Tennis and Tropics: Roland Garros and the Auteuil Greenhouses

Tennis and Tropics: Roland Garros and the Auteuil Greenhouses
The contemporary greenhouses at the Porte d’Auteuil are teeming with chlorophyll-filled treasures … and a sizable surprise! The greenhouses of Auteuil are one of four locations of the acclaimed Botanical Garden of Paris. Its name in French, Les Serres d’Auteuil, comes from the verb serrer, which means to squeeze, as tender plants were often “squeezed” into greenhouses or conservatories for safekeeping during the cold winter months. Originally these greenhouses were built to grow and propagate the many plants and flowers needed to decorate the city’s burgeoning public gardens in the late 19th century as well as acclimate and display tropical species from around the world. A third of its surface was amputated when the ring road, or péripherique, was created in the 1960s; the production of plants was then transferred to a location south of Paris. The most recent transformation to this charming botanical site on the cusp of the 16th district is a modern greenhouse… with a tennis court at its center! Plants from four continents surrounding the Simonne Mathieu tennis court (C) Amy Kupec-Larue Contrary to the peaceful beauty that normally reigns here, this contemporary greenhouse was at the heart of a prolonged and heated preservation battle. While the central, 19th-century greenhouses are protected as historical monuments, several smaller, recent greenhouses were knocked down to make room for the extension of the Roland Garros tennis site. A brilliant compromise was finally reached with the creation of a contemporary greenhouse surrounding the 5000-seat tennis court. The new glass structure was designed to harmonize with the older greenhouses and the tennis court is semi-sunken, allowing its height to be proportional to the older, central palmarium. The tennis court is used by Roland Garros for two months every year during the French Open, and the greenhouses are open to the public for the remaining 10 months of the year. Simonne Mathieu in 1926 (C) Agence Meurisse, Public Domain The court’s namesake, Simonne Mathieu, is an important yet forgotten figure of women’s tennis who won 13 Grand Slam titles throughout her international career. She was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1908 and began playing tennis as a teenager. Thanks to her formidable forehand and incredible determination, she began winning tournaments and debuted at Roland Garros in 1925. Despite reaching the finals on six different occasions, it wasn’t until 1938, having had two children, that she finally and remarkably won the women’s singles, the women’s doubles and the mixed doubles tournaments in the same year! When the Second World War interrupted her tennis career, she began her military career, joining the Resistance alongside General de Gaulle in London and commanding one of the first women’s auxiliary units. Upon her return to France in 1944, she had risen to the grade of captain in the Free French Forces and proudly worn her uniform while umpiring matches held at Roland Garros that year. After receiving the Légion d’Honneur and retiring from competitive tennis, her passion and dedication to this sport did not cease. She was the captain of the French Women’s tennis team for 12 years as well as working in the Committees Branch of the French Tennis Federation. Her nephew and great-grandson were present at the opening match in 2019 alongside the Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo and the former President of France Nicloas Sarkozy.

Lead photo credit : The plants in the Australian greenhouse represent three different biotopes from this continent. (C) Amy Kupec-Larue

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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 (