Paris has often been referred to as the “city of lights” but it could very well deserve the title “city of gardens.” From the much visited Jardin du Luxembourg to the understated elegance of UNESCO’s Japanese Gardens, the city of Paris displays a very versatile green thumb.
The Jardin de Luxembourg is one of Paris’ most visited parks. It is located in the 6th Arrondissement (Metro stop: Odeon; RER: Luxeumborg). Created in the 1600s, it was not open to the public until the 19th century. The garden was a favorite haunt of the then starving writer Ernest Hemingway not only because of its beauty but because it was known for its extremely well fed pigeons. More than a few ended up on his dinner table during his leaner years.
The gardens follow the classic French tradition of being formally laid out with plants and trees set out in precise patterns. There is a central water feature leading up to the Medici Fountain, named after the garden’s founder Marie de Medicis, widow of Henry IV. Urns and statuary, many on pedestals, frame the walkways on either side of the water basin. The garden is both adult and kid friendly. Children are encouraged to sail toy boats on the water, take pony rides and watch puppet shows.
The most famous sculpture sits at the southern tip of the Jardin du Luxembourg in a part also known as the Jardin Marco Polo. The “Fountain of the Observatory” or “Fountain of the Four Corners of the World” is an elaborate structure that combined the talents of four artists in its creation. The bronze fountain features the carved pedestal by Louis Vuillemot, the globe and its zodiac designed equator from Pierre Legrain and the horses, fish and turtles by Emmanuel Fremiet. Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux crafted the four nude ladies.
Now we travel from the beautifully elaborate to the simplistically divine. UNESCO’s Japanese Gardens are located at the United Nations’ headquarters in the 7th Arrondissement (METRO stop: Segur/Ecole Militaire). The gardens were designed in 1958 by Isamu Nogushi and are known as the “Garden of Peace.” Refurbished in 1999 -2000 by Toemon Sano who stayed true to the original layout, the gardens cover 1,700 square metres. The garden features cherry and plum trees, bamboo, magnolias, a pond and stream and a sunken centre garden area done in the dry Karesausui traditional form.
Other countries are represented by gifts or with memorials within the garden. The Canadian government made a gift of a bench carved from one giant cedar tree from British Columbia. Recently an olive tree was planted as part of memorial to Yitzak Rabin, the assassinated prime minister of Israel. One of the garden’s treasures is a carved angel’s head that was brought over from Nagasaki, Japan. It survived the atomic bomb dropped in 1945.
These are but two of the many green spaces found throughout Paris. It is fitting that a city so vibrant, so alive and so culturally diverse should show equal diversity in the design of its gardens. They are inviting locales for impromptu picnics, rendezvous with smiling lovers or just getting out and taking a walk in the sun. Parisians enjoy their open spaces and visitors are encouraged to join them.