New to Paris last spring, and somewhat overwhelmed by city living, I discovered this informal, shady garden with a sense of relief.   Comfortable wooden benches are tucked in alcoves among flowering shrubs; high walls shut out the sound of passing traffic; birds splash in the fountain and sing in the trees.  It’s a great place to settle down with a good book.

The Jardin de l’Hôtel d’Assy is part of the gardens of the Archives Nationales, which occupy five historic hotel particuliers and a range of modern extensions.   In 1808 Napoleon I installed the newly constituted Archives in the imposing Hôtel de Soubise; four further hôtels particuliers (individual houses) and their associated gardens were added to the complex over two centuries, with the final acquisition being the Hôtel de Jaucourt in 1969.

In 2011 the Minister of Culture decided that gardens should be opened to the public.  Landscape architect Louis Benech was given the task of redeveloping the gardens in a way that complemented the history and character of the various buildings, while linking the different spaces into a coherent whole.   The result is a wonderfully varied sequence of peaceful, interconnected spaces.  Most of the gardens are in classic French styles but the Jardin de l’Hôtel d’Assy has been renovated à l’Anglais; the height of fashion during the Second Empire, and still very popular with both birds and humans.