Pierre-André Lablaude tells us about Le Nôtre year

Pierre-André Lablaude tells us about Le Nôtre year

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On the occasion of Le Nôtre, which celebrates the 400th anniversary of the birth of the landscaper of King Louis XIV, we met the chief architect of historic monuments in charge of gardens in Versailles in order to learn a little more on the French garden.

What is your role at the Palace of Versailles?

I have been the chief architect of historic monuments in charge of gardens since 1990. I therefore work on restoring the gardens and replanting to officiate a return to the historic state.

Can we say that Le Nôtre laid the foundations for today's garden?

First, you should know that Le Nôtre is not the creator of French gardens because there were before him Jacques Boyceau or Claude Mollet and a whole earlier tradition inspired by Italian gardens. The particularity of Le Nôtre is to transfigure this garden. Before him, the garden stopped at the four enclosure walls, with Le Nôtre, it goes to the horizon. This is how the garden of Versailles went from 90 hectares under Louis XIII to 6000 hectares at the death of Louis XIV. Likewise, the Tuileries garden which stopped at Place de la Concorde takes on new proportions with Le Nôtre to l'Etoile and even to La Défense. It is in fact the change of scale that characterizes Le Nôtre's work. Its gardens are also richer in decoration with statues, fountains ... In the middle of the 18th century, the French garden went out of fashion to make way for the English garden and it was not until the end of the 19th that Henri and Achille Duchêne redesigned French gardens. Ours is ultimately the antithesis of today's gardens. It is part of the debate between those who want to put nature in order and those who on the contrary want to let it develop without constraint. Our ecological model today tends to say that we must let nature live, unlike Le Nôtre.

What are the characteristics of a French garden?

It's quite simple! The first major principle is that of geometry. French gardens are organized around one or more axes organizing the landscape in symmetry. Then, it is a garden which is organized in successive terraces so that seen from above, the flowerbeds are like carpets. The role of hydraulics is also important since water is brought in. upper part to then bring it down from waterfalls to fountains. Work on the size of plants is also important. You should know that the closer you get to the castle, the more the plants are pruned. Voltaire said on this subject that a French garden goes from combed to wild. Finally, there is an important work on the statuary decoration with trellises, fountains, groves…

Can you create a French garden at home or is it only reserved for castle parks?

If you look at old plans of Paris, you will see that French gardens were everywhere, whether in the background of the plot or in the courtyards of private mansions. You can quite create a French garden in a small space provided you respect the main principles and above all compose the garden with the building because the two must match. It is a fairly simple formula where the principle of harmony prevails.

What gardens can you visit to appreciate Le Nôtre's work?

You can visit Versailles, Vaux-le-Vicomte, Chantilly, Meudon, Sceaux, Saint-Cloud or the Tuileries even if this garden has evolved a lot. Be aware, however, that Versailles is the best preserved over time. Many gardens are also attributed to Le Nôtre because he had many collaborators and students. He often proposed drawings of projects but it is difficult to know to what extent the realization respected the project.

What does Le Nôtre have in store for us?

Many events are planned to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the birth of Le Nôtre. The difficulty is that Le Nôtre never wrote anything and left few original drawings. Seminars will therefore make it possible to deepen knowledge about his work. An exhibition, organized in Versailles in the fall, will also offer the possibility of understanding the cultural dimension of Le Nôtre, because you should know that he was a great collector and that he received training as a painter and designer. Finally, it was also a year of major work at Versailles with the replanting of the major alignments of the lime tree alley and the Le Nôtre alley, but also the restoration of the Latona basin. In Sceaux too, we restore the decor of the garden with the reconstruction of the flowerbeds, the results of which you will be able to see in a few weeks.