I went back to the Jardin de Tuileries first thing this morning, in search of a better photo for yesterday’s post. The air was cool and fresh, the garden was peaceful, swifts were swooping low over the pond, starlings were bathing in puddles under the lawn sprinklers and yes, I liked the place. Even in gentle, morning light the main axis looks forbidding to my eyes, and I still don’t think the planting in the Grand Carré makes sense but, in the right light, this park has a lot to recommend it.
It is, of course, a park not a garden and recognizing that helps me adjust my expectations. Within the grand framework there are several different garden areas, hidden to either side of the main axis. Some of these gardens are formal, some informal and some a little bizarre.
This shady, green garden is dominated by the Arbre des Voyelles, a bronze cast of a twenty metre tree, uprooted in a gale in 1999, made by Italian artist Guiseppe Penone. Apparently you can find the shape of all the vowels in the alphabet hidden in the exposed roots and these can be linked to Celtic names for various significant trees, but the sculpture is a lovely piece without that. The planting of this garden is deceptively simple and looks almost natural, but the pruned, mop-headed cypress tree is a reminder that this green simplicity is actually carefully contrived. This garden is managed with a light touch and self-sown wild plants look right at home.
Scattered throughout the Tuileries are 2,000 green, garden chairs (I didn’t count them personally), of a style found in parks all over Paris. Chairs are lined up in the sun all round the ponds and fountains, they are clustered in groups under the trees and tucked into quiet corners. The metal chairs are light and easy to move, so you can place them just where you want. It’s an invitation to make yourself at home that thousands of people accept every day. I’m beginning to understand why.