The Tuileries garden, in the centre of Paris, has taken a very different route, but then its history has been more turbulent. Originally laid out in 1561 by Catherine de Medici, it was redesigned by Le Nôtre in the 1670s. In 1831 Louis-Philippe fenced off part of the site for his private use, an area extended by Napoleon III. At the end of the Commune, in 1871, the adjoining Tuileries palace was burned down. So although the place is associated with Le Nôtre, Cribier and Benech rejected the idea of an exact reproduction. “We didn’t want to produce pseudo-Le Nôtre,” Cribier says with a smile. “It makes no sense trying to tie a garden to a particular era.”


Image: Wikipeida: Le Nôtre’s Tuileries Garden plan, engraving by Israël Silvestre (1671)

The landscape designers only kept the broad lines of Le Nôtre’s layout: the central alley, which leads the eye towards the Champs Elysées, the octagonal pool bordering Place de la Concorde, the trees planted in the 19th and 20th century in the middle of the gardens, the terraces bordering the Seine and Rue de Rivoli, and the three pools near the Carrousel triumphal arch. “Le Nôtre, who was a genius with space, created an underlying structure based on the laws of optics,” Cribier explains. “His garden is a geometrical box in which everything is perfectly organised. He created cubic metres [of space], not square metres: his gardens give us wings. We had no intention of touching that, in fact we wanted to amplify it.”

2014 (Google Map)

2014 (Google Map)


Image: Wikimedia: Tuileries Palace, late 17th century French engraving

Otherwise their approach was completely contemporary. “In Le Nôtre’s day the Tuileries was mainly gravel and stone, surrounded by countryside,” Cribier says. “So we did the opposite. As it’s now an urban garden we wanted to make it as green as possible. We planted 1,500 trees and doubled the size of the lawns.” To enhance this impression of greenery, the designers put a slight camber on the turfed areas. “It makes them more visible. When you look at the garden you get the impression the grass is eating up the paths,” Cribier asserts.


Cribier and Benech changed the layout in some places, in order to create “a pleasant spot where people could stop and rest in the middle of Paris”. They planted new tree varieties, laid out flower beds and new groves. “We were very keen there should be lots of seats and that walking around the place should be easy,” Cribier explains. “To enjoy somewhere, you need to feel free: you need to be able to discover new perspectives or read quietly under a tree.”


The renovation of the Tuileries garden was completed some years ago, but the adjoining Louvre is still working along similar lines. “We plan to add even more greenery to the Tuileries,” says Sophie Lemonnier, head of architecture and gardens at the museum. “We don’t want to spoil the view – the lines of sight laid out by Le Nôtre haven’t changed in 400 years – but 21st-century walkers like to be surrounded with greenery. So we’re going to train shrubs up the walls, which are currently bare, add an extra line of trees in the central alley, and plant smaller trees in some of the flower beds.”


Le Nôtre is still here in spirit, but no longer slavishly imitated. Indeed last year’s exhibition marking the 400th anniversary of his birth was not extended. “There were signs in the garden explaining how the various parts looked in the late-17th century,” says Lemonnier. “We thought about keeping them, but in the end we dropped the idea because we don’t want to put too much emphasis on Le Nôtre. The garden is not exactly the same as it was then, it’s a public space which has adapted to contemporary tastes.” The people strolling there are well aware of its historical significance, but it is also a playground for local children and a place where Parisians can take the air.


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