Green and scene in Paris

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Europe -

Tui­leries Gar­dens: Also the work of Le Notre, th­ese lovely gar­dens lie at the heart of Paris be­tween the Lou­vre and Place de la Con­corde. Climb the Arc de Tri­om­phe to ap­pre­ci­ate the over­all lay­out or sim­ply lounge in a comfy Lux­em­bourg chair by the ponds. Jardin des Plantes: Louis XIV had plant hunters trial new species in this pic­turesque gar­den. To­day’s cu­riosi­ties in­clude a pin de Wollemi. Palais Royale: Sur­pris­ingly few tourists make the most of this haven in the heart of the city. Once the hub of Parisian so­cial life and a mag­net for fla­neurs, the colon­naded gar­dens be­came renowned for their de­bauched en­ter­tain­ment. But the fash­ion­able crowd soon moved on and in 1878 English jour­nal­ist Ge­orge Au­gus­tus Sala re­ported, ‘‘It is no longer a place to dine, to prom­e­nade, to flirt, or even to con­spire in too far away.’’ Th­ese days it’s the per­fect spot to es­cape the high-sea­son crush. By royal ap­point­ment: Le Prince Jar­dinier (Prince Louis Al­bert de Broglie) plies his trade from a tiny store tucked away in a court­yard off Rue Furstenberg in Saint Ger­main (and also on the premises of famed taxi­der­mist Dey­rolle). A must-visit place for green thumbs. More: prince­jar­ or six times a day. (And like Mar­garet Thatcher’s hair, Louis’s wigs be­came pro­gres­sively taller.)

Big­ger was cer­tainly bet­ter when it came to his gar­den. Thank­fully, Le Notre was a ge­nius with per­spec­tive. From the front ter­race, the dis­tant canal, form­ing the main axis to the west and the set­ting sun, com­mands all of our at­ten­tion, the gar­den’s elab­o­rate fore­ground largely con­cealed by clever ter­rac­ing. Ad­di­tion­ally, the 1.5km­long canal grad­u­ally but im­per­cep­ti­bly wi­dens so that from the palace it ap­pears a uni­form width rather than ta­per­ing to the hori­zon.

In a French gar­den, or­der and struc­ture are highly val­ued and Le Notre gives a mas­ter­class at Ver­sailles.

Whip-thin allees of horn­beam are trimmed so pre­cisely that not a sin­gle twig breaks the line by even a mil­lime­tre. Top­i­ary as­sem­bles like sol­diers on pa­rade and the for­est is neatly mus­tered and con­tained as a se­ries of bosquets — se­cret clear­ings fur­nished with foun­tains and stat­ues, de­signed for courtly en­ter­tain­ments and no doubt a spot of Machi­avel­lian plot­ting.

Aside from a rowdy group of Ital­ians whizzing by in a golf buggy, all is bliss­fully se­date for we few visi­tors brav­ing the cold to ex­plore th­ese hid­den and eerily silent groves.

There’s not a boat to be spied on the canal and the gar­den’s many foun­tains are stilled. Even in Ver­sailles’s hey­day there was never enough wa­ter to op­er­ate all Louis’s foun­tains at once so gar­den­ers took to sig­nalling each other with whis­tles and flags to turn the ap­pa­ra­tus on and off as the royal per­son­age pro­gressed around the gar­den. (Visi­tors can see them in op­er­a­tion on Tues­days and week­ends be­tween April and Oc­to­ber.)

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