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Posts Tagged ‘roses’

Villa Savoye 1

This weekend is Les Journées du Patrimoine, French Heritage Open Days, and one of the buildings involved is Le Corbusier’s masterpiece the Villa Savoye in Poissy, northeast of Paris.

Villa Savoye 4

We were there last weekend. It is a splendid Modernist building, constructed around 1930 as a weekend home for a wealthy family. By all accounts, it is the last and finest “pure” modern building by Corbusier, exhibiting his five tenets of Modernism which were drummed into me when I studied landscape history at Harvard – the use of “pilotis” or stilts to lift the house into the air; roof gardens; an open plan design; a free-floating façade; and horizontal banded windows to create light airy interiors.

Villa Savoye 8

Villa Savoye 2Lots of things surprised me about the house. First, it is set in a naturalistic landscape which apparently Corbusier was keen to preserve. He imagined the building placed gently on the high point of the plot, without disturbing its setting. Sadly much of the large garden was taken over in the 1960s by the town of Poissy to construct a school (indeed at one point, it was planned to demolish the Villa to make way for the municipal building, but the state stepped in and acquired Corbusier’s masterpiece for the nation). The trees have been allowed to grow up to hide the school, so the original views over the Seine valley are much diminished.

Villa Savoye 6

Second, it was rather badly built and soon began to cause problems for the Savoye family. But Corbusier was more interested in spreading word of his innovative designs that in mundane repair work.

Villa Savoye 3Thirdly, it has two long flower beds full of shrub roses at the front. They seem a surprising, traditional choice for such an iconoclastic building, but are nevertheless original to the design. Something of their striking perpendicular layout and bold, single species planting does perhaps fit quite well with the Villa.

So there it stands, grand and uncompromising, like a great white ocean liner presiding over suburban Poissy. The friends who came with me on the visit mused about Modernism as a ‘dead end’ – the fact that the ideas behind the Villa Savoye never became mainstream. Perhaps the one exception is the stress on outdoor living – that wonderful blurring of the boundaries between inside and out, with the living room opening onto the terrace through vast glass screens, and the internal ramp that leads from the ground floor to the main living areas continuing on the outside up to the roof terrace.Villa Savoye 7

Villa Savoye 5As you enter the site from the road, to your right is a Modernist one-bedroom house, built apparently for the family’s gardener. It is rarely mentioned in the literature about the Villa, and is sadly not yet restored.

This is the only built example of Corbusier’s design for a “maison minimum unifamiliale” (a minimum one-family house).

Tomorrow the Villa Savoye is hosting Les Enfants du Patrimoine, a series of workshops for children. Over the weekend, it will offer a number of themed tours as part of the Heritage Open Day scheme.

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Roseraie du Val de MarneRoseraie de Val de Marne cupidonLa Roseraie de l’Haÿ is a glorious summer garden, just a few kilometres south of Paris. Dedicated to the queen of flowers, it is the oldest rosarium in France and claims to be “the world’s first rose garden.”

It was created in 1890 by Jules Gravereaux, who spent his career working for Aristide and Marguerite Boucicaut, creators of Parisian department store Bon Marché. Gravereaux then dedicated his retirement to collecting over 3,000 different roses. Such was his passion that he travelled widely, through eastern Europe, Asia Minor and the Balkans, to collect new plants, and helped establish other rose gardens, notably the Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne. Gravereaux also bred many new roses, including the highly-scented rugosa seedling called rosa ‘Roseraie de l’Hay’, which was introduced into cultivation by rose breeder Charles Pierre Marie Cochet-Cochet in 1901.

Roseraie du Val de Marne allée de rosesGravereaux commissioned landscape architect Edouard André to lay out his garden. André was internationally famous as a designer of public spaces through Europe and South America. His career began when he won a competition to design Sefton Park in Liverpool. As Head Gardener of Paris, he worked on the Parc des Buttes Chaumont and the Tuileries. For Gravereaux, André created a classically French garden, with geometric beds, long allées, sculpture, and a central octagonal pool. The roses were displayed not just as bushes, but trained into different shapes, grown on trellis, along wires and over arches, and cultivated in pots and urns.

Roseraie de l'HaÿSince 1968 the garden has been owned by the municipality of Val de Marne, and is carefully maintained, both as an extraordinary rose museum, and as a lovely public park.

The roses are displayed in box-edged flower beds, and the labelled plants are carefully arranged by type and origin. You can learn about the evolution and breadth of the species; equally, you can just enjoy an hour or two immersing yourself in the scents and colours of this most beautiful of flowers, the essence of early summer.

The photos in this post were taken in late May; the garden was lovely, but the bulk of the flowers were still to come. June is the month to visit.

Roseraie du Val de Marne central pool

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Hotel Biron gardenHotel BironSomeone asked me the other day about “secret” places in Paris, where it would be fun to take visitors. One of my suggestions was the garden of the Hôtel Biron in the 7th arrondissement. OK, so the building is not exactly a secret, as it currently serves as the musée Rodin, which receives about half a million visitors a year. But the three-hectare gardens are less well known, and very pretty in the summer. The entry charge for the gardens is only one euro.

The house itself is early eighteenth century. The current gardens were laid out in the 1990s, when it was decided not to recreate the original design (although plans survive) or to restore the gardens as they would have been during Rodin’s time. Instead a pleasingly plant-rich contemporary design by Jacques Sgard was installed among the ornamental ponds and mature linden trees. You can stroll among roses, irises and paeonies, admire the occasional Rodin sculpture, and enjoy views of the Eiffel Tower and the golden dome of Les Invalides, both nearby. There is also a little children’s playground and a pleasant café in the grounds.

Hotel Biron garden

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