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Place spotlight: The Potager du Roi at Versailles

When I was in graduate school, I participated in a summer exchange program at France’s national professional school for landscape architects, L’École Nationale Supérieure de Paysage.  This meant several weeks traveling around France with friends and new acquaintances, visiting historic gardens and contemporary designed landscapes.  The first stop was Versailles, where the school is situated overlooking the royal kitchen garden, le potager du roi.  This garden continues to be used for vegetable and fruit production, but it is also used for student experimentation (and sometimes as a beer garden).

The garden’s main growing area is recessed, with a promenade around the perimeter.  The king used to walk along this elevated terrace observing his gardeners at work and his plants growing.  (One can imagine that the plants here were more careful of the way that they grew than elsewhere in the realm).    

The garden hosts an extravagant collection of espaliered fruit trees.  Espaliering is a horticultural technique for maximizing fruit production within a limited area.  The resulting form can also be quite beautiful, depending on your taste.  Many specimens are candelabra-like, with a single vertical trunk and all the fruit-producing branches growing horizontally. 

In addition to the fruit trees, the garden contains an array of crops ranging from fresh strawberries and heirloom asparagus in the spring to vegetable cultivars that were gathered from the four corners of the globe by French explorers and early colonialists.  All of the beds are laid out in geometric rows and form quadrants around a central basin. In the midst of the garden is a bronze sculpture of Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie, a celebrated gardener and courtier of Louis XIV, who abandoned his career in law while visiting the great villa gardens of Italy.




...spring and summer are terrific times for visiting Versailles and the chateau gardens of the Il-de-France, most of which are an easy daytrip from Paris.



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