Book of the moment.
Painting of the Palace of Versailles and it’s grounds by Pierre Patel (1668).
These are the gardens of the Palace of Versailles.
“This splendid and enormous palace was built in the mid-17th century during the reign of Louis XIV – the Roi Soleil (Sun King) – to project the absolute power of the French monarchy, which was then at the height of its glory. Its scale and decor also reflect Louis XIV’s taste for profligate luxury and his boundless appetite for self-glorification. Some 30,000 workers and soldiers toiled on the structure, the bills for which all but emptied the kingdom’s coffers.
(The gardens were constructed) under the guidance of landscape artist André Le Nôtre, whose workers flattened hills, drained marshes and relocated forests as they laid out the seemingly endless gardens, ponds and fountains.” - Lonely Planet
It is indeed the most grotesquely over the top shrine to money and power that I have ever seen, or can imagine seeing. The scale of the gardens is so unbelievably huge that they are not actually that comfortable to be in. They were built to be viewed from the heights of the palace, or perhaps from the windows of a horse drawn carriage. It does not help that the pockets of the current owners of the palace are significantly less deep than those of the Sun King. A long, and arguably monotonous, walk through winding avenues of towering hornbeam hedge is no longer rewarded with a stroll in one of the many open-air drawing rooms, amongst fountains and statues. Large iron gates are invariably locked denying public access to the centre pieces of many of the gardens and, when I was there at least, the fountains were turned off. The labour available to modern Versailles must be a fraction of that in the past. When viewed on foot, in detail, the gardens lose their finesse. The grass parterre is infested with weeds that spread into the gravel paths, invisible from above. The hedges are trimmed with tractor and flail and the ends of branches are ripped, not clipped.
Having said this the Orangerie, pictured above was just breathtaking. Surprising considering it was basically a large arrangement of pot plants. I had a stroke of luck when I arrived at the Salle De Bal (Outdoor ballroom) which came alive briefly when the fountains were turned on for a photographer.
Is there another place on earth like Versailles? I think we only need one, at most.
Footnote: I have since found out that the fountains at Versailles are never on all at the same time and never have been. Apparently the problem of creating enough water pressure for the whole site to function remains unsolved. This was kept a secret from the Sun King himself, as all those involved feared for their lives. Such failure would have surely resulted in execution. A young boy was employed to run ahead of the King as he toured the grounds and warn the gardeners in the direction he seemed to be heading to turn on the next fountain, which would take several minutes to get going…No pressure then (pun intended)!
We went to visit a friend at his mothers home this weekend. The cottage is hidden in woods in East Sussex, rented from a large estate. The house and garden have been the subject of love and benign neglect in equal measure over the years and as a consequence have a peculiar beauty. There is an eclectic herb garden around the side of the cottage in what remains of a Victorian glasshouse. Specimen trees and rambling roses blur the boundaries between the minimal lawn and surrounding woods.
For me seeing this place again is a lesson in restraint in design. There is nothing inside or out that doesn’t have function or beauty. There has been no gratuitous consuming of stuff for the sake of novelty here. Things are used if they fit the purpose, fixed when necessary and the most economical materials are used in every situation.
Local legends, the Copper Family from Rottingdean, East Sussex singing about ‘edgelayin’ and ploughin’ ‘an all!
I spent a cold damp afternoon at The Lost Gardens of Heligan yesterday, researching Victorian vegetables for a primary school project. The abandoned Victorian kitchen garden was re-discovered in the 80’s and has been painstakingly restored. I rarely go in the summer with the hoardes and prefer to go in the blustery wind and rain, when i can have the place virtually to myself and imagine the place as it once was..
The Rhubarb Triangle.