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Posts Tagged ‘secret’

Square Louis XVIThe little park around the Chapelle Expiatoire on boulevard Haussman is traditionally planted with white flowers, in memory of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. So it was somehow fitting to visit yesterday during a major snowstorm in Paris. Everything was rapidly being engulfed in deep, soft whiteness.

This place was once the cemetery of La Madeleine, and became a dumping ground for as many as 3,000 guillotined corpses during the terrors of the French Revolution. In 1793 the bodies of the king and (some months later) his queen were hastily buried here in a pit. Later a royalist, Pierre Desclozeaux, acquired the site and quietly marked what he believed to be the royal burial spot with a planting of willows, cypress and hornbeam.

After the restoration of the monarchy, Louis XVIII had the purported remains of the former king (his brother) and queen re-interred in the royal selpulchre at Saint Denis, and commissioned Pierre-François Léonard Fontaine to build a chapel on the spot where their bodies had first lain. It seems the plants of Monsieur Desclozeaux were not enough of a memorial.

The small domed chapel is a splendid, Neoclassical edifice, currently in the process of being cleaned and restored after suffering storm damage last year. The small park which surrounds it, known as Square Louis XVI, is pleasantly planted with scented white-flowering shrubs and perennials, including roses, viburnum and lilacs. They grow in the shade of a mixture of trees (horse chestnuts, sycamores, cherries, maples, hawthorns, clipped yews), chosen to reflect the wide range of people killed during the Revolution. There are also lots of benches and a small toddlers’ playground.

The Square is tucked away behind railings near the grands magasins in the 9th, and the dramatic pale curves of the chapel always somehow take me by surprise when I glimpse them among the traffic and shoppers and dense surrounding buildings. If this were a more populist blog, I would mention that Marie Antoinette’s ghost is said to haunt the place. But instead I will just point out that the chapel is open to visitors (see the website for details) and that the little park is a splendid place to sit quietly and ponder.

Square Louis XVI

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Hotel Biron planting 1

The gardens of the Hotel Biron are currently a sea of creamy hydrangeas and soft green foliage.

A few weeks ago I posted on the lush roses and paeonies that filled the grounds in June. It appeared to be the peak of the summer.

But now everywhere is a mass of lacecaps and mopheads, all planted in generous drifts.

Hotel Biron planting 2

Hotel Biron planting 3This seems to me thoughtful, confident design, planting for leaf form and colour, and using big swathes of a limited range of species.

Shown in these four photos, taken last weekend, are the oak-leafed hydrangea, H. quercifolia “Snowflake”, and the popular H.aborescens “Annabelle”, with a lilacky splash of H. macrophylla “Blue Wave.”

These are not fancy or fashionable plants, but the whole thing feels tranquil and unflustered, just right for the heat of midsummer.

Hotel Biron planting 4

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rainbows and daisesrainbows and daisiesAt one of the side entrances to l’Eglise Saint Germain des Prés in the 6th arrondissement are four little box-edged flower beds. This summer, one of them is thickly planted with rainbow-stemmed swiss chard, pink cosmos and dahlias. (There are also some rather unnecessary, straggly standard roses.)

My daughter and I stood for a few moments on Saturday to admire the planting. The chard was translucent in the sunshine. Even in the short time we were there, several other people also stopped and commented on the display, noting admiringly that the leaves were edible as well as beautiful.

It was a tiny space, a few annuals, and a delightful moment.

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ecole des beaux-artsThe Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts was established in the seventeenth century and, in its heyday, was an enormously influential school for architects, painters and sculptors throughout the world. Its alumnae include Degas, Delacroix, Givenchy, Monet and Mary Cassatt.

Its current home in the 6th arrondissement was built on the site of an early seventeenth century convent. Something of a hotchpotch of styles and earlier historical remnants, the school’s buildings were designed by architects François Debret and Félix Duban between 1816 and 1872.

Today the site has a shabby, faded charm, with a mix of poorly maintained classical-style buildings, temporary modern classroom blocks, and a good deal of graffiti. We visited last weekend for the portes ouvertes – an open day showcasing the work of current students.

ecole des beaux-artsThe site includes the Cour du Mûrier, a charming little courtyard, created by Duban on the site of the original nuns’ cloister. It is named after the Chinese mulberry tree planted there by Alexandre Lenoir, who had for a time established a Musée des Monuments Français in the convent, aiming to rescue fragments of old buildings at risk from revolutionary fervour.

The courtyard is today a small leafy space, with a grand fountain at its centre and copies of classical statues displayed in painted arcades.

ecole des beaux-artsAdded later, the Jardin Lenoir contains some of the remnants acquired for the Musée des Monuments Français, including the façade of the hôtel de Torpanne, originally built in the Marais around 1567.

The open lawn of this pleasant garden is currently being used to house prefabricated classrooms, and the rest is sealed off behind fencing; sadly we could only see glimpses of the tree-filled space.

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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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