The Story of the Thriving Gardens of Versailles

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The Palace of Versailles, about 20 kilometres away from Paris, once bore witness to one of the major historical events in the world: the treaty signed here eventually ended the battle between the Allied Powers and Germany and, thus, World War I.

But the palatial garden that contrasts the castle is just as historical and legendary, including how it’s able to maintain its grandeur and majesty after all these centuries. This is the story of the survival of the Gardens of Versailles.

When the Flowers First Bloomed

One can never miss the beauty of the Gardens of Versailles. Covering over 750 hectares of land, the gardens feature over 210,000 flowers and 200,000 species of trees, at least 50 fountains, and multiple massive sculptures. All these congregated into groves, each with a theme.

The Ballroom Grove, for example, resembles a green amphitheatre, while the Chestnut Grove functions as a walkable outdoor gallery punctuated by fountains at every end. This design replaced the original, which formerly included ancient sculptures, and their models, aptly positioned on top of their pedestals.

In the middle of the gardens is the placid Grand Canal that measures over 1,500 meters long. Gondolas previously waded through this body of water. Today, rowboats allowed visitors to experience the same solitude and enjoyment the monarchies and nobles did.

With its huge size, the Gardens of Versailles took a long time to the complete-in fact, it ran for 40 years. The building of the canal alone was 11 years.

However, the gardens wouldn’t have come about without the two kings and a brilliant architect and gardener. King Louis XIII purchased the lands in 1632 and worked with the likes of ClaudeMolleton on the initial designs of the greenery.

However, King Louis XIV (also known as the Sun King)spearheaded the gardens’ growth and completion. In 1661, he tapped the palace’s architectAndréLeNôtreto create the rest of the gardens and renovate the others.

Making the garden was laborious. Thousands of workers drove wheelbarrows, digging soil and pouring the earth to create flowerbeds and land. They needed to convert the marshes and meadows into fountains, parterres, and canals.

Why would a king go through such great lengths for a garden? It could be for two reasons: the bucolic gardens came when France, as a superpower, was rising. It seems nothing tells the world what the country is capable of than flaunting its wealth and capabilities.

Second, the king believed in an absolute monarchy. To maintain that, he let his nobles live in the palace and held grand parties in the gardens.

Surviving the Centuries

The kings that ruled France disappeared. So did other infamous historical figures to have graced the gardens like Napoleon Bonaparte and Marie Antoinette. But the gardens remained-how? The strategies are a combination of science and smart commercial landscaping.

Unlike the statues and sculptures that peppered the greenery, the garden itself is dynamic, evolving. However, the architect and the Sun King instructed the successors that the landscape could only be replanted every 100 years.

The 1999 hurricane, in particular, proved to be the most challenging for the people tasked to preserve the gardens. On the evening of December 25, strong winds battered Versailles for two hours. It destroyed the palace’s roofs and broken several mirrors.

But the gardens took the brunt of it all. About 100,000 trees were either uprooted or split. Some of the groves became inaccessible or impassible. Over 75 per cent of the rarest species of trees had been damaged, including the ones planted by Marie-Antoinette.

The destruction contributed to the acceleration of the restoration project for both the palace and the gardens. While they worked to recreate the same grounds the Sun King walked through, they also embraced contemporary designs, which were simpler and easier to tend.

The gardens are also not immune to climate change. Bugs, for example, feast on the thousands of chestnut trees. Many of the saplings die in the first year because of changing weather patterns and extreme heat.

But Alain Baraton, the garden’s keeper, wants to go green with his approaches in taking care of the garden. First, he prioritizes local plants instead of exotic ones since they are more adaptable to the climate of France.

Second, he changed the practice of planting the same rows of trees. Instead, a row could feature various species. Not only does it produce a lovely contrast, but it also prevents diseases and bugs from spreading fast and destroying the trees.

Third, he avoided using commercial pesticides and herbicides, especially to get rid of bugs and worms. In fact, he let them eat the leaves. This way, when they get fat, they become delicious treats for the birds.

It’s unclear whether the gardens will thrive all the way into the future. As long asBaraton’s methods work, however, the plants will continue to relive the tales of the monarchs who once strolled the paths.

Vinh Van Lam
the authorVinh Van Lam
Vinh Van Lam, co-founder of ArtSHINE, is a visionary art coach and entrepreneur with a passion for fostering creativity. With a diverse background in art and business, he brings a unique perspective to empower emerging artists, enabling them to thrive in the dynamic art industry through the innovative platform of ArtSHINE.

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