Spring Must-See in Paris? Flowers!
If spring is the season one must see in Paris, flowers are its trademark. France is home to 12,000 florists, from tiny shops to franchises such as Monceau Fleurs and Au Nom de la Rose. Last year, residents spent 1.2 billion euros on flowers to present bouquets, bunches and “compositions.” Parisian florists ply their trade with exceptional art, so their premises offer some of the best spots for enjoying spring. Especially seductive are specialist shops and stalls, such as Aquarelle in the 6th (or 8th) and Vert Vous in the 18th.
There are even designers of flower fashion, such as Annie Uzureau of Chapeau Melon. Uzureau, who formerly worked for Yves Saint Laurent and Marie Mercié, creates accessories too. But it’s her flower couture that’s in demand for weddings and other grand occasions.
Parisians debate imports versus homegrown blooms, but one signature spring flower is totally Made in France. This is le muguet de mai (lily of the valley), which, on May Day, is the number one national star. Les muguets hail from Nantes, Bordeaux and Ile-de-France. The charming tradition of buying a sprig of muguet on May 1st—for which you will pay at most a euro or two—goes all the way back to Charles IX. On May Day they’re everywhere, from supermarket shelves to the metro entrances.
If your lust for French florals is more epic, this is your year! The Château of Versailles will spend all of 2013 celebrating the 400th birthday of André Le Nôtre. That greatest of French gardeners landscaped not just Versailles (and Saint-Cloud and the Tuileries and Fontainebleau) but the French person’s favorite, Vaux-le-Vicomte. There, Le Nôtre’s landscaping is the star of what was a massive vanity project by the Sun King’s financier Nicolas Fouquet. When unveiled, its grandeur shamed that of the monarch himself—thus ending Fouquet’s career on the spot. Happily, though, it inspired Louis XIV to poach Le Nôtre for Versailles.
Both estates have full calendars celebrating Le Nôtre. At Versailles, my fave is the Grand Trianon’s decision to bring to life the King’s Herb Garden (July 2–September 29). This botanical reference collection, on rare vellum, will be exhibited. But its physical re-creation will be a unique symphony of period scents and colors. A separate note to royalists and fans of Marie Antoinette: this summer, the Orangerie at Montreuil is also opening (April 27–July 21). It’s a rare chance to investigate the world of Madame Elisabeth, sister-in-law of Marie Antoinette.
Finally, June brings a yearly must-see in Paris—the Parc du Bagatelle’s International Competition of Roses. Voting takes place in early June and is open to the public as well as pundits. Results will be announced on Thursday, June 13.