You’ll have to imagine the bird perched on this stone tracery. The sparrows of the Hôtel de Sully are busy feeding nestlings and don’t stay still for long.
The main gates of the seventeenth century hôtel particulier open from busy rue St. Antoine into a paved front courtyard. It’s an impressive space, dominated by the elaborate sculpture on the facades of the building. Stone paving runs straight up to stone walls; the only foliage in this courtyard is sculpted in stone. Opposite the main entrance a short flight of steps leads to a narrow doorway with a glimpse of green through a passageway beyond. Once through the passageway, the view suddenly opens up into a wide, green garden court.
Gravel paths and double, dwarf box hedges define the quarters of the garden, simply filled with mown grass. To the west of the garden there’s one mature tree, an evergreen oak. To the east the space is enclosed by the high wall of a neighbouring building, densely covered with Virginia creeper, and that’s what brings the garden to life.
The creeper is pruned annually, to stop it going above the height of an adjoining roof, but within defined limits it is left to grow freely. The network of twining trunks is overlaid with a dense mass of dead stalks and knit together with recent growth, making a thick layer of vegetation, full of nooks and crannies. To a small bird, the wall offers dozens of possible nest sites all with plenty of near neighbours. Just what sparrows like.
Since the end of the winter the garden has been busy with sparrows. Earlier in the spring there was a lot of chattering and disputing going on as birds established or reestablished pairs and nest sites. Male birds were conspicuous, perched by the entrance to their chosen nest site, loudly extolling its virtues. In home improvement season the garden’s box hedges were thoroughly combed for the dead twigs and dry leaves lodged between their shoots. Now there’s the serious business of feeding nestlings and the parents birds are much quieter, flitting to and fro with invisible beakfulls of whatever they find under the tiny hedges. How the garden manages to produce enough seeds and insects to feed so many nests full is a mystery. Or maybe not. I’ve seen one elderly man scattering bird seed surreptitiously. Perhaps he’s not the only one.
This stone ‘rose’ is one of the most distinctive features of the garden but it doesn’t appear in any guides to the historic buildings of the Marais. Although it looks like a fragment of a medieval church it is, in fact, quite new. One story is that it was the master piece of an apprentice stone mason, installed in the garden as a sculptural feature in the 1970s. Whatever the history, it’s a beautiful frame for a small section of this lively wall of greenery and feathers.