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Le Jardin des Serres d'Auteuil

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Indoors and out, Paris' fleuriste provides feasts for the eye.

Le Jardin des Serres d'Auteuil

For over a hundred years, the multiple glass houses--or serres--near Paris' Porte d'Auteuil have been producing the hundreds of thousands of flowering plants used to ornament the city's greenspaces all year round. In addition, the bigger greenhouses are home to exotic plant species from all over the world.

But my favorite part of this garden is outside--not under glass. (I admit that tropicals fall at the periphery of my gardening interests.) For organized around the majestic 19th century glass houses is a surprising jewel of a garden that is a well-kept secret. On its south border are the handsome, rosy brick buildings that serve as home to the city's parks department, illuminated with enormous arched windows and swathed in wisteria (see main photo above).

For a relatively small garden, that at the Serres d'Auteuil' packs a lot of punch. It includes many park-like sweeps and plantings, including two beautiful flowering cherries whose petals lay like pink snow on the lawn at their feet. Like familiar faces far from home, the garden is home to a surprising number of unusual native American plants, including a nice dwarf witchalder (Fothergilla gardenii) and even the very rare Alabama snowwreath (Neviusia alabamensis), which was in full bloom (dare I say 'wreathed'?) with fluffy, crystal-white flowers. But perhaps I was happiest to see our native fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) exhaling the same intoxicating honeysuckle fragrance in France as it does in all the Indiana gardens where I've planted it.

Near the north edge of the grounds are several spectacular rhododendron plantings. But the highlight when Denis and I stopped by on a sunny spring Sunday afternoon was a spectacular flower tapestry surrounding Moroccan-style pool and fountains at the very heart of the garden. Tapestry planting is quintessentially French, a style and technique that I'll explore many more times in these pages.

In contrast to traditional bedding schemes as we know them, where annuals of a single color are massed together, tapestry plantings consist of highly imaginative combinations of flowering and foliage annuals, bulbs, and even vegetables, intermingled in a regular repeating pattern. The result is an exquisite pointilliste tapestry of color. The combinations of color and texture in these plantings range from occasionally garish to harmonious to absolutely ingenious and daring.

Flanking the Moroccan blue tiled stream at the Serres d'Auteuil' was a profusion of white and blue forgetmenots, red and pink tulips, white daffodils, with sparks of yellow pansies here and there. Although the basic theme was red, white, and blue (or, since we're in France, bleu, blanc, rouge), a scheme I can't say I'm usually fond of, the result with the Moroccan blue was absolute harmonious magic. The tapestry seemed filled with light.

Unlike the Bois de Boulogne, which is always thronged with people, the gardens at the Serres d'Auteuil were peaceful and sparsely populated. The garden seemed to be mostly visited by people in its immediate neighborhood, rather than serving as a city-wide destination, a fact which added to its secret quality. An example was this elderly lady, strolling under the Moroccan blue arbor. Isn't she well-dressed for the occasion?


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