What is French Intensive Gardening?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

French intensive gardening is a technique that is designed to maximize yields using a combination of biodynamic agriculture and specific alterations to the normal garden layout and planting system. In addition to being very productive, this type of gardening is extremely efficient, and an astounding array of crops can be produced in a very small space when the garden is laid out well. French intensive gardening also can be beautiful, especially when the gardener takes the time to plan and map before plunging into the project.

French intensive gardening is a system that pairs plants to their mutual advantage, such as scattering marigolds in a garden to reduce insect pests.
French intensive gardening is a system that pairs plants to their mutual advantage, such as scattering marigolds in a garden to reduce insect pests.

Raised Beds

One of the defining features of French intensive gardening is the raised beds that are used. In this style of gardening, the beds are very large, allowing gardeners to walk in the beds, rather than along established pathways, to perform garden maintenance. The beds are also double dug, which means that the soil is worked to twice the usual depth. The intensive working of the ground produces light, fluffy soil that is well amended with compost and humus, which encourages healthy plant growth and the production of deep roots.

French intensive gardening keeps the soil moist.
French intensive gardening keeps the soil moist.

The beds also are mounded, rather than flattened, thereby creating more surface area for planting in each bed. Although it takes a lot of work to establish the beds for French intensive gardening, many gardeners believe that it is worth it, especially when the available space is small. The garden is maintained with daily light watering and the addition of rich compost and organic fertilizers.

Plants Tightly Spaced

Another important aspect of French intensive gardening is plant spacing. Plants typically are grown very close together, with the leaves of the plants creating a cover that reduces weeds and helps keep the soil moist, acting almost like mulch. Gardeners who use this system also utilize companion planting, a system that pairs plants to their mutual advantage, using things such as beans to enrich the soil for energy-hungry plants, for example, or scattering marigolds in the garden to reduce insect pests.

History and Advantages

French intensive gardening might also be called the Marais System. This technique was developed in France in the middle of the 19th century, and it spread to other regions of Europe, such as Austria. For people who have limited space for gardening, French intensive gardening can be a great way to get the maximum benefit of a garden space. Many companion plants are pretty as well as functional, so French intensive gardening can be used to create a form of landscaping as well as a source of food.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon176226

Square Foot Gardening was built upon this form of gardening but dealing with a much smaller scale. Solar gardening was also built upon this manner of gardening. The French Marjais System was the original system. It was brought to America by European homesteaders.

dudla

I've also heard it called square foot gardening.

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