The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 3: European Gardens (500AD-1850)

Versailles garden design

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213. The gardens of Versailles, the grand effort of Le Notre, and the model of excellence in the geometric school, have been so frequently described, and are so generally known, that we shall only quote one or two opinions concerning them. Gray the poet was struck with their splendour when filled with company, and when the waterworks were in full action. Lord Kames says they would tempt one to believe that nature was below the notice of a great monarch, and therefore monsters must be created for him, as being more astonishing productions. Bradley calls Versailles, the �sum of every thing that has been done in gardening.� George Andreas Agricola, a German physician at Ratisbon, says, �when I reflect on Versailles only, and what I have seen there, I cannot but think I had a foretaste of paradise: all my senses were struck with astonishment; and though I have the whole represented in fine prints, it is only a shadow of what was so naturally figured there. Therefore I think it absolutely necessary that gardeners should traverse foreign countries.� (Phil. Treat. on Agr., trans. by Bradley, 4to, 1726, p. 60.) Our opinion coincides with Gray's. �Such symmetry,� as Lord Byron observes, �is not for solitude.� The menageries in these gardens, during the reign of Louis XIV., contained every description of foreign animal then known, or to be procured; they are said also to have contained every aquatic animal that would live in the ponds and basins. The waterworks at Versailles, Neill was informed, in 1816, were; played off only eight or ten times a year, and cost at the rate of 200l. per hour. A later writer, however, assorts �that when the whole are played off, which is only once a year, on the fete day of the king, the cost for the half hour during which the main part of tho exhibition lasts, is 3000l.� The orangery at Versailles has rather the air of a place intended for coolness than for warmth and light. �There are two magnificent flights of steps; but, not being directed towards the palace, they are rather deformities than beauties, as they have the appearance of leading to nothing.� (Wood's Letters, &c. vol. i. p. 75.) The orange trees are not intended to be seen by the public when in their cellars; but when set out (fig. 44.), they have an imposing and characteristic effect. Neill mentions (Hort. Tour, p. 409.) that in 1816 he saw an orange tree at Versailles �seme en 1421,� and thirty feet high. A fete given in the gardens of Versailles, by Louis XIV., on the 7th May, 1664, will give some idea of the use to which these gardens were applied by that monarch. This fete was continued for several succeeding days, and supplied materials for an illuminated folio, officially published soon afterwards by the court printer, under the royal license. All the gardens, throughout their whole extent, were illuminated from sunset to sunrise, by lights emitted from transparent vases; the branches of the trees were clipped so as to represent different orders of architecture, and musicians in the garb of shepherds were perched every where among the boughs, playing sylvan pipes, and flutes, and violins innumerable; tables were loaded with the most sumptuous banquets, disposed with an elegance which almost inspired reluctance to disarrange them; Chinese fireworks detained a splendid twilight in the firmament; the atmosphere was odoriferous with the perpetual splash of scented fountains; masks and dances alternately ministered to the amusement of the court, among whom the sovereign himself was conspicuous by his silver armour a la Grecque, studded with a profusion of diamonds, and the fire-coloured plumes that nodded in his helmet. (Fraser's Mag., vol. iv. p. 708.) The palace and gardens of Versailles, during the first Revolution, were proposed to be sold as national property; but M. Le Roy, the architect, greatly to his honour, stepped forward, and represented that the palace might be usefully employed for public purposes, and the garden rendered productive of food for the people. �This satisfied the citizens: a military school was established in the palace; and by planting some of the parterres with apple trees, and others with potatoes, the garden was saved.� (Neill's Hort. Tour.) At the second revolution in 1830, they passed into the hands of Louis Philippe, who made considerable improvements in them; and at the third revolution in 1848, it was agreed that they were to be kept up at the expense of the nation.