A garden girl in Paris…

(with apologies to John Denver)

Three nights in Paris, bucket loads of rain, cafes, people watching, a bit of shopping, cake eating and champagne drinking too. But also galleries. Lots of them, and I got interested in the gardens attached. How artists, even in the middle of a city, need space. Here are three of them…

  1. Musee Rodin is probably the most famous artist jardin, and even in the drizzle, it’s obvious why it’s so popular.


After Rodin left his works and collections to the nation, this house (where Rodin had been a tenant) became an official museum. I loved finding out that other tenants included the poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, Isabella Duncan, Henri Matisse and Jean Cocteau.


The garden is divided into four main areas, and you’re greeted by an extravagant rose garden which smells just as good as it looks…


The garden is perfect for displaying the monumental sculptures, such as the Burghers of Calais (which I’d seen in London but they looked so different in a gallery). Here I found them unbearably moving

And I learnt quickly to duck and pose so I could photograph the sculptures without catching the other tourists…

… although of course it is impossible to resist some poses…



And now the second garden, a surprise for us this one, is the Musee Delacroix in Rue de Furstenberg. 

IMG_0299The painter lived here for the last few years of his life (he died in 1863), and wonderful to see the view of the garden he would have seen from his studio, although these may be *new* chairs and benches….


But it’s still possible to imagine it as he might have done when he wrote: “My apartment is decidedly charming… Woke up the next day to see the most gracious sun on the houses opposite my window. The view of my little garden and the cheerful appearance of my studio always make me happy.” Even in the rain, and imagining different planting, it was easy to see why. You can see some of his paintings here.

And the last garden is a bit of a cheat because it wasn’t directly connected to a gallery, but it was just round the corner from the Picasso Museum, and was just a delight – Square Georges Cain. 

A beautiful circular design with a bronze statue of Aurore in the centre by the 17th-century sculptor Laurent Magnier. The  gentle planting  is deliberately soothing, and in fact a sign at the entrance says ‘too bright colours would spoil the view of the passer by’. And oh, look, a chess board just waiting for you to play there.

I tried and tried to hear the ‘Le Rossignol Electrique’ by Eric Samakh, a small electronic bird that starts singing whenever the wind blows, but I think it was raining more than windy. I did spot a bit of Parisian beauty rivalry though which got my writing juices flowing. There are archeological relics around the edges of the garden, and I was taken by this beauty – so beautiful that someone has stolen her face…


…. could it possibly be this woman lounging on the exact opposite side of the park, rather smugly holding up a mirror at the perfect angle to catch my faceless goddess. Perhaps if you stand still long enough in this little park then your face will be taken by the mirror thief too…


Acorns and shopping streets – Delville Wood, France

I’m aware that this is a blog for English gardens but on a recent visit to the site of the Battle of Delville Wood as part of a trip to the WW1 battlefields in France, I was surprised to see this:


And so I kept looking:


I found out later that these markers represent the names which were given to the rides on the original 1916 battle map. Some were named after streets in London: Rotten Row, Regent Street, and Bond Street. And then there were the Glasgow streets: Buchanan and Campbell, while Edinburgh is represented by Princes Street and King Street; and Cape Town has Strand Street. It’s a reminder of the grim and still poignant humour that must have helped to keep the men going at times.


On the day we visited, the wood felt so peaceful. Admittedly it was wet and cold and so we were almost the only people there, but walking amongst the trees, I listened to birdsong and gave up counting just how many acorns were sprinkled underfoot. Perhaps this was why I found it so hard to imagine the wood as the setting for one of the bloodiest battles of the war.


It’s now a memorial for the South African soldiers who died on the Somme, significant because it was the first major engagement entered into on the Western Front by the South African 1st Infantry Brigade.


Although, of course, here as elsewhere, a mixture of nationalities fought alongside each other.


If you look closely you can see how the land carries the memory of the trenches:


But it’s still shocking to see this spelt out:


They lie not far from where the South African regiment first entered the wood:


Nowadays, there’s an impressive pair of oak vistas allowing you to walk up from the road to the South African war memorial, designed by Sir Herbert Baker. Research on the internet came up with the fact that the wood was given to the South African Government as a permanent memorial and planted with oaks taken from Stellenbosch and Franschoek. These two towns were settled by the French Huguenots in the 1600s, and it’s possible that the oaks at Delville were descendants of oak seedlings brought by these settlers in turn from France.


We were enormously privileged to have Jeremy Banning as our guide; he is not only an expert military historian but he knows how to tell a good story, including one about ‘Ralph’s oaks’. Apparently, a veteran called Ralph Langley stayed on in France after the war as an Imperial War Graves Commission gardener and was nursing some young oak saplings in the early 1920s. It’s good to think that these must have been the ones that now line the entrance way to Delville Wood.


And as for the original wood, well, there’s only one tree left:


– this hornbeam…


… which no doubt holds its own memories of the past as well as growing new ones.


And here’s the little poem I was writing in my head as I walked along Rotten Row:


Ambling down Rotten Row
coat buttoned against the October chill

acorns crackle underfoot like sudden gunfire

and straight rows of oaks reach down roots
to soothe their soldiers back to sleep.

I’ve written about another aspect of the recent writers’ trip to the Somme on my other website here.

More information about Delville Wood here.
Date visited: October 2013