Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The gardens at Versailles

Many years ago I visited the palace at Versailles but because it was mid winter, I didn't even glance at the surrounding gardens.  This visit, I was determined to see the gardens in all their splendour.  There had been a few days of cold, wet weather but I didn't let that stop me.  And anyway, it's easier to take photos when the sky is overcast.

My first thought when I left the station was whether I would find the place.  I needn't have worried.  All roads in Versailles lead to the palace and all tourists take those roads.

Once inside and around the back of the palace, the first view looking out seemed to be more clouds, sky and puddles than garden but I was also intrigued by the immensity of everything in front of me.

As I walked forward, the grand canal came into focus

the horizon lengthened, seemingly to infinity

the first of many fountains came into view

and then, incredibly, the sun came out.  A salute to the Sun King perhaps.

That first axis of the garden gives you a fantastic sensation of grandeur and suspense as you walk forward towards the horizon.  This is replicated in an even more surprising way on the left axis.  At first, you seem to be following a wide gravel path leading to a balustrade, some trees and possibly some stairs.

It's certainly not a place for wheelchairs

and the view back towards the palace is superb.

As you continue towards the balustrade you notice a hint of what is to come

and then, just a few steps further on, this is what you see, an immense lake and a perfectly manicured and perfectly protected orangerie facing due south.

From directly front on, it looks like this and the more I think about it, the more I think this could work in my garden too (provided, of course, that the rest of the neighbourhood moves out).

Back closer to the palace there are a number of elaborately designed and intricately planted garden beds

but most of Versailles is green, much of which is broken up by oversized statues, neatly clipped topiaries and hedges in varying heights.

In fact, the relentless geometry of the garden, emphasised over and over again by clipped hedges, alleys and avenues that stretch off in every direction is almost overwhelming.

But not all the decorative features are so severe.  If you look closely, you can find plenty of small, quite charming sculptures

as well as some that are not quite so charming.

After all of that, it is quite a relief to arrive at Marie Antoinette's creation, the hamlet or miniature farm garden near the Petit Trianon.  The complete contrast between this area and the rest of the gardens shows just how desperate she was to escape the confines of court life.  And who could blame her?   Look how she was done up at just fourteen years of age, not long after arriving in France to marry Louis.

And this is the hamlet she had built for her escape.  It's very pretty but also I think a bit childish and naive, much as I imagine she might have been.

The gardens are, of course, immaculate. There are some well-tended and very productive vegetable garden patches,

herb gardens

and even vineyards.

There are also a number of more informal areas simply given over to flowers

some in the most whimsical of plantings

and, naturally, plenty of water and the most beautiful trees

It's all very pretty and all quite unreal.  In fact, when you visit the Petit Trianon, where Marie Antoinette lived most of her married life (when she wasn't down at the hamlet that is), you see that her bedroom is decorated in a pretty, childlike way too.  It's hard to believe that a woman whose private space looked like this and whose favourite flower was the cornflour (the blue flower that features in the fabric) could have been the treacherous, profligate she-devil she was made out to be.

There is of course a Grand Trianon as well as the Petit Trianon and this is yet another 'little' place, built by one of the earlier Louis'  as a get away for himself and his mistress.  It's hardly a love nest though

and by the time I arrived, it was almost a flood scene

although there were still plenty of keen bods (including me) out and about determined to enjoy the surrounding gardens

Around the corner, I found some more lovely flower beds and, again, I think this is something I might replicate at my place.  Surely the council would approve me extending the front garden to create this.

And just to finish off, here's something I found at Versailles that I had never seen before - a real live ugly duckling.

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