80 kilometres west of Paris in the region of Haute Normandie, lies the tiny village of Giverny.
It was here, at Giverny, in 1883, that Claude Monet began to establish the beautiful garden that features in so many of his works. The most famous of these are his water lily and Japanese bridge paintings.
Monet lived and worked at Giverny until his death in 1926 and he lies buried, along with many members of his family, in the village graveyard.
The house and garden were opened to the public in 1980. Art afficianados can steep themselves in the ambiance of Monet’s studio enjoy the same views represented in his paintings. Garden lovers can draw inspiration from the vast arrangement of plantings.
Despite the endless chain of tourist buses that discharge crowds here every day, there is always a tranquil spot to be found here where one can enjoy nature in solitude.
Until half-way through the 17th century, Versailles was a tiny village in the countryside outside Paris. It was site of the royal hunting lodge and although, as they were keen hunters, the French regents “camped” there frequently, it was hardly a fitting place for the Kings’ court.
But in 1642, Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King, set up residence at Versailles and began the process of transforming the humble hunting lodge into the larges and grandest palace in the world.
The magnificent Palais de Versailles was designed by the architect Louis Le Vau and its hundreds of splendid rooms were sumptuously decorated by the interior designer Charles Le Brun. One of the most striking rooms is the Galerie des Glaces or Hall of Mirrors, a fairy-tale ballroom designed to reflect and multiply the dazzling King and his courtiers. Surrounding the palace are 800 hectares of parkland and gardens, laid out in the contemporary French Garden style by the landscape designer André Le Nôtre. They include avenues of trees, parterres of flowers, manicured lawns, fountains and sculptures. One of the most impressive features of Versailles is the geometric layout of the entire complex, including buildings and gardens with the Sun King’s bed chamber at its heart.
The Royal Court was officially established at Versailles on May 6, 1682. By keeping his Ministers, Advisors, Provincial Rulers and Courtiers close to him, dependant on him and more or less cut off from the outside world, Louis XIV kept them powerless and loyal. Strict rules of etiquette kept control at Versailles The epitome of this was the “lever” which required an attendance of courtiers every morning when the Sun King rose from his bed. All at Versailles clamoured for the privilege. Breaches or negligence of protocol, lack of deference or a mere fall from favour meant banishment and to banished from the court was to be banished from the sun and from life. Sometimes it simply meant death.
Versailles remained the seat of absolute power until the French Revolution in 1789, when Louis XVI, his wife Marie Antoinette and their children were forced to return to Paris
Versailles is important, historically, as a symbol of the Absolute Monarchy of the Ancien Regime.
Today the village of Versailles is a busy suburb of Paris and the Chateau de Versailles is a treasured part of France’s heritage.
Paris – the very name is synonymous with fine taste, understated elegance, subtle beauty and discreet charm.
Paris architecture is uniform, proportioned, restrained and where there are flourishes of extravagance, they serve to highlight and underline the harmony of the whole.
Even nature in Paris is organised and ordered – straight lines of trees and parterres with patterned plantings fill the parks.
Generally here is nothing jarring or glaring in the Paris landscape. There is however, the odd aberration. I found the American Dream Multiplexe, in a beautiful little backstreet near the Opera some years ago. It stood among its nineteenth century neighbours, bold and brash, a riot of modern pop symbolism, a loud, unruly blot on the quiet, ordered streetscape – an American Dream in Paris.
If hours are easily lost in Hampton Court Palace’s halls and apartments, days are easily lost in the 60 acres of Hampton Palace Gardens.
Over the centuries, many people added their own touch of beauty to the Hampton Court Palace gardens.
The Wilderness garden began as orchard in Henry VIII’s time. In the 17th century it became a series of intertwining paths with a maze of tall hedges. Today, only the maze remains. The Knot garden, although laid down in modern times, replicates the Henry VIII’s original.
The 13 fountains and the parterre of the Great Fountain garden were the work of William III and Mary II. The Privy, established in 1702, was King William’s private garden. The Orangery was built to nurture Mary II’s exotic collection which included cacti, orange and lemon trees.
The Yew trees were planted by Queen Anne.
The grapevine, which still yields delicious grapes, was planted in 1768 by the renowned landscape gardener, Capability Brown. The sunken Pond gardens which once held freshwater fish are now planted with flowers.
The flower beds are Victorian and the herbaceous borders were added in 1920.
The 20th century garden was converted from a horse paddock in the 1970s to train apprentice gardeners.
Last but not least, the snippet of sky on the header of this Travelstripe Blog was snapped above the Rose Garden at Hampton Court Palace.
At a busy roundabout on London’s Albert Embankment, just over the river from the Houses of Parliament is the world’s first Museum of Garden History.
Housed in the lovely old St Mary-at-Lambeth church and set in a peaceful, almost rustic garden with beautiful patio garden furniture, it is staffed by tweedy, be-brogued gentle-folk with the unmistakable stamp of the gardening enthusiast. The kinds who would be able to talk for hours about seasonality, and would know the benefits of concrete gravel boards from A to Z off by heart. In other words, the perfect people for such an establishment.The Museum of Garden History is quaint, other-worldly and a fascinating insight into the British passion for their gardens whether they be grand rambling parks or modest allotments.
An erstwhile baptismal alcove, just inside the church entrance is now a tiny oral history “auditorium”. It booms an whispers its stories in the corner like a tardis. Wall displays trace the history and evolution of gardens and look at the work of great garden designers like Gertrude Jekyll, at gardeners like Capability Brown and at plant collectors like the John Tradescants. One of the central displays outlines the rise and demise of one of England’s great seed merchants as well as examples of the merchandise of the house. Others house historic collections of gardening artefacts – tools, watering cans, gloves and boots along with gnomes, other curious garden ornaments and of course the garden gazebo. There are interesting post-war advertising posters which feature mother (with the teapot) the children (at the table) and father (pushing the lawn-mower) in the idyllic shaded garden of their grand, two-storey, unmistakably English house.
The Museum Café sells fabulously colourful vegetarian foods – salads, pastas, chunky and grainy combos, fat muffins and moist cakes, thick with fruit, as well coffee, tea, juices and smoothies.
In the rear courtyard of the church is the tomb of the John Tradescants, the famous plant hunters and gardeners to Charles I. The 17th century knot garden, which is the courtyard’s centrepiece, is planted with specimens discovered and grown by the Tradescants. Also in the courtyard is the grave of Captain William Bligh, carved with words of high praise for his distinguished service in the British Navy (No mention anywhere of the ignominious Bounty affair)
The Museum shop is crammed with charming little gardening knick-knacks, beautiful books, cards, garden produce bottled or tinned in tiny containers, toys and of course tools and clothes for the garden!