garden tales from a Brit abroad
Parc Monceau in the 8th arrondissement of Paris is our local park, a five minute walk from our apartment. Our daughter’s school is based in one of the access roads, and she plays there every day. At weekends, we often walk there as a family for picnics on the undulating lawns, or for a stroll around the perimeter path with its ancient trees and jazzy flowerbeds. It is almost always full of joggers and children and thousands of other apartment-dwellers making the most of its eight hectares of green space.
It is easy to overlook the history of Monceau. First created in the 1770s as a flamboyant, theatrical garden for the future Duc d’Orléans (cousin of Louis XVI), it contained a series of follies, including a Dutch windmill, Egyptian pyramid, minaret, ruined watermill and a naumachia – an oval pond for sea jousting. A new city wall was built along its northern edge in the late 1780s, with a rotunda designed by Ledoux that served as a toll-gate.
In the 1860s, the site was bought by the city of Paris, and half was sold for development. The remaining area was laid out as a public park as part of the transformation of Paris undertaken by Baron Haussmann. New features, such as the monumental gilded entrance gates and the cascade and grotto, were added to those that remained from the original garden.
I am currently doing some work with the Friends of Parc Monceau, a group of local people trying to maintain the park’s historical character, and will post again later in the summer about developments at this special place.