Tag Archives: Versailles Planter



IMG_4060 (1)               Petit Palais garden with pool, palm trees and golden swags.

I was so surprised by the iridescent energy of the garden of the Petit Palais when I visited this month that I stayed out much too long taking in the different views, framed here by a pair of heavy leaved palm trees…

IMG_4056Petit Palais Garden  – pool and palm trees

…and here, guided by the upward-sweeping branches of the cherry trees with their copper-brown trunks and rosy haze of grasses behind and electric green eyes of just-opening Euphorbia characias in front.
IMG_4106Petit Palais garden – grasses, cherry tree, euphorbia

It is a freezing, clear-skied January morning in Paris. The vistas are open and enticing, huge expanses of pale grey and blue laced with gold:

IMG_4021              Pont Alexandre III, Paris.

A glimpse through a side-door into the empty cavern of a between-exhibitions Grand Palais gets my heart thumping – I am always happily seduced by the heady potential of a rough studio-like space:
                                               Side entrance to the Grand Palais. 

Up the steps and through the imposing arch of the gilded Beaux- Arts doorway – The Petit Palais art museum was built in 1900 for the Exhibition Universelle and then completely renovated over four years from 2001-2005 –

IMG_4022Petit Palais entrance.

and then into the sweep of sunlit corridors of this entirely circular building, with towering glass doors and windows in every direction.


A series of windows overlooking the Seine.

The floors are entirely of mosaic in subtle shades of rust, green, black and mustard against soft white:

IMG_4126Mosiac floor, entrance hall, Petit Palais.

The spacious exhibition halls glide seamlessly into a curved outdoor loggia, with a pair of deep blue and white Sèvres porcelain pots on plinths coaxing you on. The swirling mosaic of the floor is punctuated with lovely circular frosted aqua glass sky lights.

IMG_4035IMG_4043 (2)External loggia, Petit Palais, with a pair of Sèvres porcelain pots on plinths.

Even the curving ceiling of the loggia is decorated with a brown-on-gold trellis festooned with powder blue clematis and pink roses:

IMG_4098The Loggia ceiling, Petit Palais.

Looking back against the interior wall of the loggia, the delicate, punched metal chairs and deep green marble tables add just another layer to the subtle grandeur.

IMG_4050Perfectly judged café chairs and table, Petit Palais.

And then, between the soaring scale of the grey-brown Vosges granite columns, you get your first proper look at the garden.

IMG_4053The Petit Palais garden, framed by Vosges granite columns.

If you look up you see the pale gold swags silhouetted against the sky:IMG_4055




Decorative gold swags silhouetted against the sky

If you look across, out into the garden, you begin to get an idea of the intoxicating lushness of the place.

IMG_4048The lush planting of the Petit Palais garden

This interior courtyard was always intended to provide a breathing place for visitors to the gallery itself. It is a grand but inviting framework for a garden – a deftly designed space with curves and columns of the palest mustard, grey and pink stone, with the deeper tones of the roof tiles and the uplifting gleam of decorative gold.  IMG_4083                                  View along the central axis of the Petit Palais garden.

IMG_4105Curves and columns of the Petit Palais garden.

IMG_4103Close up swirly marble table top and skinny milk-green café chair against strong shapes in pale stone.

It has a fundamental dynamism which invites you in to explore and – enriched by simply brilliant  planting – every view is different.
IMG_4060Palm trees adding structure, gloss and glamour.

I love the mix of tropical plants with grasses and evergreen shrubs and perennials. Palm trees add structure, gloss, glamour and a constant sense of surprise. I have never seen the delicate scattered flowers of the winter flowering cherry Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ against the weighty arching branches of a banana tree, but here the combination works brilliantly, not least perhaps because of the glint of gold peeping through.

IMG_4059Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ against banana leaves.

Tough stalwarts of the shadier garden are employed with confidence and energy. Here the waxy dark green leaves and perky just opening flower buds of Fatsia japonica look fresh and handsome against the golden stone:
IMG_4111                                                        Fatsia japonica, Petit Palais garden.

IMG_4044 (1)

Euphorbia characias, Acanthus, Fatsia japonica and Bergenia provide an understory for the deciduous trees.

Elsewhere Euphorbia, Acanthus, Bergenia and Yucca plants combine to make a strong rich green understory for the deciduous trees. I have seen photographs of these cherry trees in spring when their vase-shaped branches are covered in deep pink. This is their moment to swan around outrageously like dancers from the Folies Bergères and I would love to catch the sight for myself.

The other surprising element of the garden is the extensive use of grasses. Here is the most elegant use of pampas grass I know, and the Miscanthus sinensis look graceful and distinguished with their pale fragile heads and rosy winter foliage.



IMG_4109Grasses, including Pampas grass Cortaderia selloana & Miscanthus sinensis, Petit Palais garden.

On either side of the main steps into the garden there are two magnificent fleets of strapping white-painted Versailles planters filled with handsome specimens of palm tree and Magnolia grandiflora:

IMG_4074IMG_4115 IMG_4080

Versailles planters with specimens of palm and Magnolia grandiflora, Petit Palais garden.

I go into the café to warm up and eat an elegant slice of lemon cake with my coffee. “Bon appétit, Madame” says a guard, who is also taking a break. “You must have become very cold out there”. I can barely feel my fingers, but I have had a brilliant half hour. The guard leaves,  bows slightly and wishes me a ‘bonne journée’. I am indeed having a very good day, I think, as I gaze for one more time at the banana leaves and the dancing Miscanthus heads catching the winter light:
IMG_4119Winter heads of Miscanthus sinensis and banana leaves catching the winter sunlight, Petit  Palais garden.

Back in London, I am at the Royal Academy on a glowering January day, a week or so before the opening of its ravishing Painting the Modern Garden exhibition. I am still musing about what it takes to make a successful garden within the walls of a gallery or museum.

IMG_4266Royal Academy, Painting the Modern Garden, 30 January – 20 April 2016.

Clearly one of the main challenges is to create a garden that will look good all year round, often within a very limited space. I head for the Keeper’s House, now a restaurant, café and bar, open to RA friends until 4pm and after that to everyone. Tom Stuart-Smith created a garden here in 2013 in what he describes as ‘one of those curious architectural left over spaces’ with almost no natural light. His aim was to make the garden feel as if it has been dug out of the space with an ‘almost archaeological’ quality.

First glimpses of the garden from the windows of the sophisticated mohair velvet sofas of the Belle Shenkman room are as vibrant and seductive today as they would be in midsummer.



Views from the Belle Shenkman Room at the Royal Academy onto Tom Stuart-Smith’s garden.

The green of the spreading arms of the 250 year old Australian tree ferns brought into the UK under license is dazzling, and Stuart-Smith is superbly vindicated in his use of his favourite  grass, Hakonechloa macra. In its winter form it is a fiery, eye catching streak which lights up the garden further.

You have to go down a flight of stairs to start climbing back into the garden which is elegantly tiered and tiled throughout in dark brick so that the ground and walls are of the same deep earthy tones. The exuberant tree ferns are accompanied only by the hakonecholoa, the low-growing evergreen shrub Pittosporum tobira ‘Nanum’, with just two climbers, Trachelospernum jasminoides and Virginia Creeper for the walls and railings. Here, restraining the planting palette is key.


IMG_4294Ground level views of the Keeper’s House garden, Royal Academy.

When you look up, the energy of the tree ferns is celebratory and infectious.

IMG_4285Looking upwards, Keeper’s House garden, Royal Academy.

I go back into the gallery and start climbing the stairs. What Tom Stuart-Smith has achieved so cleverly is a garden that delivers from any level in the building. I look down through huge panes of glass from the second floor onto David Nash’s blackened wood sculpture, ‘King and Queen’.  The tree ferns and egg-yolk yellow grass are a wonderful foil for these dark figures. This is a fine platform for art and the Academicians must enjoy selecting work for this space.


IMG_4297IMG_4299IMG_4296View onto the Keeper’s House garden, Royal Academy, with ‘King and Queen’ by David Nash.

In 2010 my design partner, Helen Fraser, and I were asked to develop a planting scheme for a new garden at the South London Gallery on the busy Peckham Road.  IMG_4258IMG_4261Exterior of the South London Gallery with and without bus

The Fox Garden was a new space that emerged as part of the 6a architects‘ extension of this constantly innovative contemporary art gallery.


The garden would link the ncafé, NO. 67, with a new building, The Clore Studio, and was flanked on one side by the enormous exterior wall of the main 1891 gallery, and on the other by a tall garden wall.  A much simpler proposition than the Petit Palais or Keeper’s House gardens, but nonetheless a rather unevenly lit garden with the need to look good all year round and to offer change throughout the seasons. The noise and grime of the road outside would increase the sense of surprise when the visitor came across the garden for the first time.slg before 1slg before 2Framework of The Fox Garden – the towering gallery wall with elegant new buildings by 6a architects at either end and a wonderful, sinuous brick path.

Our solution was use tough, hard-working plants which could create an impact for as long a season as possible. The star plant has perhaps been Nandina domestica – or heavenly bamboo – which has thrived here and provides an almost constant succession of white flower sprays followed by red berries:

IMG_4255IMG_4243IMG_4253IMG_4256IMG_4250IMG_1463Nandina domestica – or heavenly bamboo – creating a lush and welcoming atmosphere in The Fox Garden, South London Gallery on a January day.

We have used three flowering dogwoods – Cornus kousa var Chinensis – including a fabulous almost outsize specimen directly outside the café. These illuminate the garden in June, matching the glamour of Paul Morrison’s covetable gilded wall painting in the café atrium, and provide a period of rich autumn colour.

slg cornus

IMG_5568Cornus kousa var Chinensis – with a close up of the beautiful white bracts which surround the tiny flowerhead.

Non Summer 2010 005Non Summer 2010 005

Views through to the flowering dogwood from the No. 67 dining room with its exhilarating  Paul Morrison gold mural.

IMG_2229Claret red autumn colour of the Cornus kousa var Chinensis with Lawrence Weiner’s swooping ‘wall sculture’ on the gallery wall, part of his 2014 ‘All in Due Course’ exhibition.

Other repeated plants are Euphorbia characias with its long lasting lime green bracts…IMG_2179                                      Euphorbia characias with its lime green bracts.

…and Libertia grandiflora which we love for its white flowers in May, long lasting seedheads, and year round architectural presence:

IMG_5567IMG_5555Libertia grandiflora which makes everyone smile the garden in May.

The Libertia even makes Heidi smile – Heidi, gardener of The Fox Garden, is of course the secret ingredient:IMG_5543                                        Heidi – The Fox Garden’s secret ingredient.

Happily it seems that gardens within museums and cafés are providing so much enjoyment that there are new gardens in development wherever you look. Right here in the South London Gallery a new garden by artist Gabriel Orozco is slowly emerging to be unveiled in the autumn of 2016.

A couple of miles away at the Garden Museum, next to Lambeth Bridge, Dan Pearson is designing a completely new garden within a substantial extension by Dow Jones Architects.


 Tradescant Knot Garden, Garden Museum – image thanks to www.culture24.org.uk.

The design has been a challenge, not least because a decision had to be made to lose the knot garden of the existing Tradescant Garden, but Garden Museum director Christopher Woodward tells me ‘Dan has designed a new garden which will try to startle the visitor with unusual shapes and beauties and surprise you with unfamiliar plants … I hope the space with have something of that atmosphere of the Zumpthor-Oudolf pavilion at the Serpentine a few years ago’.

ImageProposed garden café within the new Dow Jones Architects’ pavilions. Garden to be designed by Dan Pearson. Visualisation by Forbes Massie, image courtesy of The Garden Museum.

The Garden Museum is in the safest possible hands with the thoughtful and often magical input of Dan Pearson. The reference to my absolute favourite of the Serpentine Gallery‘s annual summer Pavilions – the 2011 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion designed by architect Peter Zumthor with planting by master plantsman Piet Oudolf  – makes the new garden a tantalising prospect.

I look through my photographs and find only a few hazy images of my visit to this blackened, open-roofed, box-like cloistered garden that landed for a few summer months next to the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens. I remember being surprised and deeply cheered by the almost physical pull this hidden garden had on passers-by on a completely beautiful day in an already completely beautiful green space. The contrast between the plain, rather severe building and the planting (which became taller and blousier and more relaxed as the summer wore on) was compelling, and the impact of sunlight and shadows on the space was exciting and dynamic.

IMG_4521Images of the Piet Oudolf planting within the Peter Zumthor Serptentine Gallery Pavilion, September 2011.

I hope that when it is warm again I will have the chance to return to Paris to visit a museum garden that fell off my list on my recent trip.  The Musée de la Vie Romantique is housed in a green shuttered villa in Montmartre which belonged to the 19th Century artist, Ary Sheffer. It is said to have a lovely garden and outdoor café with poppies, foxgloves and fragrant roses. I read somewhere that it is the perfect place to sit amongst the roses sipping tea and pretend to be Georges Sand who famously lived nearby. Now this is a whole new angle on museum garden visiting.

A piece I have written for The Daily Telegraph on other gardens to visit in Paris will be published in the Spring.














‘Versailles’ planter with palm, Versailles green, Versailles

As I sit down to write my November post – the starting point, a family half term trip to Paris – I am filled with an aching sadness that our memories of those cheerful and inspiring three days have been shaken upside down by the horrifying terrorist shootings which took place a week ago today.

But I am keen to take you back to our trip to Paris, one of many visits over my lifetime (indeed I spent a few months living in Paris as an Art History student in my Gap year) to rekindle the deep fondness I have for the city and for French life beyond the city, to show my support and to tell you about my commitment to be back there again in the spring.


Still I worry a little about starting my account with our first stop on our first day in Paris: a return visit to the ultimate sock shop, Mes Chaussettes Rouges .


Cheery ad for Gammarelli ecclesiastical finery sets the tone at Mes Chaussettes Rouges

 Mes Chaussettes Rouges is a small, delightfully eccentric shop which sells such wonders as long red socks by the Italian tailor, Gammarelli – the Pope wears the white versions – and long green socks in ‘vert académie’ by the French brand, Mazarin, the green knee-highs worn by members of the Académie Française.  Fundamentally, of course, these are excellent quality, traditional socks, which have been introduced to a wider market. And if you have married a certain kind of husband you will make him pretty happy if you spend a few minutes in this immaculate rainbow of a shop helping select some hosiery of exactly the right weight, length and shade of soft blue.

The finest gentlemen’s socks on display at Mes Chaussettes Rouges

Some homemade pasta and a glass of wine in the cosy Italian deli on the other side of the rue César Franck and then an afternoon only gently frogmarching our sixteen year old son to the Army Museum at Les Invalides.  We had discovered this excellent combination of socks and spaghetti only six months earlier when we visited in the spring with our older boys on our way to the France v. Wales rugby match at the Stade de France – a post exam celebratory treat.  How heavily the name ‘Stade de France’ sits in my stomach now after the Friday 13th shootings.

The Musée de l’Armée is an enormous, graceful, museum of pale Parisian stone with exhaustive collections. We are on a mission to discover more about Napoleon. We visit Napoleon’s extraordinary oversize marble tomb, are dazzled by Ingres’ mesmerising, high-gloss portrait of Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne – we are moved by his battered black hat (famously and symbolically turned on its side and worn the way a commoner would wear a hat) and admire cases of beautifully crafted flags and ceremonial clothing decorated with the most exquisite embroidery.


‘Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne’, Ingres, 1806


         Fragment of military Tricolor in quilted silk, Musée de l’Armée, Les Invalides, Paris

IMG_3266Detail of oak leaf embroidery in gold thread, late 18th Century French uniform

I have never even walked close to the Eiffel Tower before and am rather amazed to understand that I have agreed to a twilight visit .

IMG_3029Eiffel Tower, late October, late afternoon

But the tower looks elegant and a satisfyingly subtle shade of brown against the autumn leaves of the surrounding trees. I learn riveting facts about the painting of the Eiffel Tower. Originally, in 1887-8, it was painted a rich ‘Venetian Red’, in 1899 the tower was painted in shaded tones from yellow-orange at the base to light yellow at the top, in 1954-61 it was painted a ‘brownish red’ and since 1968 the exclusive ‘Eiffel Tower Brown’ paint has been used – a sort of milk chocolate grey-brown, a colour chosen to blend in with the Paris cityscape. Cunningly it is still painted in three different tones, darker at the bottom and lighter at the top to accentuate its height.

 I start to smile when we get to the top. I love spongy, painterly quality of these iPhone images capturing the glowing autumn colour and rhythmic layout of the trees along a network of pale Parisian paths.

IMG_3044IMG_3048IMG_3043Autumn colour along a network of pale paths viewed from the Eiffel Tower

Our son is completely riveted by the whiteness of the City’s architecture.  It is a privilege – and perhaps more so in retrospect –  to to see this silvery city lluminated by the last rays of sunshine:

IMG_3040Sunset over Paris, October 2015

When the last burst of red sunset has gone I enjoy the scale and very French precision of the stretch of green park – the ‘Champ de Mars’ – which leads to the École Militaire:

IMG_3042I love the pearly green of the elliptical central pool and the way the soft light of the water seems to fragment into sophisticated pockets of glowing green light as darkness falls:

IMG_3045The milky green of the elliptical pool, Le Champ de MarsIMG_3055IMG_3054Le Champ de Mars at night – an elegant network of green lights

The next day we travel out to the town of Versailles, only twenty minutes from the centre of Paris by train.  We have arranged to visit the grounds of the Château de Versailles – originally the hunting lodge of Louis XIII and transformed into a sumptuous palace by the Sun King, Louis XIV who moved the Court and government there in 1682, where they remained until the French Revolution in 1789.

Our plan is to get a feel for the 2000 acres or so of palace grounds – with the famous gardens, avenues of lime trees and the imposing Grand Canal designed by André Le Nôtre – and to travel around by bike. We stop first to buy a picnic lunch in a market square.

My heart stops at the sight of the perfect wooden Versailles planter, painted in a soft ‘Versailles Green’ containing a slightly ragged palm which fits perfectly with the gently sagging, peeling shutters on the building behind. Versailles planters were designed by Le Nôtre in the 17th Century so that the hundreds of orange trees at Versailles could be moved under cover for the winter with reasonable ease. They are brilliant, of course, for permanently potted trees and shrubs as the sides of the planter can be easily removed for root pruning. The ultimate source of the Versailles Planter today is the Parisian company  ‘Jardins du Roi Soleil’ who make the original design under licence in different sizes and twelves classic colours using a muscly cast iron frame, solid oak from the Auvergne and heavy duty steel bolts.


Versailles Planter with palm, Versailles Green, Versailles

ImageCast iron frame of the Jardins du Roi Soleil Versailles planter

And so with our picnic in our bicycle baskets, (baguettes ‘tradition’, fresh goats cheese studded with raisins and huge, speckled yellow ‘Pommes Golden’ – completely different to the insipid ‘Golden Delicious’ apples available in the UK ) we set off through the park gates:

IMG_3084Avenue of Lime Trees, Chateau de Versailles

It is a perfect, gently rich moment in the  year to see the park and the autumn colours are wonderful – I love the way the leaves gather in pools around the trees.

IMG_3086 IMG_3089 IMG_3085Autumn colour in the parkland, Château de Versailles

We visit the particularly curious Queen’s Hamlet given by Louis XVI to his Austrian bride Marie-Antoinette in 1783 – a model village based on rustic Normandy vernacular architecture. There are glimpses of the perfect country idyll in the individual buildings framed by neat kitchen gardens enclosed by gates and fences made from chestnut paling (see my post on the garden at the Prieure D’Orsan for really covetable uses of chestnut paling in a kitchen garden), but there is something a little forlorn about the atmosphere of this place.


The ‘Queen’s Hamlet’, Versailles

IMG_3099IMG_3102IMG_3100IMG_3101Rustic buildings with immaculate kitchen gardens, chestnut fencing and glowing autumn woodland behind, The ‘Queen’s Hamlet’, Versailles

In the more relaxed, fiery woodland surrounding the hamlet we sit for a while admiring this fine Malus transitoria – my favourite crab apple – which has a spreading cloud of white blossom in May and in autumn hundreds of tiny yellow fruit which hang like miniature pumpkins from crimson stems.


Malus transitoria

We cycle away towards Le Grand Trianon – built in 1687 for Louis XIV and described modestly by its architect, Mansart, as ” a little pink marble and porphyry palace with delightful gardens”.  The soft pinks and beiges of the palace frames the autumnal woodland beyond perfectly. It is interesting that Napoleon Bonaparte had the palace restored after the Revolution and enjoyed staying there with his wife, Empress Marie-Louise, and that in 1963 Charles de Gaulle had it restored and modernised for use as an official Presidential Residence.


The pink and beige arches of the Grand Trianon provide a perfect frame for the autumnal woodland beyond.

The regimented avenues of fastigiate hornbeam opposite the Grand Trianon are exhilarating in the richness of their gold leaves and the soaring precision of the way they are so grandly ordered.



Elegant avenues of fastigiate hornbeam

We cycle five or so kilometres around the Grand Canal and picnic at the far end enjoying the late afternoon sun lighting up battalion after battalion of impeccable lime tree:


Regiments of lime trees around the Grand Canal, Versailles catching the light

Inside the Palace itself it is a crazy international tourist bunfight, everyone wanting a piece of the dazzling Hall of Mirrors and the King and Queen’s ‘Grand Apartments’.  We have something else to catch before dusk so we hurtle through. I stop for a moment amongst the bustle to admire the brilliant succession of jewel-like colour in the rooms I am walking through. It would be wonderful to design a contemporary formal garden inspired by this intensity of colour – with a blue garden room, behind which is a garden of brightest green, and behind that perhaps a red garden and then a magenta garden …

IMG_3263IMG_3145IMG_3148Room upon room of intense colour in the Palace of Versailles

As I look through the window, every element of the garden beyond is so finely balanced – the perfect velvetiness of the clipped yew, the pristine white of the statuary, the shell pink of the paths and the hazy softness of the woodland beyond – that I cannot believe it is quite real.


View onto immaculate Palace Gardens, Versailles

The light is fading, but the Potager du Roi (The King’s Kitchen Garden) is only a walk away from the main palace and I cannot leave without at least a glimpse.











Original plan for the Potager du Roi

The 22 acre potager was created for Louis XIV by Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie who was named first director of the garden in 1670. The original site was swampland and completely unsuitable but the King was keen on fine fruits and vegetables –  especially when tantalisingly out of season – and so the site was cleared, drained, filled with good soil and it was the architect Mansart, again, who designed a series of terraces and walls that would create particularly hospitable micro-climates for certain fruits and vegetables. La Quintinie must have been thrilled to note that he was successful in producing “strawberries at the end of March … peas in April, figs in June, asparagus and lettuces in December, January …”  He raised fifty varieties of pears, twenty varieties of apples and sixteen different types of lettuce for the King’s table.  Louis XIV would send samples of his favourite pear, ‘Williams Bon Chrétien’, as a gift to heads of state and the brilliant letter writer, Mme de Sévigné  remarked drily on the fashionable fervour for the finest produce “the craze for peas continues; the impatience of waiting to eat them, to have eaten them, and the pleasure of eating them are the three subjects our princes have been discussing for the past four days now”.

Almost as soon as we enter the Potager we come across an entire wall of figs with purple fruits and leaves turning a deep yellow:


IMG_3154wall of figs, Potager du Roi, October 2015

This is modest of course compared to the pre Revolution ‘Figuerie’ – a sunken garden dedicated to the production of 700 fig trees grown in pots so they could be moved and housed under glass each winter – but it is a gorgeous sight and I step further into the garden.

It feels a slightly unfair moment to visit this incredible collection of 450 varieties of fruit trees, including 5000 espalier trees and possibly the world’s largest collection of fruit trees pruned into historic forms – now also the home of the  National School of Landscape Architecture (ENSP)  – but even now as the light is fading the variety of shape and tireless skill sing out.

IMG_3173IMG_3183IMG_3178IMG_3193  A tiny sample of trained apple and pear trees, Potager du Roi, October 2015

This is a garden of experimentation which has moved with the times and is always trying something new. The slightly unkempt feel to the garden is due to the more recent approach to let the grass grow up amongst the rows of trees to encourage the presence of insects and other natural predetors and reduce/eliminate the need for chemical controls.

 My heart goes out to the row of ‘Reine Claude’ greengages which are being trained into ‘Palmiers concentriques’.

IMG_3187IMG_3269Reine Claude greengages being trained into circles, Potager du Roi

And I am smitten by the tall walls of white peaches – including the white fleshed ‘Donut’ peach, Saturn – which are grown as double vertical ‘wavy’ cordons – ‘cordon vertical ondulé double’.


Double wavy cordons of white fleshed peach, Potager du Roi

Although there are fine examples of this kind of fruit tree training elsewhere, France is undoubtedly at the forefront of this painstaking art. If you want to know more you must turn to Jacques Beccaletto’s extraodinary ‘Encyclopédie des Formes Fruitières’ which continues to be a five star recommended bestseller even on UK Amazon.


Encylopédie des Formes Fruitières

Everything I discover about the Potager du Roi makes me want to come back for more in the spring. Historic varieties of fruit and vegetables are regularly re-introduced and selection is based on taste as well as rarity. The garden is keen to champion diversity in everything it grows and is determined to remind us that strawberries, for example, need not be the glossy giants available in supermarkets today – instead they grow varieties such a ‘Versaillaise’, ‘Vicomtesse Héricart de Thury’ and ‘Capron Royal’ which have relatively modest crops of small sweet fruits.

Back in London, thinking about the crucial work being undertaken in Versailles to keep local  heritage varieties of fruit and vegetables from dying out, I am delighted by the timing of a message from Amy Goldman: she tells me that the Potager du Roi is ‘one of her favourite places on Earth’. For the last couple of days her gorgeous and powerful new book, Heirloom Harvest has been distracting me from other tasks. I was introduced to Amy by the exuberant New York artist and plantswoman, Abbie Zabar (see my May 11th 2015 post ‘An English Gardener in New York, Part 1). I love the way that gardening and writing about gardening brings new friendships and connections from all over the world.

IMG_3361IMG_3346The sumptuous front and back covers of ‘Heirloom Harvest’ by Amy Goldman

For me, whereas France and all things French have been woven in and out of my life for decades, the world of American fruit and vegetables is tantalisingly exotic. When Amy writes of serving up ‘homegrown specialities from “the old country” like Tennessee Red peanuts, Southern Giant curly mustard greens, Clemson Spineless okra and Beauregard sweet potatoes’ I am transported to her beautiful 1788 white clapboard farmhouse in the Hudson Valley, New York and I begin to see, smell and taste her life starting with the produce from the soil around the house.

And what a productive life. Amy Goldman has been gardening seriously since she was eighteen, has already written three award winning, personal and intensively knowledgeable books, ‘The Heirloom Tomato’,’ The Compleat Squash’ and ‘Melons for Passionate Growers’, and is a dynamic and influential advocate for heirloom fruits and vegetables and the importance of protecting genetic diversity.

images‘Heirloom Harvest’ is gripping because it is the story of one person’s life and the garden they have made and how one stage of the journey lead to another. She is clear that two key books changed the course of her life. Rosalind Creasy’s ‘Cooking from the Garden’ which ‘opened my eyes to the splendour and diversity of heirlooms, their uses in cookery and edible landscaping’ and Cary Fowler and Pat Mooney’s ‘Shattering: Food, Politics and the Loss of Genetic Diversity’ which ‘alerted me to the dangers of crop uniformity and the staggering and mounting losses of genetic diversity in agriculture’. If Paris is the ‘City of Love’, it fits well with this post that Amy ended up falling in love with and marrying Cary, and they now live and farm together, always trying to grow and protect new varieties of fruits, vegetables and now rare breeds of animal too,  and storing seeds in their basement refrigerator seed bank.

Equally compelling are the book’s startlingly rich daguerreotype photographs by Jerry Spagnoli.  I try to work out what it is about the images that is so fascinating.  There is an inviting, shimmering softness to many of the photographs but perhaps it is the depth of tone  – one critic describes it brilliantly as ‘an austere sepia’ – which surprises me into looking more closely. The technique is wonderful for capturing the roughness of earth-caked vegetables or for the almost gritty surface of the ‘Tyson Pear’ and there is a wonderful, clear, light-catching quality to  photographs such as ‘White Currants’:

IMG_3349 ‘American Flag Leek’ by Jerry Spagnoli from ‘Heirloom Harvest’ by Amy Goldman

IMG_3357 ‘Garlic Chives’ by Jerry Spagnoli from ‘Heirloom Harvest’ by Amy Goldman

IMG_3369‘Tyson Pear’, photograph by Jerry Spagnoli from ‘Heirloom Harvest’ by Amy Goldman

IMG_3363 ‘White Currants’ by Jerry Spagnoli from ‘Heirloom Harvest’ by Amy Goldman

I remind myself what the daguerreotype process entails. There is a sobering You Tube film by Anthony Mournian of Jerry Spagnoli demonstrating the basic principles. It is a complex, hard graft, photographic technique invented in 1839 that produces images on highly polished, silver clad copper plates. Jerry Spagnoli collaborated with Amy Goldman for a period of 14 years on the photographs for the book. His depth of commitment and constant, inventive resourcefulness in producing these beautiful, time-suspended images is inspiring.

In Paris we are staying in our favourite, relaxed  Le Citizen Hotel (not to be confused with the Citizen M hotel chain!) in the Canal St Martin area.  We love the easy friendliness of the hotel, the quirky breakfast or fragrant cup of tea that they will make for you at any time.  It is our last day and we call in at the small and charismatic flower shop,  Bleuet Coquelicot.  The charming ‘Tom des Fleurs’ invites us – but what is so uplifting is the way his plants spill out onto the pavement – in front of the cafe next door and beyond.

IMG_3215Bleuet Coquelicot, florist, inside and out

Bleuet Coquelicot is thoughtful and gentle and unorthodox in its approach to flowers and to life – Tom is well known for only selling plants to people he can trust to look after them properly. If you order flowers from the shop you will be likely to receive what French Vogue has described as ‘more wildflower meadow than curated city bouquet’.

I am hugely saddened to say this is exactly the part of Paris, youthful, vibrant, constantly evolving, with its network of tiny restaurants and experimental shops that was hit so hard on Friday 13th November.

We walk through the Tuileries Garden admiring a pair of ever handsome ‘Luxembourg’ chairs painted in that familiar shade of mid green, now empty at the end of the day.  We promise to return to the city in the spring.

IMG_3243IMG_3244‘Luxembourg’ chairs, Tuileries Gardens, Paris