garden tales from a Brit abroad
The city of Paris has admirable policies on biodiversity, climate change and other ‘green’ issues. Previously I’ve blogged about how these policies are playing out in the capital’s public parks – arguably in a rather clumsy way at the grand parc Monceau, and more successfully at a pleasant new neighbourhood park in the 11th arrondissement.
But here is an example of a full-on sustainable park, recently completed in an area of the 13th arrondissement that is undergoing major, innovative urban renewal. Underpinning the development work is an environmental charter that covers “water, waste, ground and sub-ground, energy, noise, journeys, urban landscape and governance.”
The park itself, known by the rather awkward name les jardins des Grands Moulins – Abbé Pierre, was designed by landscape architects Ah Ah to showcase “la conquête végétale” [the triumph of plant life], with vegetation spilling over paths, seeding between paving stones, spreading into ponds and clambering up walls. It has two distinct areas: a series of terraced meadows on one side, and a mosaic of different habitats on the other, from pond and bog to meadow and forest under storey.
Rainwater is collected from neighbouring rooftops and channelled down pipes and along open gullies or rills in the park, through the various ponds and marsh areas, and then down to a vast underground storage tank, from where it is used for irrigation.
We visited a couple of weeks ago, after six weeks of unusually hot, dry weather. I found it difficult to form a clear opinion of the park: on the one hand, it has admirable ambitions as a sustainable landscape, demonstrates the green credentials of the city far more than policy documents and statements ever can, and is for all of us an example for the future.
There were some lovely design touches, like the curving boardwalk engraved with messages about the park’s sustainable features, and the sinuous pedestrian bridge that invites you up to view the park from above.
On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine what you are meant to DO in this park, apart from admire how sustainable it all is. My eight-year-old proclaimed it ‘boring’ and I could sort of see what she meant. The water channels were dry and the pond area murky and slightly smelly. The only other child present during our visit was poking round rather disconsolately with a stick. You couldn’t really sit on the grass, and the planting was all environmentally-sound species like clover and prairie-style grasses, with little that was sensually arresting. Despite its claims of encouraging biodiversity, the park’s the only obvious wildlife was some fat feral pigeons waddling round, and we can see those pretty much anywhere.
Maybe the shortcoming was mine, but les jardins des Grands Moulins – Abbé Pierre somehow felt almost like the Emperor’s New Clothes…