The effect of towns on plant phenology, i.e. advancement of spring development compared with a rural environment, via the urban heat island (UHI) phenomenon, has been shown for many towns in many countries. This work combines experimental and observational methodology to provide a better and deeper view of climatic habitat in an urban context with a view to understanding the relationship between plant development and urban climate on the intra-urban scale (by taking into account town structure). A dense network of 17 meteorological stations was set up in Rennes, France, enabling us to identify and quantify climatic changes associated with the UHI. Meanwhile, phenological observations were made during early spring (March and April) in 2005 on Platanus acerifolia and Prunus cerasus to study the relationship between climatic and phenological data. The results show that there is both a climatic gradient and a developmental gradient corresponding to the type of urbanisation in the town of Rennes. The town influences plant phenology by reducing the diurnal temperature range and by increasing the minimum temperature as one approaches the town centre. The influence of ground cover type (plants or buildings) on development is also shown. The developmental phases of preflowering and flowering are influenced to differing extents by climatic variables. The period during which climatic variables are effective before a given developmental phase varies considerably. The preflowering phases are best correlated with the mean of the minimum air temperature for the 15-day period before the observation, whereas flowering appears to be more dependent on the mean of the daily diurnal temperature range for the 8 days preceding the observation.