Green and scene in Paris
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: princejardinier.com 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.)