Are French council gardeners horticultural geniuses?

Wine, cheese, fashion, architecture. I was expecting these. But no one told me about the street plantings!

I associate French gardens with formality, symmetry, topiary, parterres. I thought Monet’s garden at Giverny was the exception, not the rule. Yet wherever I went in France, the streets and parks were planted with dramatic foliage and intensely coloured flowers in thoughtful and creative combinations. Sunflowers, salvias, grasses and verbena provided height and movement. Artichokes and chard mingled with dahlias and marigolds. Hot colours, cool colours, purple and yellow, grey and pink. Dense and exotic or light and breezy. One street verge had a delicate sprinkling of wildflowers; I wasn’t sure whether it was a masterful Piet Oudolf-style display or just really pretty weeds. Either way, it was much more interesting than mown grass.

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