May 18, 2018
Versailles evokes images of glittering gold and vague thoughts of Louis XIV or perhaps Marie Antoinette.
Meeting Alain Baraton on May 18, was to come face-to-face with celebrity, author of ten books and head gardener of Versailles gardens since 1982. A huge celebrity in France, he greeted our group with animated enthusiasm!
Monsieur Baraton has charisma! As the random rep from our group who stepped up to be photographed with Baraton (Gee! I wish I had not lost my lipstick!), I sighed. His persona was larger than the room yet his pride for the romantic and intricate gardens was contagious. Living at Versailles, he has been the head gardener for 38 years, and still has to pinch himself in disbelief.
Not a celebrity worshiper and with a keen eye for human experience, I was charmed by Baraton–why? Because I believe flowers and plants evoke art and culture that beautifies and enriches us, and of which science analyzes, interprets and supports. This summarization that is not always shared by colleagues in Extension of which I once worked (my very first professional job in Indiana), the romantic in me does prevail and persist! I believe human understanding is one that combines art and science, and nobody will budge me from that message. This experience of seeing historical and political interpretation in gardens was a concrete example of my own interpretation of the world.
For 150 years, Versailles has been the center of France!
Baraton rolled data off his tongue. There are 350,000 trees in Versailles with 18,000 varieties of plants and one billion plants. The gardens cover 53 kilometers and there are 150 gardens. Each year the gardens entertain 22 million visitors. Baraton added there is produced 53 tons of waste.
I want the Versailles Gardens to give the impression of a large home. For you Americans I feel a strong relationship via Lafayette…that is I have visited nearly every town named Lafayette in the United States. Know that we have many touches of the United States. For example, J.D. Rockefeller made donations to Versailles–tulip trees. A few years ago when we were greatly affected by bad weather in Paris, we were offered a tree from the United States and I was invited to receive it at the White House. President Bill Clinton sent me home with 1000 trees. So at age 60, I was received at the White House. Later I gave a tour of the gardens…a private tour to Michael Jackson, added Baraton.
Off to his television show, Alain introduced the group to Coralie Beaume, his assistant, to provide a hands-on tour of the Versailles Gardens. You are in good hands! She is the best.
The original gardens were designed by Andre Le Notre who was head gardener for Louis XIV. LeNotre was from a family of painters (not surprising)! Many of the gardens show intricate embroidery-type patterns of grasses and hedges that symbolize that the sovereign can indeed lasso and control nature. A type of political propaganda or message for the day, the gardens substantiated the strength and omnipotence of Louis XIV and insinuated, or perhaps flamboyantly delivered a political messages. The opulence of citrus and all nature of exotic fresh fruit and vegetable to be served at the king’s table, also denoted power–the king and his court had the prominence and power to enjoy anything they desired at anytime at their very fingertip. The enormous and renowned orangery with hugely thick walls assisted with propagation and well-calculated growing of all nature of citrus.
Each garden depicts perspective and symmetry. Topiaries are cut and trimmed with exacting precision. As compared to Chenonceau, for example, the formality is highly and purposely precise and intricate.
One cannot tell where the garden ends–a sense that comes at the fountain which depicts Diana and Zeus who mirror the experiences of Louis XIV, said Coralie.
Coralie Beaume was excited to show us a painting of Jean Cotelle which she was using to create a new garden space that will link to a signature Jean Cotelle painting at Versailles that has recently been restored and will tie thinking and philosophy to the painting and extend to the new garden display. The special presentation will have 24,000 plants with four varieties of cosmos, as well as salvia, delphinium, alstromera, and more. Coralie freely unveiled her intricate sketch and spread sheet of the flowers she planned for the garden, eager to allow some horticulture-types who would appreciate the design and intensity, to marvel. Many of the recently restored Jean Cotelle paintings will be on display and Coralie’s garden will accentuate the display in the Versailles gardens (http://en.chateauversailles.fr/node/998/jean-cotelle-1646-1708-gardens-and-gods)
Asked about production, Coralie said, some plants are propagated and many are purchased. A large green house is on the grounds. They recycle and produce compost and work diligently on pesticide control. We hope to manage every week to catch the best pheromone to attract the critters and we trap them.
The gardens of Marie Antoinette have a French-English influence, that are unique from the Louis XIV gardens.
Find yourself in losing yourself in gardens, said Coralie, who like her boss, Alain Baraton, have studied landscape design and architecture. Coralie walked us through several Bosquet gardens and groves.
An explanation was given about how the garden outside of the castle (garden of glass) perfectly reflected into Louis XIV’s bedroom with the hall of mirrors. The rooms wake the king with the sun in his castle at the east and the horse pond and reflecting pool are reflected by the garden of glass. In the bosquet gardens, all nature of medium is shown; for example gogette lava rock is depicted.One of the fountains reflected a global vision of seasons.
See it like a fabric and in every English garden, find yourself in losing yourself, repeated Coralie.
Asked about heirloom plants, Carolie explained that hedges are replaced approximately every 14 years. Whenever possible cuttings from the original plants are used.
(Note that an epidemic wiped out several descendants, and Louis XVI emerged. He had a good global vision but perhaps not the temperament to governing. He should have reacted earlier and he waited too long. The Period of Terror resulted in his beheading along with his queen, Marie Antoinette. Napoleon later redesigned some of the parks. )