The scarecrow is standing guard over one of the school garden patches within the Jardin Partagé du Clos des Blancs Manteaux. The scarecrow doesn’t bother the family of blackbirds who were scuffing around in the border this morning. (The young ones are just learning to fly and to search for their own food.) Pigeons are more of a pest in this garden, so the cut off plastic bottles are protecting young pea shoots.
The garden at Blanc Manteaux is one of over a hundred community gardens that have signed up to the city’s Main Vert (green hand or green fingers) charter since its inauguration in 2003. Main Vert groups undertake to maintain their garden in an ecologically friendly manner, so wildlife is a welcome part of the deal. Groups also agree to open their gardens to the (human) public at least twice a week. In exchange the Mairie de Paris provides a tool shed, supplies and signs together with support and oversight of the Main Vert network, ensuring that these varied, imaginative gardens benefit the wider community as well as the local enthusiasts who develop them.
The Blanc Manteaux garden adjoins the grounds of a primary school, so it is only open to the public at weekends. Other Main Vert gardens occupy corners of public parks, courtyards in social housing blocks, or vacant sites belonging to the rail network or utility companies. Some of the gardens do include separate plots, cultivated individually, but the overall emphasis is on shared activity and cooperation. All Main Vert groups are expected to organise one public event per year in their garden but most don’t need any encouragement. The gardens are convivial places for shared meals, parties and community arts activities.
Like so many green spaces in Paris, the Blanc Manteaux garden is hidden away between high buildings. Entering through a passageway, you come first into a courtyard shaded by horse chestnut trees. A short flight of steps leads up into an open space with narrow, box-edged beds, laid out around a central hedged enclosure in a pattern inspired by the design of medieval herb gardens. The name of the garden, and of the street in which it is situated, comes from the thirteenth century order of white robed, Servite monks whose convent was established here under the patronage of Louis IX. The only surviving remnant of the convent is the church, further along the street, which was largely rebuilt in the seventeenth century. Although Clos des Blanc Manteaux has a timeless atmosphere, it isn’t a relic of an ancient monastery garden. It was constructed twenty years ago, over the roof of an underground car park.