creating an axis of symmetry. It is filled with white ‘Iceberg’ roses, along with box trees, shrubby germander, white valerian and Tuscan cypress trees, which give rhythm to the space.
On the left, a covered terrace houses a dining area with a view of the garden. At the base of the stone pillars, aromatic herbs – mint, savory, marjoram – grow alongside a climbing ‘Pierre de Ronsard’ rose bush. Under the awning, a set of potted citrus trees brightens the convivial space.
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The swimming pool, bordered by deckchairs, is situated on a lower level from the house. An olive grove facing the pool contributes to the rural spirit of the garden.
The staircase leading to the pool and the walls that surround it are made of stones from the villages of Gordes and Bonnieux and are widely used in the region.
The northern part of the house has a fountain decorated with a Dionysus head and volutes (scrolls) made by a stonecutter friend of the owners. Here, several rooms overlook a shaded garden, and from their windows, the family can admire Tuscan cypresses, camellias, box trees, lavender and pink hydrangeas.
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For the ground cover, especially walkways and paths, the owners opted for a naturally stabilised limestone sand to create an authentic Provençal style, as well as Bellegarde rolled ochre gravel, which is typical of southern France.
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