Your Everything Guide to the Must-See Gardens of Paris

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Your Everything Guide to the Must-See Gardens of Paris
Jardin des Plantes. Photo: Paris Tourist Office/ Amelie Dupont There are so many reasons to love Paris – museums, monuments, boutiques, food and atmosphere. However, an often overlooked element that largely contributes to all these experiences are its gardens. After Paris’s urban foundations were laid down by Louis XIV, the 19th century saw Napoleon III and his dream team of engineers, landscapers and gardeners put parks and gardens at the center of their extension and embellishment projects for the city. So how to choose from the 504 parks, gardens, squares, promenades, and community gardens there are today? I have picked some of my favorite gardens, highlighting their seasonal features and places to see nearby, as well as tips to make the most of your visit. Timing is a key factor – weekends are always more crowded than Monday to Friday. Early morning trips result in even fewer fellow visitors, and greater perfume from the flowers. Experiencing a garden at the end of the day is also a wonderful moment – again, it’s less crowded and the sunlight has a magical glow as it cuts through the trees. I’ve found this to be a good time to visit high-traffic gardens, such as Giverny. Opening and closing times and their exact addresses can be checked at www.parisinfo.com. Do use your senses when exploring a garden. Sight and smell are obvious, but the variety of leaf and bark textures can be surprising. The presence (or absence) of sounds also tells you something about the space, whether it’s leaves rustling, acorns crunching beneath your feet or the music of nearby water – cascading, bubbling or simply silent. Parc de Sceaux Having fallen in love with Paris 25 years ago, I have to admit that the songs and clichés about the city in the springtime are all true. I still remember leaving language class at the Sorbonne during April and discovering the double cherry blossoms. Their eye-catching nosegays are scattered through the city’s streets and squares – notably at the Jardin des Plantes and in the courtyard of the Petit Palais. However, to truly experience their beauty, the Parc de Sceaux, situated just south of Paris on the RER B train line, offers two bosquets worthy of the Japanese Hanami. André Le Nôtre conceived the entire garden for Louis XIV’s finance minister, Colbert, in 1670, although it was completed by his son and modified thereafter. The castle is now an interesting museum about the Île-de-France region. Like many of the gardens designed by Le Nôtre, it’s composed around far-reaching perspectives and features a multitude of spaces and fountains, including the recently renovated boxwood parterres, an Orangerie, rolling lawns and the beautiful Aurora pavilion. Le Nôtre’s gardens were planned with eternity in mind, as reflected by the choice  of such evergreens as boxwood and yew. The ephemeral charm of the park’s ‘North’ and ‘South’ cherry bosquets are all the more delightful and precious, not to mention a perfect picnic location. Train: RER B to ‘Sceaux’ or Parc de Sceaux Albert Kahn, Musée et Jardin A hidden treasure along the quays of the Seine in the town of Boulogne-Billancourt are the gardens of the Musée Albert Kahn. Having created a sizable fortune and a bank of his own by the age of 40, Kahn devoted the rest of his life and his wealth to promoting world peace through engendering knowledge and respect among people. His estate and garden mirror the cultural diversity he so admired and became the backdrop for his foundation. Kahn’s eight-acre park was restored in the spirit of its creator and displays a range of styles in a complementary fashion. There are two Japanese gardens illustrating his passion for Asian plants, featuring a typical village scene and a contemporary space designed around a water pool and a mountain of azaleas. Man-made elevations and narrow winding paths completely erase the garden’s boundaries and the city’s presence. A formal French garden is lined with climbing roses and spring-flowering fruit trees that lead to an English meadow filled with fritillaria and daffodils. Three distinct forests are evoked through the colors and scents of cedars, spruces and pines, and a water lily pond and prairie. Recently reopened after a big restoration (summer 2020). Metro: Boulogne-Pont de St Cloud Parc Floral On the eastern edge of Paris sits the Parc Floral, the largest of the city’s five botanical gardens. It faces the Château de Vincennes and was carved out of an old military site before being transformed into a valley of flowers in 1969. The permanent collections include peonies, irises, medicinal plants and riotous flower beds that give a new meaning to the words ‘Flower Power’. The park is punctuated with contemporary sculptures and the open-air Delta auditorium, which hosts jazz and classical concerts in the summer. It’s also home to two international floral competitions, which see 250 varieties of tulips displayed in the spring, and just as many dahlias each autumn. An amazing parade of color occurs under the shade of the park’s Corsican pines from March to May, thanks to the camellia, magnolia and rhododendron collections. A playground, picnic area and mini-golf course make the Parc Floral a very child-friendly destination. Metro: Château de Vincennes Parc des Buttes-Chaumont During the summer months in Paris, the days grow longer and the Parisians start to leave the city – it’s a great time to visit the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, which is situated in the
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Amy Kupec Larue has been living, working and traveling in Europe for 30 years. Her passion for flowers, plants and the French art de vivre led her to a career that combines her knowledge, interests and vast experience with gardens. Since 2005 she has been guiding individuals and groups including the Pacific Horticulture Society, the New York Botanical Garden and the Garden Club of America on tours through public and private gardens in France and Italy. A rose lover, she has been a permanent jury member of the Bagatelle Rose Commission since 2009. Currently Amy is offering armchair travel opportunities through her virtual garden talks; sign up on her website (https://www.gardenguideparis.com/online-offerings)

Comments

  • Karen Burns
    2018-01-04 19:06:04
    Karen Burns
    Loved this. Thank you.

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