Potager du Roi of Versailles!!!

This is a wonderful tuck away beautiful site for nature lovers and those who enjoy the good eating in my belle France. It happened to be in my beloved former home city of Versailles in a beautiful setting and lately help on renovations of it.  Therefore, this is an update text links revision as lately in my black and white series as pictures are in the newer post. Let me tell you a bit about the Potager du Roi or the King’s garden of Versailles!

And as I was drawn into gardens with my dear late wife Martine, we had visited several over the years. This one is especial because it was our backyard for many years ,and we purchase fruits and vegetables from it while living in Versailles.  It is a historical fact of the city and seldom overlook by the hordes of tourists rushing to see the castle museum; they are really missing a nice piece of history here;and good fruits/vegetables too!!!

The King’s vegetable garden or potager du roi was created in 1683 near the Château de Versailles (the works were from from 1678 to 1683) for King Louis XIV by Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie, then director of the Royal Gardens. Became an urban garden, it stretches over 9 hectares.

To do it, required important work to dry out the pre-existing swamp, the “stinking pond”, and backfill the land with good quality land from the Satory hills. Important masonry works, for the construction of terraces and high walls, were carried out by the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart. The vegetable garden is next to the Swiss water room or piéce d’eau des Suisses (see post), not far from the Orangerie (see post). The king entered through a monumental wrought iron gate, the “King’s grate” which overlooks the alley of the water room. It is one of the most beautiful in Versailles. It is one of the few original grids. Grid of the king between the vegetable garden and the piéce d’eau des Suisses.

The finished garden looked very much as it looks today. It covered  9 hectares or about 25 acres, with a circular pond and fountain in the center, surrounded by a Grand Carré, a large square made up of 16 squares of vegetables. Around this was a raised terrace from which the King could watch the gardeners work. A high wall surrounded the Grand Carré (big square), and behind the wall there are 29 enclosed gardens, with fruit trees and vegetables. The careful arrangement of the different chambers of the gardens created individual microclimates, which allowed La Quintinie to grow fruits and vegetables out of their usual season. La Quintinie supervised the gardens until his death in 1688. His post was occupied briefly by his colleague, Nicolas Besnard, and then was taken over by François Le Normand in 1690. Le Normand’s two sons and their descendants ran the potager du Roi for the next ninety years. Jacques-Louis Le Normand, the last member of the family to direct the potager du Roi, died in 1782, and the garden came under the direction of Alexandre Brown, of English origin, who was the gardener at the royal garden at Choisy.

In 1793, during the French revolution, the garden plots were rented out and the tools and plants, including the eight hundred pineapple plants, were auctioned off. In 1795, the Convention, the revolutionary government, declared the potager to be a national institute, the tenant farmers were ejected, and the garden became a school and scientific center.

A central part devoted to the cultivation of vegetables, the “Grand Carre” or large square of a surface of 3 hectares. It is divided into 16 squares arranged around a large circular basin adorned with a central water jet, which serves as a reserve for water, and surrounded by 4 raised terraces that turn it into a sort of theatrical scene. The squares are surrounded by pear trees on espaliers. At the end of the 18C, the terraces of the sunrise and the sunset were transformed into ramps to facilitate the movement of the carts. In the below photo you see the terrace wall on left and the Cathedral of St Louis afar.

Scattered all around and enclosed with high walls, a dozen (originally 29) of rooms, gardens containing vegetables, berries and above all fruit trees, apple and pear tree mainly, partly espaliered on the walls or in free form or conduit in espaliers. In 1785, 6 walls were removed in the southern part, too humid and not adequately ventilated, leaving only 5 gardens instead of 11.

The King’s Vegetable garden, or potager du roi ,which has an orchard of some 5 000 fruit trees (more than 400 different varieties), produces good year bad year about 50 tons of fruit and 20 tons of vegetables, part of which is sold in the store boutique (open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays morning). The King’s Garden is open to the public since 1991 (visit from Tuesday to Sunday from 10h to 18h, from the first weekend of April to the last weekend in October).

The vegetable garden housed successively the Central School during the revolution, the National Agronomic Institute in 1848, then the National School of Horticulture in 1873. It later became the national Higher School of Horticulture (ENSH), transferred to Angers in 1995 (now the INHP (National Institute of Horticulture and Landscape). It has been placed since 1976 under the responsibility of the National Higher School of Landscape (Nphs), which was originally a division of the ENSH.

Some nice views and other things to see inside are : The Levier Orchard, with a central aisle and the water jet with views of the St. Louis Cathedral . The Big Square or Grand Carré; the students ‘ gardens (jardin des élèves), the orchard of the Fourth of eleven, (Le verger du Quatrième des Onze) with apple and pear trees; Statue of Jean- Baptiste de la Quintinie holding a graft and a serpent.

Some webpages to help you plan your trip here and you should take time to visit are:

The official Potager du Roi : http://www.potager-du-roi.fr/site/potager/index.htm

The Versailles tourist office on the Potager du Roi: https://en.versailles-tourisme.com/visit-and-explore-versailles-the-royal-town/a-town-to-discover/the-king-s-vegetable-garden

For the garden lovers a national garden site in France (jardins de France) about the Potager du Roi: https://www.jardinsdefrance.org/bis-le-potager-du-roi-a-versailles/

The restoration group World Monument Fund on the Potager du Roi: https://www.wmf.org/project/potager-du-roi

And there you go a jewel in my beloved Versailles, many memories with the family and hope you too cen enjoy it with yours. Do visit the Potager du Roi when possible.

Remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!

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