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New hope for king’s garden

Despite being part of the Unesco-heritage Palace and Park of Versailles, Louis XIV’s own kitchen garden, the Potager du Roi, is falling apart, with walls tumbling and rows of historic fruit trees dying.

Known for unparalleled fruit and vegetable innovation in the 17th century to supply the king’s table, it was where France’s first pineapples were grown, where strawberries ripened in March and royal gardener Jean-Baptiste de La Quin­tinie, grew lettuce in December before France had greenhouses.

Today, however, the 9.5hectare garden – which sits beside the Pièce d’Eau des Suisses south of the palace buildings – has some hope for the future as the World Monuments Fund (WMF) in the US has put it on its watchlist of 25 sites to receive funding once a suitable development plan is agreed.

Michel Schlosser, of Amis du Potager du Roi, said that after the Revolution the garden was used by a horticulture school then by the ministry of agriculture. It was now part of ENSP landscape school but “fruit gardens and landscape gardens are not the same and cannot be treated the same.”

He said they were looking for proposals to the WMF in June. “We want a wide consultation, so if Connexion readers have done large projects and have ideas we welcome them (log on to”

The garden has 28 small gardens and a Grand Carré of 16 square vegetable gardens around a central fountain. At one time it had 12,000 trees and Mr Schlosser said they were a “unique collection of strange shapes”.

It was here La Quintinie grew trees as espalier [against a wall] and contre-espalier [supported by a fence] as simple or W, fan or oblique-shapes that needed countless hours of pruning – but now 40% of the trees are sick, dead or dying.

Mr Schlossser said they needed a new way to look after the garden and new funding but it also had to be replanted with trees that needed no pesticide to be ecological.
“This is as much history as the palace and we must save what is a unique garden.”

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