The Romantic Gardens of Paris
Any visit to Paris should include the city’s romantic gardens, which are the hosts of public art fairs, Fashion Week and flower shows. But who created the visions at Versailles, the Tuileries and the Luxembourg Gardens? The names of their male designers may be legendary. But now a special exhibit on romantic Paris gardens, at La Musée de la Vie Romantique through July 17, 2011, highlights the role powerful women played in making them.
Parisians owe two of their favorite greenscapes to royal widows, both of whom hated life in the Louvre. Each built her own palace and gardens to escape. The first was Catherine de Médicis, who created the Tuileries. Marie de Médicis ventured farther across the Seine to build the Luxembourg. A later iconoclast was Marie Antoinette, who made romantic changes throughout the royal gardens. She was influenced by her favorites in Paris, which included Parc de Bagatelle and Parc Monceau.
Equally influential was Empress Josephine. Born in Martinique, she had a yen for exotic flowers. By importing more than 200 species (including peonies, camellias and hibiscus), the empress revolutionized French horticulture. She also had a particular passion for the rose and collected 3,000 types from all over Europe. Her rose garden at the Château de Malmaison was remade every year in May, requiring hundreds of individual pots.
Marie Antoinette may have commissioned her own rustic village and had the château at Bagatelle built in record time. But when it came to gardening, Josephine truly pushed the envelope. She commanded special plants to feed a personal zoo, commissioned a heated greenhouse and built a glassed-in citrus grove. The empress even had her roses painted by Redouté. (His best-selling tribute to them spanned 30 volumes; many French women gained employment hand-tinting its pages).
All this is on view in the museum’s show “Romantic Paris Gardens.” Here everything from paintings to fashion to vintage gardening tools is used to introduce the 18th-century craze for landscapes filled with wandering paths, pretty bridges and scenic waterfalls. Intended to generate the most passionate sentiments, their designs were usually copied from dreamy French paintings.
La Musée de la Vie Romantique offers the perfect setting for the exhibition. Built in 1830, its mansion, garden and charming greenhouse played host to Delacroix, Chopin and George Sand (also a keen gardener). Between May and October, tea is served in its glasshouse, and there are ongoing concerts and special events.
So make these romantic Paris gardens your choice for a rainy day. The flowers won’t fade, nor will their romance.
Tip Sheet: Top Garden Bookstores in Paris
61 and 63, blvd St.-Germain, in the 5th Arrondissement.
This giant Latin Quartier bookstore, spread all over the street, seems more chainlike than it actually is. Both the ground-floor Leisure section at 63 and the Beaux Arts section at 61 feature books on the history, passion and practice of French gardening.
Librairie de la Maison Rustique
26, rue Jacob, in the 6th.
This charming shop is a hangout for armchair gardeners whose true passions are home decor, French interiors or, quite simply, beautiful books. There’s plenty for those of you with green thumbs, too. Don’t be surprised to see Monsieurs Louboutin and Lagerfeld.
Librairie des Jardins
Place de la Concorde, in the 1st.
Fairly new but already one of my favorites, the Librairie des Jardins is tucked into a 17th-century cave and stocked (by the Louvre) with hundreds of volumes on Paris gardens, flowers, garden tours and history. There are plenty of gorgeous picture books, biographies and how-to volumes in both French and English. A haven for weary tourists in the Tuileries, this bookstore also stocks beautiful cards, pocket books, and maps. Their lively children’s section will entertain your youngsters. You’ll find it just inside the place de la Concorde entrance gate to the Tuileries.
Librairie les Jardins d’Olivier
27, rue Gay Lussac, in the 5th.
Just opened by enthusiasts Olivier Pochard and Nathalie Theillout at the start of 2011, this shop is a very welcoming spot near the Luxembourg Gardens. Their international stock includes plenty of reads in English, with beautiful books on everything floral, French garden decor, green living, well-being and organic lifestyles. They also run an online store.
Librairie du Moniteur
7, place de l’Odéon, in the 6th.
Very near the Luxembourg Gardens, the Librairie du Moniteur is one of Paris’s biggest specialist bookstores. It focuses on architecture as well as landscape and urban design. They stock more than 10,000 volumes, a third of which are in English. The special Paris section includes everything from history to restaurants. Another of their niches is ecology.
Le Prince Jardinier at Deyrolle
46, rue du Bac, in the 7th.
Another favorite of mine, this bookstore offers great garden and lifestyle literature plus vintage botanical charts as well as inventive gifts. Upstairs at Deyrolle you’ll find more botany-inspired items, from art to Hermès scarves.
“Romantic Paris Gardens” is on view at La Musée de la Vie Romantique through July 17, 2011.
Librairie des Jardins