High stone walls muffle the sounds from the street and the courtyard is calm and quiet. Benches, set at intervals in the shelter of the colonnaded arcade, overlook a geometric pattern of stone paving, neat mown grass and clipped yew topiary.
Through an archway there’s a glimpse of trees and a choice of direction. A broad, stone paved axis leads the eye to another, distant arch. To the right, through an iron gate, a winding path leads into an informal garden of mossy lawns, overhanging trees and shady shrubberies. The air is still and fresh here. It doesn’t so much smell different as feel different in the nose. Sparrows gossip in the bushes and there’s the sound of tumbling water, from a small, bubbling fountain.
Stone steps lead down into a more formal garden with low, bitter-scented box hedges and wide walks of fine gravel. There’s a splash of brilliant daffodil colour, a crow croaking high in a leafless trees and a blackbird rummaging in the crisp, dry leaves below.
Through another gate there’s a choice of ways again. In a narrow, rectangular space, enclosed by clipped hedges, pairs of wooden benches flank a central pathway. Last summer the benches were half hidden by arching branches of flowering shrubs and the garden was busy with bees. Now only compact evergreen bushes and neatly-pruned sticks line the borders, leaving the benches exposed.
Round a blank-walled corner a green view opens out to left and right. Formally pruned plane trees frame a wide band of crunching shingle around a parterre of close mown grass with curving ribbons of gravel. Pigeons murmur on a high ledge as a party of chattering school children erupts into the garden, racing to picnic benches with their lunch boxes.
The gardens of the Archives Nationales were once the private gardens of five different hôtels particuliers, grand private houses, acquired by the state and added to the archive complex one by one, between 1808 and 1969. This hidden green space was renovated and redeveloped in 2011 before being opened to the public for the first time. It’s a place apart and a feast for the senses at any season.
Click on any photo to explore the garden gallery.
Linked to the Discover Challenge Blogging the Senses