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Thursday, May 24, 2012

A day full of gardens

Me in front of the Japanese water garden,
with the famous bridge in the background
by Anna Simmons

As a child of two self-professed garden geeks, who are each the product of other garden geeks, you could say that an appreciation of all things flower-related pretty much runs in my blood. My parents filled my childhood with innumerable trips to state and local botanical gardens, on top of springs and summers spent in our own gardens that they themselves labored over 3 seasons out of the year. Hence, I had kind of mixed emotions about going to see the sites of two of the most famous gardens in the Paris vicinity: excited (because hey, who doesn’t like firsthand experiences with famous things?), but also a little ambivalent because after a certain point, you’re like, seen one garden, seen them all. I know, I know, that sounds terrible. But let me just assure you that the excursion to Giverny and Versailles definitely changed that attitude real quick!

First off, a little explanation. Giverny is where Claude Monet spent the last few decades of his life painting. It’s chiefly known for being the place where he painted his famous water lilies, but it was also where he lived and had several other gardens constructed specifically to his tastes. Our timing there to see these gardens couldn’t have been better. All the springtime flowers were just popping; there was row after row and bed after bed of tulips, daffodils, azaleas, and more tulips all totally at their peak in blooming. It was amazing to see that many perfect tulips in so many different colors just gently moving in the breeze—like an ocean of flowers.

The front of Monet's house. So pretty!
And, of course, we got to see the famous Japanese water gardens where Monet painted his even more famous water lilies. Though the water lilies were one of the few flowers not blooming for our visit, the network of ponds and streams was no less beautiful for it. Also, it was weird seeing the sites of all his famous paintings in such sharp detail, because of course, Monet was an impressionist painter. We decided the landscapes looked more like the paintings if we blurred our vision by squinting and/or taking off our glasses, though (ha, ha).

Megan, Kharissa and I under a pretty pink tree
From Giverny we went to Versailles, one of the most beautiful palaces ever and the very picture of 17th century French decadence. I had the good fortune on a previous trip to Paris to see the inside of the palace, but my Parisian host and I were so exhausted afterwards that we barely gave the celebrated Versailles gardens more than a cursory glance. I’d always felt kind of bad about that, because if you’re gong to visit a garden in Paris, the gardens of Versailles are the ones to see. So on Saturday’s excursion, Kharissa (who had also already seen the inside, multiple times) and I decided that we wanted to focus mainly on seeing the gardens!

Specifically, we wanted to see Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon, the area of the grounds Louis XIV specifically gave to her and where she had constructed a little English hamlet all for herself. The way some little girls like to play “house,” Marie Antoinette kind of liked to play “village” in this hamlet, complete with farms and villagers. Ah, well, what else would you expect from the woman who coined the phrase, “Let them eat cake?” I’d learned about the Petit Trianon in high school French class, so I really wanted to make a point to see it this time around.

View across the pond of part of
Marie Antoinette's English hamlet

Me laying in a grove of trees at Versailles.
Again, so pretty!
It completely lived up to my expectations. The English gardens and the hamlet on the grounds of the Trianon were absolutely gorgeous, bar none one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever been. Rolling green fields, trees bursting with bright pink blossoms, and a precious little old English “village” all set up around a pond. It all felt very fairy tale-esque, very girly, and very pretty. And we like pretty things. Kharissa and I spent the better part of the afternoon just wandering around the hamlet and laying in a grassy grove of trees, resting from all the walking we’d done that day. It was picture perfect! If you ever get a chance to go to Versailles, do try and make the effort to go see the Petit Trianon and its grounds. It was one of my favorite memories of that whole excursion! A day full of gardens wasn’t so bad, after all!

A bientôt!
Anna Simmons


GSE Spring 2012 - Paris, France
University of Paris Sorbonne

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