The idea is to encourage conservation and to increase accessibility to the best landscapes in the country. Valid for five years, the jardin remarquable designation is awarded to well-maintained gardens that offer exemplary design and botanical or historical interest. Gardens of all sizes, styles and ages are eligible, so long as they are open to the public for a minimum number of days each year.
The only jardin remarquable in Paris is the eighteenth century Jardin du Palais Royal, in the first arrondissement near the Louvre. Presumably there are political or cultural reasons why the Jardin des Tuileries, for example, or parc Monceau, or the Jardin du Luxembourg, do not have the award.
Surrounded by elegant arcades, the jardin du Palais Royal features two flower-filled parterres separated by a large circular pool and fountain, bordered by tree-lined allées.
There are two splendid examples of contemporary art to the south of the garden: Pol Bury’s mirrored spherical sculpture in the Gallery d’Orléans and, in the courtyard that had previously been a car park, the infamous striped columns by Daniel Buren officially known as Les Deux Plateaux.
The garden seems to me a surprising choice as the capital’s only jardin remarquable. Although it may be rather tucked away, it is certainly open to the public, and has been since Revolutionary times. Today it provides welcome shade, seating and even a little children’s playground. And, yes, it has an important history, having been created by Cardinal Richelieu, lived in by royalty, provided a flashpoint for the Revolution, and subsequently been a hotbed of vice and a home to both high culture and destructive violence.
It is the standard of maintenance that makes me question the award. The statues are grubby – and the planting, last time I visited, was lamentable. There were some lovely roses, but also unclipped hedges, big patches of bare, unkempt soil and lots of straggly weeds.
In its defence, the palace and its exterior space have been undergoing a major programme of renovation. I plan to go back and see whether it now feels like the worthy holder of its jardin remarquable award.