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The Gardener of Versailles: My Life in the World's Grandest Garden

Overview

For gardening aficionados and Francophiles, a love letter to the Versailles Palace and grounds, from the man who knows them best. In Alain Baraton's Versailles, every grove tells a story. As the gardener-in-chief, Baraton lives on its grounds, and since 1982 he has devoted his life to the gardens, orchards, and fields that were loved by France's kings and queens as much as the palace itself. His memoir captures the essence of the connection between gardeners and the earth they ...

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The Gardener of Versailles: My Life in the World's Grandest Garden

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Overview

For gardening aficionados and Francophiles, a love letter to the Versailles Palace and grounds, from the man who knows them best. In Alain Baraton's Versailles, every grove tells a story. As the gardener-in-chief, Baraton lives on its grounds, and since 1982 he has devoted his life to the gardens, orchards, and fields that were loved by France's kings and queens as much as the palace itself. His memoir captures the essence of the connection between gardeners and the earth they tend, no matter how humble or grand.

With the charm of a natural storyteller, Baraton weaves his own path as a gardener with the life of the Versailles grounds, and his role overseeing its team of eighty gardeners tending to 350,000 trees and thirty miles of walkways on 2,100 acres. He richly evokes this legendary place and the history it has witnessed but also its quieter side that he feels privileged to know. The same gardens that hosted the lavish lawn parties of Louis XIV and the momentous meeting between Marie Antoinette and the Cardinal de Rohan remain enchanted, private places where visitors try to get themselves locked in at night, lovers go looking for secluded hideaways, and elegant grandmothers secretly make cuttings to take back to their own gardens. A tremendous best seller in France, The Gardener of Versailles gives an unprecedentedly intimate view of one of the grandest places on earth.

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Editorial Reviews

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Even for those who never wandered through its greenery and colorful flower displays, the Garden of Versailles represents an ideal even in literary classics: The Great Gatsby's Tom and Myrtle decorated the walls of their modest New York apartment with photos of its floral splendors. For a professional gardener, spending your workdays tending this horticultural would be a dream. Among them, lain Baraton, the author of this gorgeous pictorial, has a most enviable job: He is the Gardener of Versailles, chief among the eighty who labor on its 2,100 acres. Thus, he possesses the identical credentials to guide us through its intricate designs and thirty miles of walkways. For a green-thumb enthusiast, the gift of the growing season.

The New York Times Book Review - Dominique Browning
…an eccentric and charming memoir…Baraton's book is sweet and breezy, more illuminating on matters of society and class than of horticultural history.
Publishers Weekly
01/20/2014
Overseeing a public garden remains a most underappreciated vocation. If the gardener-in-chief is doing his or her job, the space carries the sense that no one has been there and done anything and it is simply sacred space, destined for the magical transport of people who stroll there. Baraton’s fascinating memoir corrects this misreading with an intimate and visceral look into his complicated relationship with one of Europe’s most astonishing public gardens, Versailles, which dates to the 17th century. He writes of a particularly haunting snowy evening when he saw through a window the apparition of a sobbing woman. He left the warmth of his home to go search for her in the gardens. “I thought of all the desperate depressed women who had gotten through the garden gates in the night and whose husbands called rescuers to help find them.” It is a telling glimpse of the challenge, consolation, and occasional horror of overseeing a place of magic. (Feb. 11)
From the Publisher
“Charming…Mr. Baraton is delightful when describing his daily routines—he talks to his trees and has pet names for many of them—and as a writer he is a master of what might be termed the inarguable Gallic utterance…but for a hands-on perspective and sheer fun, Mr. Baraton can't be beat.” -Wall Street Journal

"What an eccentric and charming memoir… Baraton has been gardening at Versailles for nearly 40 years. He knows every vista, every bosquet, every fountain on its 2,100 acres. Baraton’s book is sweet and breezy." -New York Times

"Baraton shares the memories of more than 40 years of living and working in the gardens. He is an engaging raconteur who tells his story with humility and a delightful sense of humor. He chooses his words to convey his passion and his personality. To read them is to have him in the room, where he entertains you without your having to reciprocate. In this case, though, that’s cause for regret. I think he would be the sort of house guest one hates to see depart...Whether you enjoy reading of history or gardening or simply take pleasure in the memoir of someone who is passionate about his craft and finds gratification therein, I strongly recommend The Gardener of Versailles: My Life in the World’s Grandest Garden. There is an undeniable sweetness to be found in being in sync with nature and in dancing to the rhythm of the seasons. Baraton tells us that, distilled to its essence, what makes a good gardener is joy. I have a feeling he is a very good gardener. He ranks high on a list of people I’d like to meet – ideally, on his turf." -Paris Arts Travel

An exquisite storyteller who works in and lives among the gardens, Baraton immediately engages readers…Baraton has filled his book not only with interesting historical details and human stories of the royals who walked the grounds but with insightful, contemporary tales of wise coworkers and eccentric visitors. Whether he’s discussing romantic tourists or marveling at bygone gardening techniques, Baraton’s eloquence and intelligence shine in this English translation by Murray. Practically required reading for garden travelers, gardeners, history fans, and even memoir buffs. Readers will wish more of his books were available in translation. Delightful.” ~Library Journal, Starred Review
 
“[A] fascinating memoir…an intimate and visceral look into his complicated relationship with one of Europe’s most astonishing public gardens…It is a telling glimpse of the challenge, consolation, and occasional horror of overseeing a place of magic.” ~Publishers Weekly

"He is an engaging story-teller who has written many books on Versailles, but this is the only one available in English. Baraton also hosts gardening programs on French radio and television. If you have visited Versailles, this book will remind you of that gorgeous setting. If you have not, it will inspire you to do so with the help of Baraton's suggestions for a perfect tour." -Chicago Botanic Garden
 
“Versailles head gardener and TV host Baraton reflects on his three decades tending some of the most beautiful gardens in the world: Simply but thoroughly, the author narrates the history of Versailles, from the days of Henry IV sneaking off to these woods to hunt to the days of the revolution. The author philosophizes about the ability of gardens to provide space for deep reflection, and he writes poetically about the beautiful power of the grounds he tends. He also provides some practical advice-e.g., the best places for a lovers' tryst. In addition to paying tribute to the work of these innovators, Baraton also looks at the various films that have been filmed on the grounds, storms that have battered them, and the effects of each season on the flora and fauna. The descriptions of the various sites on the grounds could only come from a man fortunate enough to have lived on and loved the site for almost 40 years." ~Kirkus Reviews

“In his capacious, generous memoir, Baraton beautifully renders the intersection of personal memories with French history and botanical splendors…The gardens of Versailles, however, are not entirely romanticized by Baraton. Darker moments, from the aftermath of a storm to suicides, balance the portrait of a place marked as much by seasonal change as by an irresistible mythology…This engaging account of decades spent cultivating pathways speaks volumes on public and private uses for gardens and of nature’s enduring witness.” -Foreword Magazine

"A bestseller in France, this charming memoir offers an intimate account of life at one of the world’s grandest gardens. Baraton came to Versailles in 1976 and has reigned over its grounds as jardinière en chef since 1982; he willingly confesses his personal relationship with the trees there. A treat for horticulture buffs, this appealingly self-deprecating account weaves together Baraton’s own story with that of the historic parterres and groves he so lovingly tends." -France Magazine

"Whether you enjoy reading of history or gardening or simply take pleasure in the memoir of someone who is passionate about his craft and finds gratification therein, I strongly recommend The Gardener of Versailles...." -BonJour Paris

"...a unique treasure....the real experiences and thoughts of someone who has worked (and lived!) on the grounds of Versailles add a personal touch that can't be achieved in a simple photobook or even general history of the palace and gardens. Baraton's passion for the gardens..clearly shines as the heart of this personal..garden memoir that is a must for anyone with an interest at a more personal look at Versailles." -Vive la Queen

Library Journal
★ 12/01/2013
Versailles's gardener in chief aims to share an aspect of the grand landmark palace outside of Paris that is seldom experienced—a simple, intimate side not evident in works such as Michel Baridon's A History of the Gardens of Versailles. An exquisite storyteller who works in and lives among the gardens, Baraton (editor, From Marie Antoinette's Garden: An Eighteenth-Century Horticultural Album) immediately engages readers with a vivid account of a severe storm damaging the gardens. It is an extraordinary place to begin, for it enables Baraton to slip comfortably into reminiscing, beckoning readers back to the beginning of his tenure, 1976, when he was only an apprentice gardener's assistant. A keen observer, he learned quickly and developed a curiosity about the place. Thirty years on, Baraton has filled his book not only with interesting historical details and human stories of the royals who walked the grounds but with insightful, contemporary tales of wise coworkers and eccentric visitors. Whether he's discussing romantic tourists or marveling at bygone gardening techniques, Baraton's eloquence and intelligence shine in this English translation by Murray. VERDICT Practically required reading for garden travelers, gardeners, history fans, and even memoir buffs. Readers will wish more of his books were available in translation. Delightful.—Bonnie Poquette, Milwaukee
Kirkus Reviews
2013-12-14
Versailles head gardener and TV host Baraton reflects on his three decades tending some of the most beautiful gardens in the world. Simply but thoroughly, the author narrates the history of Versailles, from the days of Henry IV sneaking off to these woods to hunt to the days of the revolution. The most surprising element is the speed with which an estate of such size was built. The gardens, on the other hand, sprung from the guiding hand of Louis XIV's gardener, André Le Nôtre, but then took their own sweet time to flourish. Baraton importantly points out how people rush about on the Rue de Rivoli and other parts of Paris but then slow to a snail's pace when they walk through gardens at Versailles. Gardens reach into your soul, writes the author, whether you plant them, harvest them or simply enjoy them. The author philosophizes about the ability of gardens to provide space for deep reflection, and he writes poetically about the beautiful power of the grounds he tends. He also provides some practical advice--e.g., the best places for a lovers' tryst. The building and maintenance of the world's grandest garden took the efforts and perspectives of a wide variety of great royal gardeners, including Claude Mollet and Jacques Boyceau, as well as builders like Louis Le Vau and Charles Le Brun. In addition to paying tribute to the work of these innovators, Baraton also looks at the various films that have been filmed on the grounds, storms that have battered them, and the effects of each season on the flora and fauna. The descriptions of the various sites on the grounds could only come from a man fortunate enough to have lived on and loved the site for almost 40 years.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780847842681
  • Publisher: Rizzoli
  • Publication date: 2/11/2014
  • Pages: 296
  • Sales rank: 95,118
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Alain Baraton is the best-selling author of many books on gardening and the host of weekly gardening programs on French radio and television.

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