garden tales from a Brit at home and abroad
Some landscape designs look great on paper but don’t somehow work out on the ground. Here’s an example from the heart of Paris.
The jardin du Carrousel is a 7-hectare park between the courtyard of the musée du Louvre and the wonderful processional sweep of the jardin des Tuileries.
It was redesigned in the 1990s, following a competition won by Belgian landscape firm Jacques Wirtz. The winning design looked good in theory (and from an aerial viewpoint), with its series of radial lines stretching elegantly out from the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, first as stone lines in sand and then as yew hedges in grass. Statues by Aristide Maillol, which had been in the park since the 1960s, were placed playfully among the new hedges. The effect was like the rays of the sun, or stretching fingers, providing widening paths that encouraged visitors to promenade throughout the park. The radial design also echoed I. M. Pei’s glittering new pyramid in the Louvre courtyard, spreading the same triangular shape out horizontally on the park surface.
But on the ground, the park does not work well at all. From most angles it is difficult to perceive the radial design. The grubby stone lines are interrupted by litter bins, food stands and seemingly unrelated horse chestnut trees.
The grass is often threadbare and frequently re-turfed, with stone walkways being inserted where it is has simply proved unsustainable. The yew hedges look squat, lumpy and randomly arranged, and are often more of a barrier than an invitation.
To make things worse, the yew has never properly established. Planted on what is essentially a platform over parking and an underground shopping mall, the 20,000 shrubs suffered from poor growth and needle drop. After the 2003 canicule (heatwave), extensive renovation of the planting was undertaken.
But, eight years later, the hedges are an ugly patchwork of shapes and colours: grey gaps where plants have died away completely, ugly splashes of dead brown branches, sombre patches of mature yew, weirdly unpruned green sprouts, yellow tips on some bushes, bright blue growth on others.
France has many examples of contemporary designs inserted triumphantly into historic places. This isn’t one of them. Somebody needs to be brave enough to say let’s stop patching and hoping things will improve, and admit this design simply doesn’t work.