Because it was mid-May and a few weeks early for roses in northern France, garden visits were secondary to the wealth of other Parisian attractions on our recent trip to Paris. However, we did plan one major out-of-Paris foray to La Roseraie du Val-de-Marne (aka La Roseraie de L’Hay) located in L’Hay des Roses in the municipality of Val-du-Marne, about 5 miles south of Paris. This meant a train ride.
Angie and I like to use public transportation when we travel overseas – the buses and metros are reliable, clean, safe, and the best way to discover a city. But the only way to get to Val-du-Marne was on the train, a new experience for us. Off we went on a Friday morning with directions from the hotel concierge and our Paris Visite travel passes.
We boarded the train to Bourg-La-Reine, the stop closest to the rose garden, and enjoyed stopping along the way in small towns with charming French names. We felt like Bogy and Bacall in one of those WWII movies. The trip took only 30 minutes and we arrived at Bourg-La-Reine and walked to a nearby bus stop.
Then a hard realty set in. We had found that English was widely spoken everywhere in Paris, especially after we made good faith attempts to speak French. But once we were outside of the city, it was French-only and that would provide additional drama to the trip.
We got on what we thought was the right bus to the rose garden and promptly got lost. How do you get lost in a small French town? Well, we did. We kept travelling in circles until the bus driver finally asked us where we were going, in French of course. We just said, “Roseraie de L’Hay” in our best New England accented French. He laughed and understood immediately our dilemma. He instructed us in passable English to sit by the door and not move until the bus got to the rose garden stop and he would let us know. We then went on another loop around Bourg-La-Reine; only this time we made it to the garden.
The Roseraie de L’Hay was built in 1899 by Jules Gravereaux and was considered a collection of every known species and cultivated rose variety of its time. They claimed at that time to be the first single species – roses only – garden in the world.
This formal French garden features 13 sections arranged geometrically around an ornamental pool with long allées leading visitors from one section to the next. One area of the garden has collections of historical and old garden roses; another highlighted collections of modern and French roses. The garden also included a unique collection of special botanical varieties.
The garden had started to bloom on the day we were there but the big display was still 8 days away. But what caught my eye straight away were the structures employed throughout the garden, adding elegance and providing vertical elements necessary in every great rose garden.
Roses were woven along stylish festoons, graceful, long looping wires and over arches. Pillars scrambled up ancient wrought iron obelisks and ramblers twisted up and around tall iron towers. Classic statuary and urns abounded and roses were cultivated in large decorative containers.
The garden paths were sand-colored pea stone, each step a pleasant crunch and each bed was bordered with a slow growing dwarf boxwood hedge. One little detail that tickled my fancy was the clever way the rose gardeners fastened canes and stems to garden structures. No twine or twist-ties for
these pros. They use what they call “osier” which translates into wicker and every connection is made with this product of the willow tree. I later found out that this is a very old gardening technique dating back to the 13th century when grapes were tied off the same way in French vineyards.
Then there was the trellis – tall dark green panels with climbing roses that provided a simple yet strong and practical backdrop for the ornamental pool in the center of the garden. This trelliswork, repeated throughout the garden, effectively tied the entire garden together. I have never seen another garden like it.
When we were ready to leave, we went to the ticket stand to get information and buy something to bring home. The lady on duty spoke absolutely no English and my poor French only added to the confusion. We finally succeeded by using universal sign language and writing on an imaginary blackboard. She was a great sport and we still chuckle about this.
On our trip back to Paris we laughed at ourselves and marveled about the garden. Our adventure at La Roseraie de L’Hay became one of the highlights of our Paris trip.
What a great trip!
What a superb rose garden!