Joyeux 400-ieme Anniversaire – (un peu tardif) !

André Le Nôtre is best known as the designer gardener of the Grand Siècle, the 17th century, when he created magnificent gardens for the Sun King, Louis XIV at Versailles. During this time, the arts in general were flourishing: music, visual arts, and spectacular creativity in other media.

Born in Paris on March 12, 1613, Le Nôtre came from a long line of gardeners: his father and grandfather were gardeners to the king in charge of the Tuileries in Paris, and his mother was a gardener’s daughter. His elegant style was exemplified from his background in sculpting, drawing, and architecture. In 1635, he was assigned as the head gardener to the king’s brother, to tend to the Tuileries and the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris and the gardens at Fontainebleau.

Reportedly, Le Nôtre was responsible for opening up the area then known as the Grand-Cours, now known as the Champs-Elysées.He became a friend to the king and earned the nickname “Bonhomme Le Nôtre” due to his earthy personality (no pun intended); his chosen insignia was a green background with three snails crowned with a cabbage on top.

The gardens at Versailles took forty years to complete, covering 800 hectares (1,760 acres) of what was initially marshland and woods. The Grand Canal was transformed and fashioned in the shape of a cross, about 1.8 km x 1.5 km in size.

Today, Le Nôtre is still considered the most famous French gardener, known for his formal, symmetrical gardens – referred to as “le jardin à la française” – a visual contrast to the more natural, wild flower English-style gardens.

LE NÔTRE’s WORKS INCLUDE:

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Chantilly:

Situated north of Paris and created for Le Grand (Prince) Condé. Features include a beautiful horse museum and equestrian show, which I have seen.

Château of Versailles:

This was the main residence of Louis XIV in 1661, with work on the gardens beginning the year after. Events this year include an exhibition of modern sculptures in the gardens and the exhibition “Le Nôtre in Perspective.” I have visited many times and am a member of the “Amis de Versailles”; I also sponsored a tree being planted on the grounds in 2002..

Cordès:

Cordès is located near the Puy-de-Dôme mountain and the garden was designed symmetrically by Le Nôtre. I have not yet visited this one.

Sceaux:

Situated in the Ile-de-France, the château hosts an open-air display about Le Nôtre in the gardens. I have not yet visited this one, as well.

Vaux-le-Vicomte:

Le Nôtre’s first major creation and the garden that contributed to the demise of Nicolas Fouquet, Finance Minister to, and imprisoned by, Louis XIV. Enjoy the site’s garden visits and guided walks. As the precursor design château for Versailles, Vaux is definitely on my next to visit in the near future!

I have always been fascinated with châteaux and have visited the well-known ones in the Loire Valley: Amboise, Blois, Chenonceau. Chambord, Cheverny, and Villandry. Who hasn’t dreamt, as a little girl, of being a princess living in a castle? As an adult, I admire the geometric gardens, the lovely architecture, and the opulence in design and decoration – especially the massive fireplaces with their ornate mantles and hearths. As an adult, I now dream of visiting/staying in France’s numerous châteaux that have been converted into B&B’s.

Luckily, there are châteaux in the South of France – not quite as grandiose as the famous ones, to be sure, but interesting to visit. So, for now, my châteaux quest continues in my own back yard and facilitating a weekend travel package to them for visitors.

by Kim inFrance blogger Kim Defforge.

Kim is a lifelong Francophile, and former French teacher. Having moved from the U.S. to the French Riviera, she enjoys writing about France and French culture on her blog, 24/7 in France. From the simple beauty of a Mediterranean sunset to her passion for all things French, Kim shows us that dreams can come true!

Kim Defforge is the author of "Solitary Desire: One Woman's Journey to France" and "Sun, Sea & Savoir-Faire: Travel Focus on the French Riviera".

Read Kim's other Expat Focus articles here or click the button below to view her own blog…


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