Solid, evergreen cones of clipped yew stand out against the autumn colour and twig tracery of deciduous trees. Rectangular blocks of tightly pruned branches contrast with the irregularity of trees left to grow to their natural form. Far into the distance views are enclosed and directed by the controlled geometry of landscape à la Française.
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Created by André Le Nôtre for Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the Parc de Sceaux has seen many changes since its beginnings at the end of the seventeenth century. Turned over to food production after the Revolution and now a public park, the lines and key elements of Le Nôtre’s design have survived the centuries. The sheer scale of the place seems hostile at first – it is intended to impress and overawe rather than welcome the visitor – but there’s beauty in the strong patterns and contrasts, softened by natural variation.
A few ornamental parterres have been recreated in recent years but mostly this is a robust landscape of trees, grass and water and there are no ‘keep off the lawn’ signs. There are quiet benches in sun and shade, grassy banks for picnics, fields for ball games and miles of broad pathways for joggers, cyclists, scooters and strollers. An accidentally egalitarian legacy from a royal councilor.