It is said that if left alone, nature would reclaim an abandoned city in a matter of months. In such a dense city as Paris though, nature struggles to break through the stone and the smallest gaps are quickly plugged by ingenious constructions. The Cartesian French have always preferred to tame and control the exuberance and vigour of the wild, trimming grass to millimeter precise lines, and creating parks that are little more than geometric tableaux. How refreshing therefore on a hot August day to find a thriving garden of fruit and flowers carved out amongst concrete and bitumen.
The garden is the Jardin Partagé Leroy Sème in the 20th arrondissement, one of several such spaces in the city that have been given over to associations. For around 20 Euros a year, subscribers here can access the garden at will and plunge hands into the city soil, planting, pruning and plucking. The result of their work over the four years that the garden has been in existence is a profusion of flowers, vegetables and fruits, the buzz of bees and a backdrop of birdsong.
The history of the site bordering the Rue des Pyrenées is an inspiring one. The garden today runs alongside a small cluster of charming houses and looks a little like a tiny village which has slowly been swallowed up by the expansion of the city, but this rural scene only exists today thanks to the efforts of a group of local residents. In the early 90s, a project was on the table to level the ground here and build upwards of 130 apartments, a plan that may have succeeded if the residents group had not pointed out the fact that the terrain is an unstable one, and that any construction would severely damage all surrounding properties.
Although major construction had been seen off, it took another long battle to finally get the site protected and to install the shared garden here, and it wasn’t until 2005, 13 years after the residents began their protests, that the garden was finally opened. Today anybody can wander through the gate and watch the gardeners at work, or talk to members of the association and share a coffee with them around their powder blue shed. There are even deckchairs and benches where you can relax and watch butterflies flutter by.
Although it is little more than a pocket sized English country garden, this space, along with other similar projects around the city, helps Paris to refill her lungs and gives nature a place to stretch out her shoots and branches once more.
Note: This garden features briefly in my Street Art walk. Download a free copy if you haven't already done so!