Quai de la Mégisserie takes its name from the mégissiers who used to have their workshops along this stretch of the River Seine. Their trade was the preparation of fine leathers from the skins of goats and sheep, not to be confused with the tanneurs who processed cow skin but equally malodorous. In the 17th century the quay was widened and the mégissiers were displaced to the banks of the river Bièvre, on the other side of the Seine. Their place was taken by scrap metal merchants (now long gone) and flower sellers who displayed their wares along the pavements. This was the site of the main Paris flower market up until 1808 when the Marché aux Fleurs moved to its current home on the Île de la Cité.
Alongside the sellers of cut flowers, nurserymen and seed merchants established permanent shops on the quay, supplying gardeners in Paris and farmers in the wider region. Vilmorin and company owes its origins to Claude Geoffroy who completed her apprenticeship as a Maîtresse Grainière (or Mistress Seed Merchant) in 1743 and set up shop on the quay ‘at the sign of Le Coq de Bon Foy’. In 1745 Claude married Pierre d’Andrieux, botanist by royal appointment to Louis XV, and the business became known as that of the famille d’Andrieux.
Family history repeated itself in the next generation. Adélaïde d’Andrieux, daughter of Claude and Pierre, learnt the trade from her parents and was herself registered as Maîtresse Grainière in 1773. The following year she married Philippe-Victoire de Vilmorin, an up and coming botanist, whom her father promptly made a parter in the business. On Pierre’s death in 1779 Philippe-Victoire became sole proprietor and the family business became Vilmorin-Andrieux.
Vilmorin, now the largest seed and grain merchant in France, may be the dominant presence but several smaller nurserymen and seed merchants still have shops on the quay, along with the pet shops that are the successors to early poultry and bird sellers.
Quai de la Mégisserie is a busy, tree lined street facing the river Seine. (These photos were snatched between passing cars and buses on a rainy day). The current buildings along the quay mostly date from the mid nineteenth century with business premises on the ground floor and four floors of apartments above in classic Parisian style. The tall porte cochère doors echo the style of earlier buildings built around secluded courtyards but aerial photos show that there’s now little open space hidden in this densely built up area.
Although it’s a busy street the tree-shaded pavement, lined with stands of seasonal plants, is an attractive place to stroll. Vilmorin can afford to maintain their historic shop here as the flagship for their worldwide seed business but smaller shops such as Bru et fils and the Jardinerie du Quai depend on passing trade. If you’re visiting Paris you may not be able to buy plants to take home but think of calling in for a few packets of seeds, a friendly welcome and some good gardening advice.
A post for Thursday Doors.
Click on any photo for a closer view.