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Archive for May, 2010

La Petite Ceinture

Today we walked a mile-long nature trail in the heart of Paris. La Petite Ceinture (“the little belt”) was a Victorian train line that once circled the city, used mainly for delivering freight. A stretch of it in the 16th arrondissement is now a gently maintained pathway through volunteer trees, grass and different wildlife habitats.

Promenade Plantée

It is not fancy or well-known, like the highly designed Promenade Plantée, a linear park on an elevated former railway line in the east of the city. Nor could I really argue that it deserved its recent write-up in Britain’s Daily Telegraph. But there was something very pleasant about strolling through its soft greenery, hearing the roar of the périphérique (Paris ring road), sometimes just yards away, yet able to see nothing but the trees and the meandering path ahead. And the walk finished with a delicious, if leisurely, lunch on the sunny terrace of Restaurant La Gare, the converted railway station at the northern end of the trail.

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St Jean de BeauregardToday is the first day of the Chelsea Flower Show and each year we become rather wistful, thinking about the wonderful show gardens, and indeed about our own little plot back in England. The French don’t really have an equivalent to Chelsea. But many chateaux run fine plant shows, like the well-known Journée des Plantes at Courson, and the equally lovely Fêtes des Plantes at the Domaine Saint-Jean de Beauregard. We were there last autumn, admiring the many heirloom vegetable plants, the variety of herbs on offer and the beautifully presented perennials. One stand offered 23 different varieties of echinacea.

There is also a fine seventeenth-century potager, apparently tended by a single gardener, which is beautiful in autumn’s gold and russet tones. The next fête runs from 24th to 26th September.


St Jean de Beauregard

St Jean de Beauregard

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Nature Capitale

This weekend the eight-lane avenue des Champs-Elysées in the middle of Paris has become a “jardin extraordinaire.” To celebrate International Biodiversity Day, over 150,000 trees and other plants from all over France are replacing the cars for a magical 36 hours. Called Nature Capitale, the event is the brain-child of one man, Gad Weil, who wants to give people the chance simply to enjoy nature in the heart of the city.

Millions of people have visited, in temperatures of 30C. Wandering through the crowds yesterday, I was struck by how little information was provided: yes there were a few signs, and some leaflets for those who asked, but there was no preaching on biodiversity, no attempt to make us feel guilty about the disappearance of species. It seemed a joyous, almost spontaneous, celebration of nature. Most visitors simply spent their time examining the plants; the most common question I heard was “C’est quoi, ça?” – what is that?

Fields of carefully-labelled wheat, vines, pumpkins, tomatoes, lavender, mini-forests of oak and fir, all sit incongruously yet splendidly alongside the traffic lights, the McDonalds sign, the Disney Store.

And by 6pm this evening it will all be gone, and the cars will return.

Nature Capitale

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