By Liliana Usvat
Kings and queens knew of healing power of a forest so their palaces had forests incorporated in architectural design of their gardens. An sample of such a forest is the forest of Versaille.
In 1661, Louis XIV commissioned André Le Nôtre with the design and laying out of the gardens of Versailles which, in his view, were just as important as the Château.
The works were undertaken at the same time as those for the palace and took forty years to complete. But André Le Nôtre did not work alone:
Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Superintendent of the King’s Buildings, directed the project from 1664 to 1683;
Charles Le Brun, appointed First Painter of the King in January 1664, produced the drawings for a large number of statues and fountains; and, a little later, the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart drew up increasingly understated scenic plans and built the Orangerie.
Lastly, the King had all the projects submitted to him and wanted the “details of everything”.
The laying out of the gardens required enormous work. Vast amounts of earth had to be shifted to lay out the flower beds, the Orangerie, the fountains and the Canal, where previously only woods, grasslands and marshes were.
The earth was transported in wheelbarrows, the trees were conveyed by cart from all the provinces of France and thousands of men, sometimes whole regiments, took part in this vast enterprise.
Versailles has a significant heritage in plant life, which cannot be “reduced” to the 800 hectares of the palace park… In fact, the communal area also includes 12 hectares of squares, gardens and parks.
Versailles has the King’s Kitchen Garden, Parc Balbi, the Domaine of Madame Elisabeth, some thirty public squares, … but it also has a forest environment, to the delight of the lovers of green tourism: National Forest of Fausses-Reposes, forest parks in Picardy, Porte Verte and Nouettes, the Gonards woods, Saint-Martin woods, and Cerf-volant woods in Satory, adding up to over 7 m² of green space per inhabitant…
Louis XIV asked J.-B. de La Quintinye, the gardener, to install a kitchen garden capable of providing for the court in a marsh with the evocative name of “étang puant” (stinking pond).
Work was carried out efficiently between 1678 and 1682: in spite of the poor terrain and still rudimentary resources, La Quintinye developed the culture of fresh fruit and vegetables here and was able to provide the king’s table with asparagus in January and strawberries in March, along with figs and even melons!
It measures 9 hectares and maintains its original subdivisions, earning it classification as a Historical Monument in 1926
Its fruit trees, for their part, have been given extremely varied shapes, thanks to the presence of the Ecole Nationale d’Horticulture between 1873 and 1995, whose know-how carries on today, to the visual and gustatory delight of its visitors… students of the Ecole Nationale Supérieure du Paysage now work in the areas bordering the kitchen garden.
Close to the King’s Garden there is a pleasant public garden named Parc Balbi.
Address Parc Balbi:
12 rue du Maréchal Joffre.
Entrance via the cul-de-sac beside the Lycée Jules Ferry.
This is the garden of the property developed in 1785 by J.-F. Chalgrin for the countess of Balbi, the mistress of the Count of Provence, who was Louis XVI’s brother.
Nothing remains of the buildings, but the park still has its stream, its belvedere and its vast grotto, set in the greenery so characteristic of Eighteenth Century English-style gardens.
Domain of Madame Elisabeth
Established in 1770 by the Prince and Princess of Rohan-Guéméné, the property was acquired by Louis XVI when the couple, who had accumulated important responsibilities at the court, went bankrupt. The king then gave it as a gift to his young sister, Madame Elisabeth, in 1783.
She asked her architect to make changes, but the house, turned into a factory under the Revolution, has since been further modified. The estate, which includes a magnificent park, has belonged to the Regional authority of Yvelines since 1983. It regularly holds exhibitions in the adjoining orangery.
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- October 8 Part 2 Versailles. Petit Trianon, Queen’s Hamlet (memoriesinfrance.wordpress.com)
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- What is important to the French? France! (joeandmarymoore.wordpress.com)
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