More than just a haven of greenery, the gardens at the Palace of Versailles, all 800 hectares of them, are an integral part of the royal estate. From the French formal gardens in front of the Palace to the English landscaped garden at Trianon, the estate of Versailles is dotted with extraordinary trees that have borne witness to all that has happened here. Versailles’ arboreal heritage has become richer over the centuries – expanding from the original collection of limes and chestnut trees from the neighbouring forests to include rare species from faraway lands, such as Virginia tulip trees and junipers, Japanese pagoda trees and Chinese catalpas.
Although some historical trees did not survive the storm of 1999, many of the most remarkable specimens did manage to escape and are therefore worth admiring, nurturing and protecting. The gardeners at Versailles have identified some thirty such specimens. From the Versailles Orangery to the Estate of Trianon and the Groves, this botanical heritage is a genuine extension of the architectural history of the Palace.
From the 26th of September 2019, a marked trail will be ready to explore, accompanied by a publication and an audio guide that can be accessed via the Palace of Versailles app. This trail has been developed with the patronage of Maison Rémy Martin. Founded in 1724 and recognised for its quality since 1738, when it received Royal Approval from Louis XV, Maison Rémy Martin shares similar values with the Palace of Versailles: founded by a wine-grower, it has strong connections to the land and is committed to preserving it through integrated viticulture, which it has practised since 2007, and high environmental value certification, which it has held since 2012. Like the Palace of Versailles, its perception of time extends beyond that of the individual and it is something the company treats with the greatest respect: every day, the cellar master at Maison Rémy Martin is working for future generations.
Maison Rémy Martin shares the Estate of Versailles’ passion for trees, particularly oaks, like the Quercus Robur, which is the essential and only material used for ageing its brandies. Whether it is the art of blending, the craft of cooperage, the technique of wine-growing or the expertise of crystal-making, these exceptional skills and their transfer are its key concern. Finally, both parties have the same spirit of openness and innovation: while some of the most prominent naturalists of the day were off discovering the world so they could bring back tree species for the king that had never been seen in Europe before, Maison Rémy Martin was becoming known in Asia, the Americas and Russia. Now, working for the first time alongside the Palace of Versailles, Maison Rémy Martin is offering visitors a new way to discover the gardens, via the “Admirable Trees” trail.
A history of Versailles in gardens
Louis XIV adored the gardens and took a personal interest in their layout. He walked in them often and received distinguished guests and foreign ambassadors there, following an itinerary presented in a publication entitled "Manière de montrer les jardins de Versailles" (How to Show Off the Gardens of Versailles), which appeared sometime between 1689 and 1705.
The park at Versailles is arranged into three distinct sections, following a strict geometric plan:
- the parterres of boxwood, flowers and intricate lawns designed for contemplation;
- the groves like open-air rooms, secreted within wooded areas and designed for fun;
- the forest, crossed by wide, straight walkways with a star-shaped intersection, designed for hunting with hounds.
Creating the gardens was an immense task. Thousands of fully-grown trees were brought from all over France, requiring colossal resources. In addition, the gardeners developed the first nurseries, designed to supply the estate annually with home-grown trees, such as oaks, chestnut trees, maples, hornbeams, boxwood, etc.
The eldest of all these trees, an oak located close to Grand Trianon, has been studied and dated back to the time of Louis XIV. It was planted in 1668, is 36 metres tall and its trunk has a circumference of 5 metres!
Louis XV, and his passion for botany
In 1750, Louis XV commissioned Claude Richard to develop an experimental garden at the Grand Trianon. It was under the direction of Bernard de Jussieu that this garden subsequently became a centre for botanical experimentation, before becoming Europe’s most famous plant collection, with more than 4,000 different varieties.
Marie-Antoinette and the English garden
Marie-Antoinette completely overhauled Trianon, establishing a landscaped garden filled with rare species brought back by globe-trotting botanists. Still there today are a Japanese pagoda tree and a cedar of Lebanon - both among the first of their species to have been brought to France.
Revolution, Directorate and Empire
One survivor from this period is the plane tree located close to the Queen’s Hamlet. Although not the oldest of the trees on the estate, it is undoubtedly the most impressive, with its gigantic trunk that has, quite rightly, earned it the title of “elephant’s foot”.
The storm of 1999
During the night of 25-26 December 1999, some 18,500 trees were irreparably damaged or completely destroyed. Trees planted in the 17th and 18th centuries were toppled – including the tulip tree planted during Marie-Antoinette’s time and the Corsican pine, that was the final witness to Napoleon’s stay at Petit Trianon. But this catastrophe did bring about some benefits for the park, in the form of an extraordinary spirit of national and international solidarity, which led to the regeneration of plants that were often too old and exhausted, and the restoration of the gardens to their 18th century state. Today, the botanical heritage on display at Versailles is close to how it was originally designed and in good health. The storm also served as a reminder of the fragility of the trees and the importance of anticipating their renewal.
The Estate of Versailles in figuresThe grounds cover 800 hectares:
- 432 hectares for the Grand Parc
- 96 hectares for the Estate of Trianon
- 77 hectares for the Garden and its groves
- 350,000 trees on the estate
- 700 topiaries in 67 different forms
- 300,000 flowers are planted every year by the gardeners, 260,000 of which are cultivated in the estate’s own greenhouses
- 1,500 boxed trees grow in the Orangery, including 900 orange trees
About Maison Rémy MartinEstablished in 1724, Maison Rémy Martin is the specialist in Fine Champagne Cognac. Distilled from fruit from the prestigious terroirs of Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne, its cognacs have the potential to age remarkably well. For more than three centuries, and down through the generations, Maison Rémy Martin has had one ambition: to unveil the gifts of nature and skills of man in the quest to capture the very essence of cognac.
To accompany your trail :
On sale in bookstores, at Reliefs, in the Estate shops and at boutique-chateauversailles.fr