Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Secret Gardens of Paris

The one thing I love about gardens, about from their scented pleasures, is the fact that they are completely egalitarian.

A garden doesn't judge you on your wealth or status; it doesn't care whether you went to a private school or a public one; whether you fly Economy or Singapore Airlines Sleeper Suites; whether you earn half a million or an author's wage. It doesn't sneer if you have the wrong shoes; if you have the wrong handbag; if you've forgotten to apply your lipstick when you rushed out the door  in a flurry of hurry. It doesn't mind if you're not wearing Chanel or Balmain, if you caught a cold on the plane, if you utter a quiet profanity when you trip over the 'Do Not Walk On The Grass' chain. It doesn't even care if you don't want to talk. In fact, it rather likes the silence. Shhhhh, it says gently. Can't you see people are trying to think?

A garden is a place where all things are equal, and all people are too. Rich or poor, homeless or haute couture, a garden is open to all. There are no class distinctions here. So you can check your social anxiety in at the gate. And your airs and graces too.

A garden is a place of worship, but it's not necessarily about God. Unless you look upon Mother Nature as a deity. (As I do.) It's a place of faith, in the sense that once you enter, life just seems to become inexplicably better. It's a place of contemplation, rejuvenation, salvation. A place where anything can happen, even if nothing does. A garden is a saviour for the soul, a tonic for contemporary life, a last-chance place to find grace.

I love gardens. I'm only a starter gardener, but I suspect I will be a worshipper my whole life.

Here, in horticultural tribute to the gardens of Paris, are some of the more enchanting oases in this botanical-loving city. I was so inspired by them that when I arrived home at midnight last night I couldn't wait to get up at 6AM and water my own humble backyard patch. That's the other thing about gardens. They inspire you to live life to its fullest.

Oh – and I apologise for not getting back to emails and comments before now. Am suffering from terrible jet lag, although it's possibly from staying up late to watch the New York news! Thank you for all your lovely notes. Looking forward to replying to them all now.

The beautiful parterre of the courtyard of the Carnavalet Museum in the Marais. 
Sublime on a summer's day. Sublime on any day, really.

The  Orangerie at Versailles. 
Many visitors miss this in the shuffle from the Palace to Grand Canal. And that's a crime. It's spectacular. There's just no other word for it. It's beyond spectacular. 
Built by Jules Hardouin-Mansart before work on the main palace had even begun, it was designed to both shelter the tender citrus plants and impress the palace's visitors. There are more than a thousand trees, all of them in beautifully constructed Versailles planters. (Those are worth seeing on their own.) Most of the trees are orange trees, and many are 200 or 300 years old. 
I saw this just before the gardeners put the trees away for the winter (which happens at the end of October). I spent an hour walking around this part of Versailles. It was a glorious autumn morning, and the garden just glowed.

The gardens of the exquisitely tiny, doll's house-style Petit Trianon palace at Versailles.
And the even tinier Pavillion Français next to it. 
No wonder Marie Antoinette like to retreat here to escape the royal pompousness of the palace. I'd happily spend my life wandering up and down its pleached avenues, too. Even the lantern was deocrated with intricate ivy.

The grand gardens of Versailles. 
And the garden architecture within it.
Have you ever seen such craftsmanship? Incredible.
(Have you some of noticed my photos are on a lean? So strange. Perhaps one leg is shorter?)

The enthralling Pavilion Frais.
Which is tucked away behind the Pavillion Français.
(Which, in turn, is tucked away behind the Petit Trianon. It's like a Russian Doll of gardens; each one smaller than the last!) 

Of the three of these gardens, the Petit Trianon, the Français and the Frais, the Frais was by far my favourite. The trelliswork was extraordinary. Also known as the Salon Frais or the Pavillon du Treillage, it was constructed under the reign of Louis XV and designed by the renowned Ange-Jacques Gabriel, the “Architecte du Roi”, considered by many to be one of the greatest French architects of the 18th century. (He also did the Versailles Opera and the Place de la Concorde). He designed the entire Petit Trianon triptych, including the Petit Trianon, and the Pavillons Français and Frais. 
Unlike the Petit Trianon, which was Marie Antoinette's own private residence, the one-room Pavillon Frais was used primarily on warm spring and summer days as a private dining room by the Queen and her courtiers. It was a charming garden hideaway with elaborate, intricate trelliswork featuring garden motifs in stone, bordered on each side by two grand pillars adorned on top with topiary spheres. The whole structure was painted in delicate shade of spring green. The interior was decorated with walls of beautiful boiseries (sculpted with garlands and flowers), mirrors, a chimney and a savonerie carpet. The surrounding garden had two oval pools on the inner sides of two symmetrical rectangular flower beds whose outer sides had fan palms in the centre. The two pools were surrounded by slabs of Languedoc marble, like the chimney of the pavilion, paved with two-coloured stones and decorated with a water spout.
The Pavillon Frais was destroyed in 1810, its portico pulled down the following year and its pools filled in between 1830 and 1840. The restoration of the pavilion only began in 1980, but was interrupted. It was only thanks to the sponsorship support American Friends of Versailles that the restoration was finished. As you can see, I was utterly enthralled by this magical place.

There's an amazing doco about the restoration of it here.

The west side of the Luxembourg Gardens.
This side is less crowded than the east. 
And more enchanting, in my opinion.

The quiet grandeur of the Tuileries. 
Just look at those enormous urns propped above the Rue du Rivoli entrance. 
If you find a serene corner – and there are many – you'll have one of the best places to have a picnic lunch in Paris.

The Garden Bookshop in the Tuileries Gardens
A great place to find unusual gardenalia. On the day I was there it had even planted its own whimsical garden out front. Just lovely.

The Petit Palais. 
Situated opposite the more famous Grand Palais (Lagerfeld's favourite new spot in Paris: he calls it "the new heart of the city"), the Petit Palais is a small pocket of stillness in the bustling madness of the inner city. The galleries themselves are worth a wander but it's the cafe and exotic tropical garden in the very centre of the building that are the real drawcards, I think. The queue to eat here was 40 minutes. And no wonder.

The secret garden of the Cour de Rohan, in the 6th.
An idyllic street that's only open on Wednesdays when the locals reluctantly allow the tourists a peek.

Rue du Furstenberg. 
It's not a garden as such, but just try to walk through it and not feel a sense of wonder. Delacroix's Museum is also here. That's a garden worth seeing too.

The private gardens of Montmartre.
Even the window boxes of geraniums were splendid.

The gardens of Hermes.
I couldn't obtain access to the rooftop garden of Hermes this visit, as the notice was too short, but I hope to in the future. In the meantime, the window merchandising was enough. The displays were  gorgeous. I was so inspired I bought a small bottle of the new fragrance Un Jardin Sur Le Toit (or 'A Garden on the Roof”). Whenever I spray it, it reminds me of this glorious week in Paris.


  1. Dear Janelle
    This afternoon I'm feasting on your beautiful images. Love the way you colour coordinate the posts, the previous one with fabulous pinks and metallic golds, this one the lovely greens and autumnal golds of nature with the wonderful washed honey cream colours of most of the buildings. Some of my favourite Paris gardens!
    We were thrilled to discover the gardens and cafe of Le Petit Palais when we attended the YSL exhibtion in June about two years ago (luckily there wsn't such a queue for the cafe, but we had to wait over an hour to get into the exhibition because they'd only let small numbers in at a time).
    Wonderful to find out about some of the ones we hadn't yet discovered, like the Cour de Rohan. Also Versailles, so like a Russian doll - with so many more wonders to discover inside! You've made me realise there are so many things we haven't yet seen there. We walked for miles in the the gardens with friends who lived not far away at Le Vesinet on a summer Sunday back in the seventies. All the fountains were playing. Very beautiful. But I don't think Le Petit Trianon or the little pavilions were open to the public back then - or restored. We've gone back since several times but haven't ventured quite so far. Would also love to see Le petit hameau.
    How wonderful if you could get to see the real jardin sur le toit at Hermes!
    Loved your philosophical comments on gardens and their beauties. And moods too, I think, of gardens at different times of the year. From the bareness and often the bleakness of a garden in winter to the green freshness of spring and the joyous colours of roses and irises and others, then the misty autumn mornings with the greens and golds you've pictured. Best wishes, Pamela

    1. Isn't the Petit Palais marvellous Pamela? I hadn't realised how lovely it was. And as for Versailles - the Petit Trianon is the loveliest part of the park, I think. But I'm like you: i miss things all the time. It was only after I'd spent the entire day wandering around the PT that I realised there were tours of the upper mezzanine and attic floors! (Which were not widely publicised.) I was so annoyed at myself. But that just means another visit! And the hamleau is so enchanting, especially the little kitchen gardens. But it's a long hike there. You can take the little train, or hire a bike, as I did, which is much more fun.

      So thrilled you may be coming on the Garden Tour! I was so overjoyed to read that. I apologise for not responding sooner; have been suffering ferocious jetlag for the first time in years. Will email you details as soon as we fix up the final hiccups. Will be lovely to walk through the gardens with you. And don't worry: I'll look after everyone. xx

    2. Dear Janelle
      I'm so thrilled about the tour! As you know I was eating my heart out over it. Wonderful husband has said to go and enjoy it. He knows we used your Paris book as our bible in getting around the city this year to places we weren't familiar with. He has great faith in your powers.
      I look forward to receiving the details when ready. Then I'll start checking out Best Flights. Will probably stay on a little longer to meet up with old English friends. With best wishes, Pamela

  2. Your photographs are fabulous, they have given us a magical little trip to Paris
    without leaving home

    1. Dearest Bumble, I tried to remember the secondhand bookshop you recommended in London as I was walking around, but couldn't. Nevermind. Shall have to write up a proper list of everyone's recommendations for next year's trip! Loved your post on the garden. So enthralled by it, every time I see it. xx

  3. So, so beautiful. I love your list - filing it away for the next time I'm lucky enough to go to Paris. Also love that you bought the new Hermes fragrance to remind you of your trip and the gardens of Paris. xx

    1. I'm hoping we can organise a Paris tour for bloggers next year Heidi. Wouldn't that be lovely? I found some incredible gardens that Carolyn Roehm recommended. Am hoping we can get in to see the Hermes garden too. Perhaps late June / July? (As Paris is unfailingly rainy in May.) Still trying to organise it all... xx

  4. Beautiful photos and intelligent text. You do spoil us! The Hermes fragrances are so delicious, I was all set to buy Un Jardin apres la Mousson, but got all frugal! Good on you buying the new one, as a memento of your latest Paris trip.

    1. You impress me with your frugality Claire. I tried to be frugal on this trip - and was mostly successful. Although I DID buy the new, three-book set of Robert Polidori's photographs on the restoration of Versailles: a whopping 8 kilos that I had to hide in my handbag at the CDG / Singapore Airlines check-in desk! It's my partner's Xmas gift to me. So now we can't afford to buy anything else. xx

  5. As always a lovely (visual )Ode to Paris .

    I did have a giggle when reading the paragraph about gardens not judging would have big problems if you thought they did !

    1. I know! Can you imagine the judgement I'd get? A poor author, wearing no lipstick, dressed in a $5 apple-green trenchcoat from a Gap sale in New York?! I'd be kicked out of the garden if there were standards for entering. xx PS AND my French is atrocious. They'd have something to say about that as well.

    2. apple green trench coat sounds gorgeous !

  6. I am new to reading blogs and i just wanted to say how truly beautiful and inspiring yours is. I have taken a peek at some of the other blogs that you have recommended but i always keep coming back to yours. It is the best by far. Everything from the layout to the topics to the beautiful photographs (yes even the ones on a lean!) are sublime. I cant tell you how excited i get when i see a new post of yours pop up in my inbox. Its like unwrapping a beautiful present. I am a Melbourne girl like yourself and i just want to thank you for brightening my days with your beautiful blog.

    1. Dear Anonymous, That is such a lovely comment. Thank you. I'm very touched. Have often thought about giving up this blog, as it's just a ramble really, and probably very boring! But there's a handful of wonderful readers who keep me going. I'm so pleased you took the time to comment. It's always lovely hearing from people. I hope you'll pop in again soon.
      With very best wishes, J x
      PS Thank you for being so kind about the lopsided photos. Hope I don't put your neck out from leaning! xx

  7. Hello Janelle ,Another fabulous post,it has been so enjoyable looking at all these tucked away and beautiful nooks in Paris. I will visit them in April I can not wait to go and seek them out with my husband.I feel inspired and excited just looking at these photos.I can not believe how you put all these posts together after such a long journey.I hope that you have caught up with some sleep.Have a wonderful weekend.x Trish

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful note Trish. Great to hear from you. Hope these ideas have given you some food for thought ("gardens for thought"?) for when you go to Paris in April. Do let me know if I can recommend any more Parisian places for you. Have a wonderful trip! xx

  8. I have just discovered your exquisiteness Janelle...very very lovely. Please don't ever stop.
    Have never been to Paris (sigh) but have dreamt of it for as long as I can remember. Never been the right time. One day. In the meantime I will be able to soothe my longing heart sharing your luscious photos and writing. Thankyou, Gabrielle.

    1. Thank you for your lovely note Gabrielle. So kind of you to write. Hope to get to Paris some day!

  9. Well I certainly hope you don't give up your blog Janelle, it is a delicious diversion and so informative. I have your Paris and Provence books and I love dipping in and out of them. We are New Zealanders and will be back to Paris and Provence in August and September, so I have been ooking at your books quite often while I am home recuperating from an operation. Have just been reading your piece on new places to stay in London and took your link to the two Zetter Townhouses which I had not heard of before - so thank you.

    1. Thank you so much for your gracious note. I'm thrilled that the Provence and Paris books were useful for your trip(s), and hope you had a lovely time - and continue to do so! I also hope you recover rapidly from your op, and find some wonderful books to keep you distracted from it all!


Thank you for stopping by. It's always lovely hearing from The Library's readers.

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