Scratching your head over that headline? After all, how can a garden not be “green”? If you’ve ever walked through the Jardin des Tuileries on a hot summer day, you’ll understand.
Created in 1564 for Queen Catherine de Medici’s Tuileries Palace, then redesigned by André Le Nôtre for Louis XIV in the 17th century, the Jardin des Tuileries is a typical example of a historic “French-style” garden. Today it’s one of the largest green spaces in the center of Paris’s Right Bank, connecting the Louvre Museum to the Place de la Concorde in perfect alignment with the Avenue des Champs Elysées. When the sun is shining and the flowers are blooming, these gardens are a welcome escape for Parisians and tourists looking for a little break on one of the garden’s 3000 chairs (preferably a reclined model, of course).
The Gardens Started Looking a Bit Wilted
However, as soon as it gets even slightly hot and dry in Paris (and this happens more often now), the oasis turns into more of a dust-choked desert with its shady tree-lined areas separated by vast crushed-limestone paths. Because despite being a garden, only 42% of the surface area of the Tuileries is actually planted (as opposed to 71% in the 16th century).
An estimated 14 million visitors per year stroll (or jog, as the gardens are popular with runners) down the main thoroughfare known as the Grande Allée, kicking up the dust that on particularly windy days you’ll see covering all of the topiary and flower beds in a thick white coating. This gets worse in the summer months when the entire esplanade on the Rue de Rivoli end of the gardens is occupied by temporary buildings for huge events such as Fashion Week with its massive tents and the Fête des Tuileries with its Ferris Wheel and food stands. The trucks and heavy machinery brought in to set these up also contribute to the compression of the soil.
Add in several decades of urban pollution, age, and disease, all which took their toll on many of the ancient trees, and you can understand why the Tuileries needed some love. The last time the gardens had received any significant new plantings was in 1990, over 30 years ago.
Under the Louvre’s Wing
But a new plan has been brewing since 2005, when the Louvre Museum took over the management and maintenance of the Tuileries Gardens (previously managed by the Centre des Monuments Nationaux) and immediately started plotting how to return the gardens to their 17th-century splendor.
The first part of that plan was to make the gardens an extension of the museum itself by introducing more works of art, particularly the contemporary sculptures (which are mostly hidden within the different groves beyond the main alleys where the garden’s classical sculptures occupy their historical space). They also replaced the aging garden chairs with new ones (same model) and added informational panels for the public to learn more about the gardens.
And they even brought in goats to graze areas difficult to reach with a lawnmower (which resulted in one of the strangest news headlines seen in Paris after a guy tried to steal one of them in 2018; luckily he didn’t get very far…the metro isn’t exactly the fastest getaway vehicle when you’re carrying a goat!)
And — finally! – last September they began the 5-year project to restore the plantings in a more sustainable manner, starting with the restoration of the 3000m² Bosquet des Oiseaux (Birds Grove). Here they planted new species of trees and shrubs that would attract birds, such as wild cherry trees, while adding to the overall biodiversity of the gardens.
In March, after a successful crowd-funding campaign to “sponsor a tree” (or a park bench), they planted 92 elm trees in two rows alongside the main axis of the Tuileries known as the Grande Allée. Or rather, replanted. The original rows of trees that stood there were chopped down 200 years ago, during the French Revolution, and never replaced. Elm trees slowly disappeared from the Ile-de-France over the past 50 years because of Dutch elm disease, but these trees have been specially chosen for their disease resistance. They’re still pretty young, but in a few years they’ll provide extra shade for the visitors.
The Rose Gardens Inauguration
Last week was the inauguration of the newly-restored Roseraies (Rose Gardens) next to the octagonal basin near the Place de la Concorde entrance. This area of the gardens, known as “Petit Provence” because Parisians come here to enjoy the full afternoon sun protected from wind, was planted with lavender in 1990. The horse-shoe-shaped ramp leads up to two terraces where you’ll find the Orangerie and Jeu de Paume Museums.
In the latest restoration of the Roseraies, the lavender was replanted in rows just like in Provence and surrounded by two rows of boxwood planted with roses, irises, and sage. The roses, chosen for their strong scent and hardiness, include “André Le Nôtre”, “Chartreuse de Parme”, “Jardin de Granville”, “Jardin des Tuileries” (created in 2017), and “Rose de Mai”. They’re newly-planted, so don’t expect to see anything too showy until next summer once they’ve had time to settle in.
Incidentally, you might notice “Dior” on some of the signage; that’s because the fashion house is one of the major sponsors of the garden’s restoration. We learned at the inauguration that Christian Dior himself was a huge fan of the Tuileries (he even named one of his evening gowns after the gardens).
Protecting the Swallows
You can’t miss the large birdhouse structure located next to the Arc du Carrousel, nor the recorded sound of birds. But this isn’t a pigeon house. It’s to attract the large population of swallows (hirondelles en français) currently nesting in the arch. Swallows are quite rare in Paris, so the Louvre hopes to lure them into their new housing before major renovation works begin on the Arc du Carrousel in 2023. Not everyone is happy about the aesthetics of the birdhouse, but as someone involved with the project pointed out, “No one liked the pyramid when it was first proposed, either.”
Free Garden Tours
The Louvre offers free, one-hour guided tours of the Tuileries Gardens (in French) every Saturday and Sunday starting at the Arc du Carrousel at 2:30pm, through the end of October. Free, but you must reserve your spot in advance by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
The Fête des Tuileries
This year’s Fête des Tuileries fun fair with Ferris Wheel and other carnival rides will take place July 3rd through August 30th from 11am-11:45pm (until 12:45am Fri-Sat). Free entry, but there’s a fee for each attraction. Because the fair is in the center of Paris, they can’t play the loud music or other bling-bling sound effects usually associated with the rides, so all you’ll hear is the occasional screaming from the passengers on the upside-down-spinning-thing. 😉
Eating in the Tuileries
There are a few food options in the Tuileries, including the Rosa Bonheur creperie and the newly-opened Petit Plisson (from the Maison Plisson) where you can sit and have a nice meal under the shady trees or enjoy trendy cocktails for apéro. They’re also hosting yoga classes, author readings, and other summer events.
It’s important to note that you can’t sit on the lawn in the Tuileries Gardens, although many simply picnic on the benches or chairs throughout. You can sit on the lawns in the neighboring Jardin du Carrousel, next to the Arc du Carrousel between the Tuileries and the Louvre Pyramid. But as this is a very popular activity and people aren’t great at cleaning up after themselves, don’t be shocked if Ratatouille makes an unexpected appearance looking for some of your cheese.
Other Practical Info
The gardens are opened according to the season: in summer they’re open 7am-11pm (the guards start clearing everyone out at 10:30pm). You can find the current opening hours on their website here (note the French version has more info than the English version): https://www.louvre.fr/en/explore/the-gardens