There is an avenue of fourteen magnolia trees on rue St Bruno, each one surrounded by a miniature garden.  It is obvious that this isn’t the work of the city parks department.  The selection of plants is a varied and a little eccentric.  Each bed is individual.  Tall spires of hollyhocks, just coming in to flower, oversee each bed and lead your eye along the row but in between the hollyhocks, courgettes jostle for space with herbs, beans, bedding plants and carefully nurtured buttercups.

In Amsterdam these beds might have been colonised little by little by neighbouring householders,.  In London they might have been transformed at dead of night by a band of guerrilla gardeners.  Either of those approaches to greening the street is possible in Paris but both are rare.  Here things are (usually) done differently.

These beds are the work of the Collectif Magnolias, a collective of local residents and community groups aiming to ‘initier, soutenir, suivre dans le temps, animer et participer à la végétalisation citoyenne (festive, pérenne, créative, conviviale, organique) des 14 pieds de magnolias…’.  (See below for a translation, but it really doesn’t read as well in English!)  The idea was hatched, and first put to the local town hall, in 2011 but it wasn’t until 2014 that the first seeds were sown. Most community gardening or street greening groups in Paris are approved and supported by their local mairie, the town hall of the arrondissement.  Working through the official channels can be frustratingly slow, but only  a small, anarchic minority choose to take the guerrilla gardening route instead.

Thanks to a 2014 initiative of the city administration, local town halls are now actively seeking proposals for street greening projects, including tree pit gardens like those on rue St Bruno as well as tree planting, shrubs in boxes and vegetated walls.  Official approval gives recognition and publicity as well as access to practical and sometimes financial resources.  It also adds to the weight of good intentions loaded on each small project. Greening the street isn’t just about planting a few flowers or vegetables to brighten up the neighbourhood.  It’s about community cohesion, biodiversity, sustainability, and creativity, not to mention combatting global warming. Of course gardening projects can contribute to all these objectives but the weight of different expectations must sometimes get in the way of simple, practical decisions.

Meanwhile the Magnolias collective seem to have got things sorted.  Each of the fourteen trees has been adopted by an individual or group.  In between the organised, communal gardening sessions the sponsors just get on with doing things their own way and the street is definitely getting greener.

There are before and after pictures on the Magnolias website:

The objectives of the collective are (approximately) to ‘initiate, support, follow in time, organise and participate in the citizen greening ( festive, perennial, creative, convivial, organic) of the tree pits of the 14 magnolias in rue St Bruno…..’