The Bard in the Bois: The Shakespeare Garden at the Pré Catelan

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The Bard in the Bois: The Shakespeare Garden at the Pré Catelan
From afar, the urban forests to the east (Bois de Vincennes) and the west (Bois de Boulogne) of the capital may seem like an endless collection of tall trees on the outskirts of town and devoid of convenient metro stations, but I beg to differ. What were once the hunting grounds of kings are now rich depositories of cultural and botanical gems, with restaurants, streams, rowboat-dotted lakes and, of course, lots of tall trees. The ticket booth at the open-air theater. © Amy Kupec-Larue One of my favorite hidden corners in the Bois de Boulogne is the lesser known Shakespeare Garden and its open-air theater. Much like a Matryoshka doll, this garden is tucked into the western edge of another garden called the Pré Catelan, which is nestled between the Lac Inferior and the Allée de la Reine Marguerite. While the Pré Catelan garden is a relatively small space, it has a long and eventful history: its namesake was Louis XIV’s hunting capitain, Théophile Catelan, while the French word pré means meadow. View of the stage from the entrance of the Shakespeare Garden © Amy Kupec-Larue During the restoration of the Bois de Boulogne in the mid-19th century, this prairie became a quarry, supplying sand and gravel for the newly designed paths and winding roads through the forest. When the work was completed, it became an amusement park in 1858 with rides, an aquarium, magic shows, a photography studio, a brewery, and even a dairy that served warm milk directly from the cows. Parisians also flocked to this picturesque setting for its open-air theater, appropriately named the Theatre des Fleurs, or Floral Theater, with seats for 1800 spectators. It was wildly successful when it opened to the public thanks to the beautiful floral decorations, the quality of its productions as well as its proximity to the highly fashionable restaurant, also named the Prè Catelan. Orchestra pit at the open-air theater. © Amy Kupec-Larue Regrettably, the occupation and civil unrest which followed the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 brought an end to all this fun, damaging the garden and decimating the newly restored and burgeoning forest. While the Pré Catelan garden and some of its features were eventually restored, foliage replaced the flowers in the open-air theater, which operated only briefly before the demolition of what remained of the stage and bleachers after the First World War.
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Lead photo credit : Une soirée au Pré Catelan. 1909. By Henri Alexandre Gervex. © Public Domain, Wikimedia commons

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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)