The palm trees, orange trees, pomegranates and oleanders have been brought out of their winter quarters and put in place around the Jardin du Luxembourg, giving a summery air to the place despite the cold, blustery weather. At the end of September the trees will be pruned to maintain their shape (except for the palms), repotted if necessary and returned to the Orangerie for the winter.
Although the current building only dates from 1839, there has been an orangery in the garden since its creation in the 17th century. Several of the Seville orange, or bigarardier trees put out on display each year are thought to be between 250 and 300 years old. The orange trees are repotted every twelve to fifteen years as the wooden cases start to rot. The roots are pruned before the tree is replanted in fresh potting soil, in a new or renovated case. The palm trees have to be repotted every seven or eight years because their powerful roots start to split the cases, even though they are paneled with 4cm thick oak boards.
The wooden cases used for the these trees are a classic style, designed in 1670 by André Le Notre for the palace gardens at Versailles. The design quickly became the standard in grand gardens throughout Europe, thanks to royal associations but also to the practicality of the cases. The hinged iron (or later steel) framework gives the case its strength and a steel mesh bottom provides good drainage. The thick oak boards are durable, but when they do start to rot they can simply be replaced.
The larger cases at the Jardin du Luxembourg, complete with a sizable palm tree, weigh up to 4.5 tones. Today they can be moved easily round the garden with the aid of a fork-lift truck. Le Notre’s boxes were designed for convenient lifting with poles or planks, but moving trees must have been hard labour for the gardeners.