At a certain time of year, American visitors ambling around the grounds of the Palace of Versailles can detect the familiar heady scent of the Virginia tulip tree—Marie Antoinette’s favorite tree.
Native to eastern and southern America, the Virginia tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), with its pale green or cheerful bright yellow cup-shaped blooms, along with other American native plant species such as the white fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), was first introduced to France in the 18th century.
Now, nearly 150 newly planted Virginia tulip trees are the centerpiece of the recently restored Queen’s Grove at Versailles.
The restoration project took two years and included extensive research in order to return the grove to the layout of Marie Antoinette’s time.
Along with the scent of the tulip tree, the sweet fragrance of 600 newly planted rose bushes, when they bloom, will greet visitors. The roses pay homage to Marie Antoinette’s world-famous rose collection and her love of the flower’s beauty, perfume, and medicinal properties.
And wooded borders guide grove visitors to rest under the arbors of Judas trees (Cercis siliquastrum), staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), Virginia chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), and Japanese cherry-blossom trees (Prunus serrulata).
Great Garden Design
Landscape architect and gardener André Le Nôtre originally created the famous gardens at Versailles for the Sun King, Louis XIV, in the 17th century. Part of Le Nôtre’s design was a series of 15 groves, areas edged with trees, hedges, and trellises that appeared as elegant individual rooms adorned with vases, statues, and fountains.
A stupendous Labyrinth grove once stood on the spot where the Queen’s Grove now stands. Author Charles Perrault suggested to Louis XIV that 39 fountains, each showing an Aesop fable, should be placed in the Labyrinth as a tool to educate his son, the Dauphin. No expense was spared on the project. Artists created 39 painted lead fountains that included the animals of Aesop’s fables with water spurting from their mouths as if they themselves spoke. Poet Isaac de Benserade wrote a caption and quatrain beside each fountain.
Adults and children marveled, in equal measure, at the elaborate enchanting automatons. The Labyrinth grove proved so popular that Perrault published an illustrated guidebook called “Labyrinte de Versailles.”
The Queen’s Grove
Nearly a century later, between 1775 and 1776, King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette’s husband, had the Labyrinth grove destroyed because of the expense needed to maintain the project. The replanted grove became the Queen’s Grove.
In Marie Antoinette’s time, the Queen’s Grove was a French formal garden with a series of English-style gates and meandering pathways that were in vogue at the time.
In contrast to Versailles’s open parterre (the formal gardens with flowerbeds separated by gravel pathways), the grove gave the queen some privacy. This is where she could spend time away from prying eyes.
Louis XVI once declared to Marie Antoinette, “To you who love flowers so, I present this bouquet,” as he gifted her the Petit Trianon, a château in the gardens of Versailles. The caretakers of the Palace of Versailles have ensured that all those who love flowers are able to enjoy the bouquet that is the Queen’s Grove for many years to come.
To find out more about the newly restored Queen’s Grove at the Palace of Versailles, visit ChateauVersailles.fr