The summer bedding has been cleared away in the garden of the Hôtel de Sens, leaving a crisp pattern of neatly trimmed, dwarf box hedges around bare earth and wood-chip mulch.

In summer the narrow beds of the geometric parterre are filled to overflowing with colourful bedding.  In recent years the summer planting has been exuberantly informal. This picture was taken in early October, as bright dahlias carried the summer colour on into autumn.

When the seasonal plants are removed, the precise lines of the garden à la Française are revealed.  This style of gardening demands very careful layout and careful maintenance.

The Hôtel de Sens, one of the best preserved medieval buildings in Paris, was built in 1519 as the Paris residence of the archbishop of Sens.   The present garden was only laid out in 1957, in a modern interpretation of medieval style.  It is probable that the original garden, though formal in layout, was more productive, with useful herbs and vegetables as well as flowers. 


hôtel de sens view 2

Image from Paris Atlas Historique

Geometric patterns of beds enclosed by dwarf hedges were a feature of grand gardens in the Middle Ages but the elaborate, swirling style of broderie parterre, shown in this 18th century view, didn’t develop until the 17th century.

hôtel de sens jam label

The Hôtel de Sens became state property after the Revolution and was sold off for commercial use, serving time as a laundry and a jam factory, among other functions.  (This reproduction of a 19th century label is from  By the time the city council took over its care, in 1919, the building was in a dilapidated state, with no trace of an historic garden.


After much restoration, in 1962 the Hôtel became the home of the Bibliothèque Forney, the city’s specialist library for applied and decorative arts.  Although you need to apply for a ticket to use the library, the garden is open to all.

In the ostentatious broderie (or embroidery) parterres, that became fashionable in the 17th century, the beds between the hedges were simply filled with coloured gravels so the all important lines of the hedges could be better appreciated. Impressive on a grand scale, especially when seen from a raised terrace or first floor windows, but rather dull close up.

This simpler, geometric style suits a small, public garden, with a good maintenance budget. The beds are replanted with bulbs, annuals and tender perennials twice a year, offering changing interest and the possibility of trying out new combinations each season.  Photos taken a few years ago show formal rows of bedding plants filling the beds.  Now the city parks department has adopted a more casual style of planting which contrasts with the neatly trimmed hedges.  Informal but carefully planned; gardening à la Française with a touch of à l’Anglaise style. But I still think it would look better without those stiff, ‘French’ marigolds.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Careful.”