I just treated myself to a special day at the Luxembourg gardens.
Le Luxembourg, (once referred to as “le Lucco” by locals,) remains a beloved Parisian park. Tourist crowds may flock to this special green space in the heart of Paris’s Left Bank, (or at least used to, in pre-Covid19 days,) generations of Parisiens have spent quality time there as well, from students, young families, promeneurs, to office workers on their lunch break. This is the perfect place to relax, regroup, or play.
Luxembourg gardens: A palace dreamed by a queen
The story has been told often. In the early 17th century, a French queen, Marie de’ Medici, tired of living in the damp, dark Louvre (a former medieval fortress,) decided to build a palace inspired by her childhood home, (Florence’s Pitti palace,) on the outskirts of the French capital. She found the perfect site and a former hôtel particulier (private mansion,) that would evolve over the following decade (1615-1625) to be turned into a palais princier (royal residence.) Marie de’ Medici did not get to enjoy her palace for long and went into exile after falling out with her son, King Louis XIII. The palace subsequently belonged to other members of the French royalty; survived the French Revolution, and through the 19th century, became a seat of power under successive French regimes. Today, the queen’s former residence, le Palais du Luxembourg, houses the French senate.
The evolving Luxembourg gardens
In spite of her power and determination, queen Marie de’ Medici failed at designing the gardens she had once envisioned. She tried expanding the property outside her new home, but a convent run by a community of Chartreux (Carthusian monks) stood in her way, south of the palace. Les Chartreux had been there for centuries, since pious King Saint Louis (Louis IX) had gifted them with an expansive piece of property to found a monastery. Monks at la Chartreuse de Paris were known for their gardening skills and lived in small homes with private gardens organized around a central cloister. They also tended to a renowned orchard.
The monastery thrived through the 17th century, but did not survive the French Revolution. Through the 19th century, French leaders including King Louis Philippe (the last king to rule France!) or Napoleon III, would transform the gardens and turn them into the park we all love, le jardin du Luxembourg. The memory of the former Chartreuse and the monks who worked there, endures in the Luxembourg gardens today.
Les Journées du Patrimoine (European Heritage Days)
Each year in the second half of September, once the excitement around la rentrée, (this essential time in French life) subsides, French tax-payers get invited into historical buildings and landmarks usually closed to the public. This year, the event was scheduled on September 19 and 20. Not all visits could be booked online, and with social distancing a priority, things could have turned ugly really fast. I picked a site that (I hoped,) would not be as popular as others, the greenhouses of the Luxembourg gardens, managed and operated by the French senate, like the rest of the park!
Never under-estimate the Parisians’ interest in their city. There was a long line when I arrived mid-morning, and I waited over 50 minutes to get in. Parisian life has always involved lining up for desirable events and places. I waited.
As soon as I walked through the gates, I knew I had made the right decision. In 2020 more than ever, we all need to see the serene yet beautiful show that greeted me inside. Among all the plants on display in the greenhouses, the Orchid collection reigns supreme: Over 13,000 orchid plants are grown on site.
Outside the greenhouses, an experimental “prairie” was planted in 2019: Flowers rich in nectar and pollen, attract a variety of insects like les coccinelles (ladybugs,) that destroy pests threatening other plants. What a treat: la campagne à Paris (the countryside in Paris.)
My favorite part of the visit? The attractive displays of fruit (apples and pears) grown in the Luxembourg gardens’ verger (orchard.) Many visitors do not know about the orchard, tucked away from big crowds, near the site of the former Chartreuse de Paris, mentioned earlier in this story. Look carefully at the dates on labels identifying pears and apples. Some varieties were created centuries ago.
Luxembourg garden classics
After I left the greenhouses, there was time for a leisurely stroll in the gardens. Bring on the Parisian vibes!
I had a couple of hours to wait until the start of the live-streamed walk I had scheduled for my Club Members. I planned to take them to my favorite corners of the Luxembourg gardens: the alleyway where the oldest trees in the park can be found (they survived the destructive 1999 wind storms,) the orchard, le Rûcher (beehive) and more. It was time for a late lunch! I treated myself to a delicious and civilized experience at la Terrasse de Madame, a fairly new eatery with decent prices and friendly service.
I left the Luxembourg gardens after 5:00pm. I had been there for several hours but time had flown by. I was happy about knowing a new corner of the park, (the greenhouses.) I thought about the connection between those who had lived and worked there centuries ago, (the monks of la Chartreuse,) the generations of gardeners who had followed in their footsteps, and the staff that still maintains it all and ensures le Luxembourg will remain the Parisians’ favorite park for years to come.
One last word, if I may…
Thank you for joining me “au Luxembourg” today. If you love (and miss) Paris and France; if you would like to access more exclusive content, (articles, photos, videos and Live events,) consider joining over 270 satisfied Club Members via Patreon. You will be supporting a small business (mine!) and will help me continue to share free, original content daily in social media. Merci. — Véro