How Paris Became An Eco-Chic Lifestyle Hub
This visit to Paris reinforced my belief that green space is vital to the health of every city dweller. Paris is embracing eco-lifestyle in a myriad of unique ways: from big public gardens to the abundance of green walls, plants are everywhere. You can feel it in the restaurants, which are serving up huge plates of fresh vegetables. (Luckily for us, peas are in season.)
Walking through the streets of the Marias at 4:30 in the afternoon and listening to noise emanating from the extremely crowded playgrounds tucked here and there, you can feel that the city is alive within the green walls. Paris might have more one-off parks than any other city, or at least any that I can remember.
From the small community vegetable gardens like the one tucked in the Square des Missions to the newly-planted Monkey Puzzle tree in the park adjacent to the Bon Marche, one gets the sense that Paris is making a concerted effort to maintain and improve its small public gardens. They are in tip-top shape. On our trip we strolled through the absolutely charming four connecting gardens at the Archives Nationales, which we stumbled upon by accident. The beds were full of bleeding hearts, columbine, and couples reading on benches. The allium is just on the cusp of opening. And the Parisians’ respect for the space is clear; there are no bikes chained to fences, no trash on the ground.
It’s not just the small gardens that are charming, but the large ones too. In the chaos of the big city Paris has, in my opinion, two of the best public gardens anywhere in the world: the Tuileries and the Luxembourg Garden. Both are manageable yet they offer so much! In the Lux you can sit quietly reading a book and watching little sailboats float around on the small pond, blissfully unaware that there is a tennis match going on just steps away.
The Tuileries was in top form – people soaking up the sun; shoes and blazers off. On the right bank side a variety of children’s play areas were overflowing with families, and on the left bank side chairs were filled with people enjoying the flower beds and vegetable gardens. I saw the first artichoke of the season! The café and ice cream stands were hosting lines thirty people deep, and tucked in a corner was a plant exhibition housed in a pop up greenhouse. I barely had enough time to pursue the Tuileries Gardens Bookstore, but came away inspired as always. All of this, and the fact that when you look to the horizon in any direction all you see is elegant Parisian architecture, gives Paris an enduring charm. If you’re lucky an orchestra will just happen to be playing, as it was last Sunday. What better way to spend a spring day. And the city is constantly improving this gem– currently there is a new garden under construction, which looks again to be designed with French perfection.
The Community garden bug has really taken hold in Paris, like in many other urban areas. I was particularly interested in visiting Les Jardins du Ruisseau, a garden in on an old train platform that is full of overflowing plots, while above is a funky concept restaurant and vintage store called La Recyclerie. It’s conveniently located right next to Marche Puce, a great place to comb for garden items. At La Recyclerie, Sunday brunch takes on a humble, homey feel: vintage clothes hang from the ceiling and all the silverware and glass is recycled. It goes without saying that the food skews local and organic– a fun spot that evokes 1960’s Berkeley, right down to the cafeteria-like set up. (Still, this is France, so obviously it was a chic cafeteria.)
There is, of course, nothing like seeing a truly grand Kitchen garden: the Potager de Roi in Versailles. This garden once supplied the produce and fruit for Versailles and is still a working garden today. I love espalier, and Versailles boasts a ton of it, along with tunnels of hanging gourds and nasturtiums hung in mass next to a variety of vegetables and flowers. Kitchen gardeners will find Paris to be a perfect muse for their future projects.
The living green wall is a prolific concept in Paris, as well. The most famous one– or at least the one everybody is currently talking about– is an installation by Patrick Blanc that is thriving and looking magnificent. But it is no longer the only player in town; green walls cover swathes of the city, from hotels and markets to florist shops and restaurants, and there are even green walls in odd places, such as above garages. The ubiquity of these spaces suggests that green walls aren’t merely trendy to Parisians, but rather a newly-established fixture of eco-friendly living.
To grasp Paris’ immense love of gardens, one need only stroll down street after florist-friendly street. Practically every block features a charming shop boasting heaping baskets of Margaritas and voluptuous Hydrangeas, encased behind glass like sculpture in the Louvre. How can you not love a city that embraces the public space, celebrates the beauty of the bouquet and continues to push the concept of green?