Paris: Sustainable Hidden Gardens of Solitude

October 5, 2009 by

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A hidden place of repose opens up to the Potager des Oiseaux.

Having savored a Salade Paysanne at the unpretentious northern Marais café, La Perle, I was fortified for my afternoon search of more little-known Paris gardens and whatever else I might happen upon en route.

I made way up the rue des Quatre Fils (4e), made a left onto the rue Charlot, poked my head into several chic boutiques before turning left on rue Pastourelle, then a quick right onto rue de Beauce where I was supposed to find the entrance to the Potager des Oiseaux (literally “Kitchen Garden of the Birds.”) The directions led me to the side where through the fence I saw that the entrance was at the end of a little passage around the corner. Figuring there had to be a way in, I rounded the rue de Bretagne and entered through the first opening I could find, the Marché des Enfants Rouges, Paris’s oldest surviving covered market, established under the rule of Louis XIII in 1615.

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Organic “biologique” produce at the Marché des Enfants Rouges.

It was my first time at the market and I might have held off lunch had I’d known I’d pass all these market delicacies on my way to access the garden. The scents of Moroccan couscous and tajines wafted by me as did those of the Japanese, Caribbean, and Italian fare gracing the plates of diners seated throughout at the open air tables. Passing an abundant produce display on the other side of the market, I came upon a wine bar and a host of other food vendors all displaying hard to resist moveable feasts.

When I asked a waiter where I could find the Impasse des Oiseaux, he pointed to his immediate right and said, “Alors, elle est là, Madame.”  It’s over there, he said, pointing to the entrance of a tiny dead-end alley leading to a little garden through which another gate ultimately led to the Potager des Oiseaux.

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The Potager des Oiseaux, reached through the adjacent little garden, which is reached through the oldest covered market in Paris.

The intimate space was a jardin partegé, what we would call a community garden. In France, this is an urban garden where each member gets a single meter square plot on which they can do anything they wish–plant a vegetable or ornamental garden, even a display of sculpture or garden decor. They often function, like this one, as a friendly meeting place. Les jardins familiaux (family gardens) are closer to our notion of a community garden. These are suburban allotments run by an association or neighborhood and collectively maintained by a group of gardeners, generally for the communal production of food.

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A young Japanese gardener said she was there to relax, but also had a square plot to tend.

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The 1×1 meter Japanese garden cultivated by a group of friends.

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I was enchanted by an absentee gardener’s ladder to nowhere with its colorful gourds

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This appeared like a still life out of the corner of my eye

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You can see why I was so moved by the place and didn’t really want to leave…

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The gardener’s office? I wanted to set up camp there and stay awhile.

Potager des Oiseaux (3e)
rue des Oiseaux, enter through the Marché des Enfants Rouges on rue Bretagne
Metro: Temple or Filles du Calvaire

Marché des Enfants Rouges (3e)
39, rue de Bretagne between rue de Beauce and rue Charlot
Metro: Temple or Filles du Calvaire

Bar La Perle (4e)
Corner of rue de la Perle and rue Vieille du Temple

All photos: Robin Plaskoff Horton.

Note: The young Japanese women I met in the garden kept my business card and, three years after this post, contacted me when she was in New York City.

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