Style Court

Textiles, Art History, Gardens, and a Little Mental Traveling with Courtney Barnes 2006-2016


Green Days

[Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette]

In Almost Famous, music critic Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman) tells teen journalist William Miller (Patrick Fugit) that Rock is over; William has arrived on the scene in the 70s just in time to see Rock's "last gasp."


Similarly, when fresh-out-of-school, not-so-posh Alain Baraton came to Versailles' gardens in the late 70s, he witnessed the waning of one era: "The aging but terribly beautiful Versailles…tall, dark, and populated by majestic trees."


These were the years when the garden sheds were filled with interesting tools like myriad quirky watering cans with fixed or removable roses in copper, iron, wood or steel as opposed to today's ubiquitous pre-fab styles, available in just two shapes. Security was much less stringent then, fewer codes had to be abided by, and loud automated equipment wasn't used. But Baraton doesn't have an overly romantic view of the past.


Rising to be Versailles' gardener-in-chief, he's also seen, and helped bring about, what he views as good changes: the return of wildlife; the elimination of cars; and the re-introduction of potted plants, for example. Out of necessity after 1999's devastating storm that felled Marie Antoinette's oak, the 100-foot Virginia tulip tree and thousands of others, Baraton spearheaded the garden's rehabilitation.

In his book, he shares his personal experiences. His tales involve people as much as plants -- modern day visitors, sometimes eccentric souls, who are drawn to the gardens at their happiest and lowest moments. Then there are Versailles' rock stars (Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette), Le Notre, and various Kings' mistresses who influenced the grounds too. Over decades, Baraton has observed well-meaning tour guides squelch the joy out of visitors' walk-throughs. So he offers readers his own ideal tour designed to ignite passion not induce yawns.

[The Queen’s Grove © EPV via…]

He conjures the grandest parties ever held in the park but, as I mentioned in the previous post, also tips us off to Versailles' hidden nooks and crannies -- the best places to enjoy a bit of solitude. Obviously the book's title, The Gardener of Versailles: My Life in the World's Grandest Garden, will lure Francophiles, however, if formal grounds and French history aren't your thing, try leafing through a few pages. Baraton's surprising stories and wry humor will likely pull you in.

[© EPV / Ch. Milet]

Clarification: The book is unillustrated but the text inspired me to gather these screen shots and images from Versailles.  


Emile de Bruijn said...

Sounds like a great book: beautiful photographs plus expert commentary by someone who has helped to preserve the place. And the recent history of historic places like this one is a fascinating story in its own right.

Style Court said...

Emile, it is. And yes many of the most interesting stories he tells happened relatively recently. The characters he encounters and the preservation efforts are fascinating.

BTW: No images, actually. I just added a clarification on that. Sorry for any confusion. Couldn't do a post without some visuals! But Baraton's stories work on their own.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Just dying to read this book! on my wishlist...

Style Court said...

Stefan, can't wait to hear what you think!

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Got the book yesterday and already 1/2 way through it. Just an amazing book that reads like a hilarious story - enchanting. Great translation too!

Style Court said...

Stefan, so glad! Isn't it hysterical? I mean, that will sound strange to those who haven't read it, but it's the humor that keeps it grounded and fresh. Plus it's really sexy, no? And informative of course.