We didn’t, but spied it from afar to the right of the main entrance, as we were leaving the Parc Floral, in Paris. This post is a gallop to record images and thoughts before they dissipate into the fog of memory and all clarity is lost.
To have the chance to revisit Paris in early May was a mixed blessing – a wonderful week of weather, as indeed we’d experienced when last there 10 years ago at this time of the year. But we left behind our own garden’s weeds exploding everywhere. Not such a problem in the drier Parisian climate.
On the first few days, we returned to some of our favourite outdoor places, to soak up the unbroken sunshine and rising temperatures. Things were definitely looking up. And I marvelled at the images glimpsed by doing just that. Was this all part of the master plan, when the gardens were laid out decades ago?
At the Jardin de Albert Kahn, almost every view is a study in consummate design and planting skill. And currently a bargain at 4 euros entrance, even allowing for current building works. Or, as happened in our case, and I realised too late after my very poor French slowly picked up on ‘soixante cinque’, an even greater bargain for OAP’s. A first for us, but clearly the cashier thought we merited the pensioner’s rate.
A stroll through the Parc de Andre Citroen, and lunch on the way back, captured equally stunning, though more contemporary, designs. But here the first sense of a city not entirely as comfortable, as in the past.The huge water features, fountains and rills were largely drained, butyl liners ripped with Buddleia growing through – as with many gardens, some great ideas and available funding to set them up, but what happens with the passage of time, when the attrition of entropy takes hold on the maturing scene, and the initial enthusiasm for creating this urban green lung, from a disused car factory, has waned?
How much longer before the giant Mairie de Paris balloon tethered at the Parc’s centre deflates, or blows away, and up, up, above the nearby Eifel Tower? Many of the restaurants said that their turnover was still 30% down on what they’d expect, following the 13/11/2015 terrorism, and the streets were indeed noticeably quieter.
We even watched from our window seat in the excellent Bistrotters restaurant, 2 different street walkers in the space of an hour, canabilise an old discarded computer server – one for the hard drive, one for a metal side panel.
Even the fabulous busking harpist, Romain Jermande, in the cloister corner of the Place des Vosges didn’t have a CD to sell of his extensive, and largely self-arranged repertoire, carefully typed up, listed and taped to the honeyed limestone wall. Few stood and lingered, but Click here to listen to a clip of his intense and delightful music making which Fiona captured on her mobile phone.
Anyone know what this small tree is? Clearly a magnet for honeybees, but sadly no label on it. A brisk walk to reach this Parc, through the Bois de Boulogne, taking care not to glance into the parked up, clapped out white vans, with scarves wrapped around the wing mirror, indicating that the buxom female driver was available, this huge park was again quite empty of visitors, to appreciate the daisy lawns.
Delightful scenes everywhere – Paeony borders, Wisteria and trees resplendent in multi-coloured early May leaves, and everywhere unmown grass with spring bulbs and flowers.And then one of my favourite scenes of our trip.
Sunlight catching the mixed plantings of two forms of Tulip. No names again, and a pair of passing gardeners couldn’t enlighten me. Probably not the first year in the ground for these bulbs, from their variable size and patchy distribution. But it occurred to me that what made this such an arresting vista was the special light and background of tall, already flowering buttercup studded grasses above which the Tulip flowers floated and danced like oversized butterflies, leaves and anchoring stems, almost hidden from view.
The power of green, similarly highlighted by the backdrop of ground cover beneath the cloud pruned Camellias at Albert Kahn. (Mind your own business, Soleirolia soleirolii?) How much nicer than just bare soil?
And so back to the Parc Floral de Paris, where the display beds which had been filled with Dahlias last autumn now featured blocks of Tulips, as far as the eye could see. Great for assessing height and colour variations, but, at least to my eye, lacking the wow factor of the previous two floral vignettes.
There had been much joint discussion as to whether we should revisit Monet’s Giverny garden – the above photo and those below. 10 years ago, in identical conditions at the beginning of May, it had been inspirational. A garden packed with intermingling flowers and simply heaving with insect life. A seminal moment in how we’ve thought about gardens as havens not just for busy people, but homes for bees, butterflies, flies and all the other life forms that can be encouraged, if the right mix of nectar and pollen source flowers are planted. I wasn’t convinced a return would prove equally enjoyable, but was persuaded we should go.
Knowing that we’d had a queue to get in, all those years ago, we’d booked garden tickets on line in advance, and arrived at Gare St Lazare 30 minutes early, to catch a train out to Vernon. We weren’t alone in being foiled by the automated ticket machines, which proved impossible to get to sell us return tickets. By the time we’d joined the long queue at the only manned ticket office, the moment was lost. Our train had left. So we bought train tickets for the following day.
In spite of another very hot day, she gamely agreed to the trek to Giverny, and after being disgorged from the train, I had a sinking feeling. 4 coaches were filled with visitors, with even standing room down the coach aisle, to the door, then a short drive past 3 enormous river cruise ships moored up on the Seine’s banks at Vernon. A 20 minute traffic jam to get into the vastly expanded car park, and then joining an unbroken human trail snaking up to through the pretty village of Giverny, to Monet’s garden at Clos Normande.
Only when home did I reflect that I normally struggle to capture the essence of a garden, or flowers, with photographic images, since they can’t capture the bigger picture.
Or movement. Or Sound.
Or scent. Or emotions.
The people are largely hidden from view by clever corralling of visitors down just one or two of the narrow pathways. The noise and bustle of hundreds of bodies in what is a physically modest space aren’t apparent.
And one is left with the plantings.
Immaculately maintained and a kaleidoscope of colour, is this what inspired me a decade ago? I wasn’t sure. Weren’t these just a bit too brash?
There were almost no insects.
Hordes of people on a 23 degree plus sunny day in early May, in a garden full of flowers, and in our fairly brief time there, I’d spotted just 2 hoverflies, 1 bumblebee and 1 white butterfly.
This wasn’t the stuff of inspiration we’d enjoyed before, which led us to create a garden full of insect friendly flowers.
And then a moment of perfect synchronicity for me, and which I seemed to be the only one of the hundreds of visitors, to notice.
A loud buzzing.
A REALLY loud buzzing.
Glancing around, I looked for the source. What special plant had attracted at least a few bees?
And then I saw it.
On the move, to pastures new. And maybe less cluttered.
Perhaps with fewer perfumed and sweaty bodies? Or less CO2?
We took the very pleasant, and largely people free 4.5km walk back to Vernon, along the old railway track, during which time we saw 5 (Brimstone/Clouded?) yellow butterflies, 4 Orange – tips, Whites, Speckled Woods and a single Fritillary. And passed a beautifully aesthetic planting, outside Giverny’s Impressionist museum, close to Monet’s garden.
But some questions arose.
What is it that people find enjoyable about a garden visit experience like this one? Just the flowers, or the overall ambience?
A quick glance at recent Giverny Trip advisor feedback, shows that it’s still rated very highly. They evidently receive 600,000 annual visitors, and rising. Personally I would have only given it 1 or 2 stars as an overall experience.
Just why have insect numbers in the garden apparently collapsed so dramatically? For sure it had been a cold April in Paris, but a few warm sunny days should have triggered huge insect activity. Are different less appealing plant cultivars being grown than on our previous visit? Or are the numbers of people simply discouraging in some way for the local insects?
A final trip back to Paris on a crowded train with no working air conditioning, or opening windows completed the day. The illness issues curtailed much further activity, but we did make it to the recently reopened Rodin museum. One of the few private museums in Paris, it’s a wonderful mixture of impressive external Bronze sculptures, set amongst imaginative, though formal plantings, along with an elegant house containing more examples of Rodin’s prolific output, including paintings.
So engrossed in fact, that I failed to notice that the sculpture wasn’t even by Rodin himself, but by one of his students who became his muse and lover, Camille Claudel. Click here for more images of the sculpture, a copy of which is also in the Musée d’Orsay, together with a little on its background history, by Ben Pollitt.
Maybe this was to be our last trip to Paris, and we shall seek pastures and experiences new for future breaks from our Welsh scene. If so, along with the bee crowded Paeonia suffruticosa flowers in the garden of the Museum, a fitting place and sculpture to ponder in years to come.
And so back home. I went down with the lurgy, and then continued with my early spring, late winter task of rejuvenating some of our hedges, which after decades of untrimmed growth had themselves moved beyond maturity. But more of this next time.
Finally, the pink leaved tree at the beginning of the post was Toona sinensis ‘Flamingo’. This ‘Chinese’ Mahogany is also apparently valued for scented leaves, bark and wood, as well as insect friendly flowers in July?
Can we squeeze one in as a reminder of this trip?
Back to the weeding.