LE POTAGER DU ROI

The King ate locally and organically, being a real forward-thinker.

La chaleur, tant dans la terre que dans l’air ne peut régulièrement venir que des rayons du soleil. J’ose dire pourtant que j’ai été assez heureux pour l’imiter en petit à l’égard de quelques petits fruits : j’en ai fait mûrir cinq et six semaines devant le temps, par exemple des fraises à la fin mars, des précoces, et des pois en avril, des figues en juin, des asperges et des laitues pommées en décembre, janvier…

– LOUIS XIV

The Potager du Roi (or the King’s Kitchen Garden), located near the Palace of Versailles, yielded the fresh produce consumed by Louis XIV and his court. The king ate locally and organically, being a real forward-thinker. Today the garden is run by the École Nationale Supérieure du Paysage, one of the top landscape architecture schools in France.  And it looks very much like the original garden designed by Jean-Baptiste de la Quintine in the late 17th century.  It covers 25 acres of land and is punctuated by a fountain at its center. The Grand Carré , or large square, contains 16 vegetable patches and is bracketed by a raised path from which the king could watch his gardeners toil. Beyond the wall of the raised path, Quintine built 29 enclosed gardens, or vegetal chambers. These spaces allowed for a variety of microclimates to be perfected, making it possible to grow some fruits and vegetable out of season.  To Quintine’s joy and relief, figs took well to this type of protected environment. Figs were apparently one of the king’s favorites.

Along the walking paths we encountered vines and trees beaten into a state or horticultural submission only possible through years of tactical coercion. There were chickens, and bathtubs, and radiators – and other unidentifiable scatterings of landscape architecture experiments.The kiosk at the entry sold fresh herbs, kale, unimaginably delicious juice, the now canonical works of Gilles Clement and a calendar with the school’s gardens nude and frolicking shamelessly with garden hoses.

– Anya Sirota