Versailles and its gardens may be closed until further notice and the opening of the first luxury hotel inside the 17th-century palace may have been pushed to 2021. But there’s plenty to look forward to when we can all visit the former royal residence outside of Paris again.
Over the next two years, the Palace of Versailles is restoring the Queen’s Grove, an ornamental garden designed in 1776 specifically to provide Queen Marie Antoinette with a private place to walk away from the rest of the court. Not to be confused with Marie Antoinette’s hamlet at the Trianon Estate, the Queen’s Grove is located adjacent to the Orangery garden. (To help visualize where that is, see this map of Versailles’s gardens.)
Before work began on the garden, the landscape architect Gabriel Thouin wrote in October 1775: “The Queen’s Grove is a unique garden. I believe the only way to make it more pleasant and increase the space is to turn it into a Grove in the modern style, to introduce all the foreign trees that have a certain appeal. This space requires artistic variety in the shapes of the trees and their leaves the color of the flowers, the period when they will be in bloom, and the different shades of foliage. . . .”
Between the 19th and 20th centuries, the Queen’s Grove deteriorated into “a mere shadow of what it once was,” the palace said in a statement. “The walks with their imposing foliage have now become unremarkable paths and the botanical diversity has gone, giving way to uniform bushes.”
Thankfully, the original layout still remains so that the grove can be restored to look as it did during the time of Marie Antoinette in the late 18th century. Starting last fall, the palace already began replanting tulip trees along the garden’s central square and access paths. Introduced to France in the early 18th century from North America, the Virginia tulip tree was Marie Antoinette’s favorite tree, according to the palace. The tulip tree is known for its tulip-shaped flowers and its leaves that turn red and gold each fall.
The other two phases of work, which will take place over the next two years, will include replanting vegetation around the garden’s perimeter and planting flowering trees and shrubs throughout the garden’s small arbors. Visitors can look forward to white fringe trees, hawthorn trees, as well as staghorn sumac trees.
While we all wait for the garden to be completed and for travel to return post-coronavirus, you can enjoy several virtual exhibitions about the palace’s history that Versailles and Google Arts and Culture created together online through chateauversailles.fr or artsandculture.google.com.