Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that Judy and I took our first ever trip to Paris back in April. I’ve already posted about Monet’s garden at Giverny, as well as the Luxembourg Gardens. Now I’m finally tackling one last part of the trip: the gardens at the Palace of Versailles.
You may already know that Versailles was built by Louis XIV, whose reign is considered the pinnacle of pre-revolutionary France. #14 was not known for his humility. His minions dubbed him the Sun King, a nickname he probably encouraged. It was also he who famously said, “L’etat, c’est moi” (I am the nation).
The gardens at Versailles are worth seeing, but I cannot say I really thought they were beautiful. There were elements of the gardens I admired. However, I found the overall effect to be oppressive, due I think to the regimented landscape and an overdone opulence.
But let’s start with the positive, so here are four things I did like about Versailles.
Vistas. You’ve got to hand it to Andre Le Notre, who designed Versailles – he knew how to create a view. Of course, money was no object, and he did not hesitate to change the topography so that it sloped down through a central axis to a cross-shaped canal built especially for the palace.
Fountains. Most of the fountains were not yet in operation due to the early season, but even so some had statuary that were just plain exciting.
Niches. There were several pebble walks running parallel to the central axis, bordered by high hedges on both sides. Occasionally there were seating locations tucked in among these hedges. They would also open up for more fountains and statuary.
Bulbs. Well, it was April, and many of the beds were full of tulips and daffodils. These are always beautiful no matter where they are.
So, what didn’t I like? First off, everything was just too regular and geometrical. Even formal gardens need at least a touch of wildness, or all the vitality gets sucked out of them. And the clipped shrubs standing in rank like soldiers were a bit much. The monumental scale of the gardens accentuates the feeling of regimentation.
Plus, some of the shrubs were clipped into shapes that were just silly (see above), especially the little pom-poms on top. Honestly, I was embarrassed for them. Also, all those white marble statues and giant urns were monotonous. There were just too many of them.
I would say the Versailles Gardens are definitely worth seeing, for the historical value if nothing else. But if you are in Paris, and have time for just one day trip to see a garden – go to Giverny, not Versailles.