garden tales from a Brit at home and abroad
The hôtel de Charost in the 8th arrondissement of Paris was built in the 1720s and was subsequently the home for 11 years of Pauline Borghese, favourite sister of Napoleon Bonaparte, who lavishly decorated it in the Empire style.
In 1814 it was bought by the Duke of Wellington and remains today the home of the British Ambassador to France.
The house and its one acre garden were open last Saturday as part of the Journées du Patrimoine (Heritage Open Days), and I acted as a guide to the gardens for much of the afternoon. While not historically significant like the house, the gardens are beautifully maintained and in a decidedly English style.
There are some lovely old trees, and a good mix of perennials, including lots of scented roses. French visitors commented time and time again on the lawn, which is strikingly green and plush. People laid on it, stroked it, took close-up photos of it. It was as if they doubted it was real. They hovered on the edge, not quite believing they were allowed to walk on it (in most Paris parks there are pelouse interdite signs – the French equivalent of “keep off the grass”). I was asked many questions about its maintenance; one visitor even requested the contact details for the gardener, to learn his secrets.
It felt to everyone like a little piece of England transported behind a fine Parisian house.