Houzz Contributor, Elen Pouhaer
When a family took up residence in this typical Provençal country house just outside Aix-en-Provence, France, the neglected garden was no more than an undeveloped 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 square feet (7,000 square meters)
Project length: Four months
Landscape architect: Thomas Gentilini
The starting point of the project was a water-saving garden requiring little maintenance and honoring the spirit of the countryside. It was inspired by the interior Provençal landscape rather than the gardens of the French Riviera. 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 re-create 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 says. “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 used to have their vacation 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 for the swimming pool. On the other side of the swimming area is a pool house, which includes a summer kitchen.
Around a dovecote 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 flower bed divided in sections creates an axis of symmetry. Here bloom many white ‘Iceberg’ roses, along with boxwood, shrubby germander, white valerian and Tuscan cypresses, 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. Under the awning, potted citrus trees brighten the convivial space.
The swimming pool, bordered by deck chairs, 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, which are widely used in the region.
The northern part of the house has a fountain decorated with a Dionysus head and volutes made by a stonecutter friend of the owners. Here, several rooms overlook a shaded garden, and from their windows, one can admire Tuscan cypresses, camellias, pink hydrangeas, boxwood and lavender.
To cover the ground, especially the paths, the owners opted for naturally stabilized limestone sand for authentic Provençal style, and yellow Bellegarde rolled gravel, which is typical of southern France.
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Header Photo credits: Thomas Gentilini, original photos on Houzz