Some memories never fade: a stolen kiss, an exhilarating roller coaster ride, one’s first trip to Paris. This most-stimulating city enthralls with endless diversions and delights, and residents as well as visitors all have their much-loved pastimes, their regular haunts, and their secret locales. Some habitués enjoy making a grand entrance upon arrival—a fanfare of coffee dates, fashion shows, wine tastings, and shopping expeditions. Others appear unannounced, slipping in quietly to observe and revel in the joy of simply being there. For many, the first stop is often outdoors in a park or garden.
The breathtaking open spaces are a wonderful way to introduce yourself to the city—and for the city to endear herself to you. For it is in those broad, elegant spaces that you can most feel the heartbeat of Paris and fall in with her rhythms: cautious optimism in spring, playful joy in summer, reflective calm in autumn and winter. Whatever your taste or style, Paris offers a garden to suit. In the 1st arrondissement, a favorite is the Palais-Royal, whose accessible scale and flamboyant plantings, counterpointed by soaring columns and arched colonnades, embody perfection of design. Across the river in the 6th arrondissement, the Jardin du Luxembourg provides a peaceful oasis of impressive proportions that never feels overwhelming.These grand gardens possess an almost mystical quality, an alchemy of design and presentation that creates a calming sense of intimacy amid the sweeping vastness of acres of trees and sculpture, ponds, and fountains. Perhaps it is the impeccable, soothing symmetry of the allées of plane trees or the clusters of welcoming chairs or even the quiet crunch of gravel underfoot, but to linger in a Parisian garden is to experience a palpable calmness, a slowing of the pulse and a desire to do nothing more than to sit back and take it all in.
And, throughout gardens great and petits, there are flowers.
“An essential element of la vie Parisienne, flowers embody all that is romantic about the City of Love, and they are on passionate display in her public spaces.”—Georgianna Lane
In spring, bright tulips, cheery narcissi, and blooming cherry and magnolia trees paint the grounds with fluffy plumes of color. At the gracious Parc Monceau, the earliest blossoms can appear even at the end of January. In early April, one can visit the Square Jean XXIII at the base of Notre-Dame and rest under a canopy of bursting cherry blossoms while marveling at the pink-tinged light playing over the pathway along the Seine and the children’s sandbox beneath.
Come late spring and the first days of summer, another wave of floral abundance emerges: roses, peonies, delphiniums, lupines, and campanulas. At the splendid Musée Rodin, dedicated to French sculptor Auguste Rodin, The Thinker floats above lush beds of vibrant roses in late May, offering an unforgettable experience for the flower lover and art aficionado alike.
Venture outside the city to discover heavily fragrant mock orange and fields of daisies blooming, along with roses, peonies, and lilies, throughout the massive expanse of the gardens of Versailles.
Late August and September bring intensely hued cosmos, dahlias, and Japanese anemones to partner with the last of the roses. For a kaleidoscopic explosion of floral color, stop by the gardens of the Palais-Royal, where magenta, purple, and yellow petals dance on the early autumn breeze, sprinkled with spray from the beautiful fountains.
And, as winter approaches, a morning stroll in a Paris park can restore one’s equanimity, bestowing a feeling of privacy and serenity in a peaceful, stable landscape around which the chaotic, glorious energy of Paris swirls. Special mention must be made of the magical light that seems to be everpresent. At the Jardin du Luxembourg, the shimmering glow of the low sun illuminates the last of the leaves and petals, creating twinkling patterns of wistful beauty. Stunning vistas are at once humbling and invigorating, inspiring an expansive outlook of optimism. Little wonder that you’ll find Parisians from all walks of life partaking of this wonderful elixir.
A Parisian garden is a blooming, visual poem. It is orderliness and refinement juxtaposed with exuberant plantings of ornamental flowers, punctuated by towering trees and sublime architecture. Within the rigid meter and strict rhythm of its pathways, gates, and precision layout, a floral sonnet flourishes and beguiles.
More from Paris in Bloom
Text and Photography by Georgianna Lane
Paris in Bloom, by Georgianna Lane (Abrams 2017) is available in bookstores now. Learn more about the author and her other books at GeorgiannaLane.com.