a landscape lover's blog

garden tales from a Brit at home and abroad

Springtime parks in Paris II

Here’s another off-the-beaten-track park to enjoy in this glorious spring sunshine. It’s almost the antithesis of yesterday’s recommendation, which was a small, naturalistic, nineteenth century park in the northwest of Paris. Today’s post is about parc de Sceaux, a vast, geometric, seventeenth century-style landscape, actually just outside the city’s southern perimeter. Laid out in the late 1600s by André Le Nôtre, Sceaux was originally a private garden for Louis XIV’s finance minister.

Jacques Rigaud c1736 engraving

View of the parterres and grand canal at Sceaux c.1736 by Jacques Rigaud. From http://www.collections.chateau-sceaux.fr

The original chateau was destroyed during the French revolution and the gardens given over to agriculture. During the nineteenth century a new chateau was built in the grounds, and the gardens restored on similar lines to the original. In the 1930s new features were added to the gardens, including a cubist cascade, and Sceaux became the property of its département (regional government). The chateau was turned into a museum for the Ile-de-France, and the gardens opened as a public park.


As the aerial view here shows, the layout of the gardens has an unusual double perspective. One long vista of parterres, circular water features and stepped turf terraces runs from the chateau, while a second, perpendicular, axis is formed by Le Nôtre’s tree-lined grand canal and the adjacent octagonal pool.

Aerial view of Sceaux. From http://www.domaine-de-sceaux.fr

Sceaux is glorious at any time of year but particularly so in the spring, when the clipped hedges of horse chestnut are lush with bright green new growth and, around the orangerie (designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart), the box-edged parterres are thickly planted with tulips, forget-me-nots and wallflowers.Sceaux is carefully managed to balance its historic importance with its role as a popular public park. It is also increasingly being maintained on ecological grounds, with more native plants being introduced to improve biodiversity, regular surveys of bats and birds found in the park, and the banning of chemical fertilisers and weedkiller. This week (20-30 March) is la semaine “zéro phyto” when no chemical pesticides will be used at Sceaux or in any of the parks in the area.

Although just outside Paris, the park is easily reachable by train from the city centre. Also worth a visit nearby is the summer rose garden, La Roseraie de l’Haÿ, and the parc de la vallée aux loups, formerly the house and grounds of romantic writer François-René de Chateaubriand.

15 comments on “Springtime parks in Paris II

  1. Charlotte
    March 29, 2011

    Lovely to see Paris in springtime – it makes me quite homesick!

  2. Adam
    March 29, 2011

    Ooo – people on the grass! That can’t be anywhere near Paris surely…

  3. Petra Hoyer Millar
    March 29, 2011

    Lovely images. The French are such ‘tight’ gardeners, everything just looks pristine…

  4. Wonderful to see gardens actually looking like spring when it’s 20 degrees F (-7 C) here again this morning. You came to Philadelphia for the perfect week. I think the word majestic was invented to describe French gardens/parks like this one.

  5. Jack Wagner
    March 29, 2011

    Your photos of Paris are just wonderful. Part of my garden here along Lake Michigan is a “formal” room, but not like those of Paris. That is an understatement! Love looking at your postings. Here it is still Winter just check out last Thursday’s posting on the most recent of many storms. gardensatwaterseast.blogspot.com/ I envy all of the place like yours that get Spring at this time. I will have to wait for a few weeks. Look forward to more of your photos. Being of French ancestry, there is something very attractive for me in your blog. Jack

  6. Kerry Hand
    March 30, 2011

    That aerial photo shows some interesting stuff down the side of it. Be interesting to see more of that. Like the crossed path enclosed by trees, with other plantings.

  7. Carolflowerhillfarm
    March 30, 2011

    Lovely post! I think it is so interesting to note the differences as you mention between the two gardens (this and your last post) . . . the imaginations of the different peoples and times. I so prefer the more naturalistic gardens, but have to admire the park like quality of Sceaux, especially since you say they are not using chemicals anymore. That is great news. I do also like to think of the space for growing food (after the revolution.) Are there many community gardens throughout Paris?

    • landscapelover
      March 30, 2011

      Thanks for the comment. So many people see it as sacrilege that Sceaux was turned over to farming after the Revolution, but vast geometric gardens like this had become a symbol of the elite ruling class, and there was a strong wish to destroy or remodel them. Following your comment, I’ve just found a wonderful photo here http://www.domaine-de-sceaux.fr/les-collections/photographies-et-cartes/ of a herd of cows in front of the chateau…
      Paris isn’t awash with community gardens [known as jardins partagés], as it is quite a small city and land is at a premium, but there are some, particularly in the less affluent, more densely developed areas to the east and far south.

  8. maggie
    March 30, 2011

    Your photo of the trees lining and reflected in the canal captures the timeless feel of Le Notre’s imposed axes, and your parterre photo captures the evanescent spring plantings at just the right moment. Those tulips resemble little exploding fireworks above the blue clouds.
    A lovely post; thank you.

    • landscapelover
      March 30, 2011

      Thanks. The photos are from a visit in early May about 2 years ago, and those parterres were at their jewelled peak. You’re right that the tulip flowers almost seem to be exploding over the beds.
      The canal is beautiful, and it is amazing how mature the planting looks, given that Sceaux lost some 2,700 trees in the terrible storm that hit this area in 1999. Most of the poplars along the canal were destroyed (there’s a heart-breaking image of them lying prostrate in the water here: http://www.pds92.net/parcdesceaux/tempete.htm#top ) and if you look carefully at my photo you can see that the replacements are still growing in.

      • maggie
        March 30, 2011

        Thank you for reminding me of the storm; I remember seeing photographs of the damage as I was doing horticulture coursework then and it was a topic for discussion. I’m preparing a tangetal street tree post–may I link to your post?

  9. landscapelover
    March 30, 2011

    Maggie, thanks for checking – of course feel free to link. I’m a great fan of your blog, so it will be nice to play an incidental role in it. And I have strong views on street trees, having recently returned from Rome where the city has planted a job lot of Judas trees (Cercis siliquastrum) along some of the major roads – the intersections where they meet rows of majestic old plane trees is just eye-popping…!

  10. Gabriel
    April 2, 2011

    Thanks you very much for this very attractive promenade through the great park of Sceaux. I was first amazed to see so many flowers in eraly April before reading the comments and see that it had been shot in May. Because Versailles is still very green (Taxus & Buxus…) and white (marble Olympe Gods, magnificent). I was there lask Tuesday, and every time I learn something new.
    Thanks again

  11. Lula (onbotanicalphotography.blogspot.com)
    April 4, 2011

    Greens, mauves, soft pinks, Beautiful colors in geometry, so well maintained public park, I like the perspectives and geometrical details in your images. Lula

  12. Harriet
    April 6, 2011

    No-one does formal like the French! Lovely box beds with forget-me-not and tulips. Reminds me of a garden in Gloucestershire where the two deep rose beds in front of the Queen Anne rectory were planted up with forget-me-not and the tulip China Pink. It looked spectacular in late April and early May but then came the hellish job of clearing for the roses to take over!

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This entry was posted on March 28, 2011 by in France outside Paris, History, Ile de France, Paris, Parks and tagged , .

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