Le Jardin, C’est Moi

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.

Louis XIV
Louis XIV. This is what happens when your friends are afraid to say that you look ridiculous. Note the bare midriff.

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.

Versailles Gardens

 

Versailles Gardens
Looking back up at 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.

Versailles Gardens

 

Versailles Gardens

 

Versailles Gardens

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.

Versailles Gardens
Benches tucked away among the hedges, convenient for plotting intrigues.

 

Versailles Garden

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.

Versailles Gardens

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.

Versailles Gardens

 

Versailles Gardens

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.

Versailles Gardens

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.

32 Comments on “Le Jardin, C’est Moi

  1. I saw them both about 15 years ago and I had a similar opinion. Monet’s garden in Giverny was alive, warm and sensual. But of course there was a grandeur about Versailles that wowed me. My favorites there were the statues and fountains.I have a warm spot in my heart for Floriade in the Netherlands though because me and my hubby got engaged that year on that trip ❤

  2. I’ve only been to Paris in spring also, but am leading a group in June this year and am very excited to visit a bit later in the growing season. I have high hopes for Le Petit Hameau, Marie-Antoinette’s rustic village where she played at being a milkmaid. I loved your pics of Giverny–the sky in the waterlily pool is breathtaking.

    Are you planning another trip? I collect itineraries and find they are a great help when striking out on my own. You can view the June tour (everyone must want to go to France…it sold out in 3 weeks) at http://www.marianstclair.com.

    • I’ll take a look. We are talking about doing a trip in the fall – my wife has to fly a lot for work and she has a ton of airline mileage points built up. I’ll definitely take a look at your June tour.

  3. I don’t know how you other two posts slipped by me…but I’m going to have to go back and read them right after this! I agree with you about formal gardens…just not my thing. The severity is just monotonous…which, in large part, is why I don’t particularly care for modern/minimal gardens either. Still, you’re right, there is almost always something worthy taking away in any garden.

    • I’m not into the minimalist stuff either. There is a coldness to it, and to excessive formalism as well. Gardens should be about warmth, life, tranquility.

  4. Since I’ve not been to either it’s hard to judge just from photos…but I do agree with you. Could you imagine creating these gardens with the materials, they had at the time….lots of work.

    Jen

  5. The formality of Versaille, and many less significant gardens of that time, were pure expression of how idle the idle rich were: you can’t have something like that and maintain it yourself. The rise of the middle class meant that common folk could now have gardens, the ornamental kind: relaxed planting styles essentially say, “I do my own work!” Did you know that Cottage Gardener magazine has been around in England since at least the 1840’s? I saw it as a bibliographic reference in some reading I did recently, but the 1840’s saw the entrenchment of the Industrial Age and the normalizing of private property ownership. I abhor the poodle-y emulations of formal style that proliferate so in the subdivisions and minimansion developments around me ( including my in-laws’ yard). I think you can always tell how much someone is willing to pay for maintenance services by the amount of bare mulch showing between plants. No one gardens like that who has to weed for their own self…but where is the enjoyment in that?

  6. Hi Jason, thanks for the picture tour. I’ve never been and I hope you had a good time. The primary purpose of gardens such as these is to demonstrate the status, wealth and power of the owner and make you feel small and insignificant. You’re not really meant to enjoy it! The grand scale and strict regimental planting symbolises the control the owner has over nature and how they have bent it to do their bidding. In the end it was all a phase. Cottage gardening is the latest fashion.

  7. I have always wanted to go to Versailles. I think I would absolutely love the grandeur – especially those fountains. And all those bulbs! Oh, my! It really is extremely formal. I bet every weed – if one dared to grow there – stood out! Personally, I love formal mixed with abundance, and I think perhaps this is what Versailles may be missing to you. The eye needs a little escape. If there were plantings that were hanging over the edges it would look completely different. Still, I think I would love to visit here and wonder how it would feel to reign over this all.

    • I suspect OCD was not the worst of his issues. But that is a good point, perhaps the whole thing is somewhat softened in the summer.

  8. While I find this sort of garden to be incredibly boring, I also admire the structure and discipline of plant choice which is something that my OMG- I -love -every -plant -I -see- and- plant- one -of -each garden lacks.

    • I would like to see Versailles after it was redesigned by someone like yourself. Imagine all the plants you could fit in! As it is, Versailles is really not about the plants.

  9. Yes, it all looks too perfect and regimented to me. Still, interesting to view as you say. The historical significance is fascinating, though.

  10. Especially… thank you for this tour. I just talked with my cousin on planning a trip to Paris. Her ex-husband is from France and she spent a lot of time there, so it will be great to have a tour guide, but your images show places I want to see as a tourist.

  11. Ha, I can totally see those gardens turned into a background for some sort of horror movie, between the abnormally structured rows of trees and some of those rather grotesque statues! The scale is quite impressive, though!

  12. It’s an interesting garden but I agree with your analysis. It’s just too full of itself and those weird hedges give me the creeps. I’ll take a meadow any day. Anal retentive garden design just isn’t my style.

  13. I can see why you put the view as one of your favourite things about this garden. Wow, can you imagine what it must have been like looking down on a full court of men and women sauntering through those gardens back in the day set against the fountains and canal in the background. What a sight.

  14. I am also no fan of this type of garden, though I would still like to see it for myself. It is all about control and dominion.

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