Report From Paris: Hidden Gardens, an Urban Vineyard, Smelly Cheese and a Bottle of Rosé

September 16, 2012 by

Neighborhood florist adverting on roof of delivery car. Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens.

Although I once lived in Paris and now visit every year, there are neighborhoods I’ve not fully explored. I like to stay in the 3rd, 4th, 5e, and 6e, arrondissements, but last year at this time, my friend Anne offered me her apartment in the posh 16e. How could I refuse? The place had two terraces and a view of the Eiffel Tower through the kitchen window. I’ve never met Anne except on Twitter, but I consider her a friend–a generous one. (Who says social media is impersonal?) 

I didn’t get the apartment again this year, but I did find an adorable bargain-priced little alcove studio in Montmartre–an area in the northern reaches of Paris that I have in the past avoided because it’s pretty far from everything. Turned out to be a great spot.

Paris, Day One: 1:30 pm Check-In
As I’d feared before arrival, the keys to my rented apartment are not in the designated 4-digit coded safe inside the 5-digit coded entry door. Having planned to get a local SIM card for my phone, mine didn’t work yet so I am unable to call anyone to alert them about the missing keys. I leave my bag inside the building vestibule and head up the street where I poke my head into a storefront office to ask if I might use their phone. Thank goodness I speak French. I’m able to explain the situation to some very friendly folks with whom I do some serious schmoozing before they hand me the phone. Two calls and an hour later, the landlord arrives to let me in, and out of pity, carries my heavy bag up two narrow, winding flights of stairs.

Courtyard of my Paris rental apartment. Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens.

2:45 pm: I’m starving.
After quickly unpacking my bag, I head out to the corner cafe for an omelet and a cup of coffee while I figure out how to log in to the free WiFi to make a Skype call home where nobody answers. Fortified from my late lunch, I set out to explore the neighborhood in search of that SIM card for my unlocked iPhone. On the way, I pass some lovely private courtyard gardens.

Neighborhood front courtyard garden. Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens.

Spotted in a shop window, this old BP oil can would make great watering can or vase! Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens.

3:45 pm: Wander the Streets or “Flâner”
The French would call me a flâneur–an idle wanderer with purpose, an urban explorer. I enjoy having no agenda. I’d planned to head over to Sacré-Cœur to take in the view there as the basilica stands at the summit of the Butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. I have a terrible sense of direction. Instead of turning right at the end of my street, I take a left and stumble on an urban garden concept store, Les Mauvaises Graines. By chance, the store had been on my list of spots to visit–though I had no idea it would turn out to be around the corner from my rented apartment! Must be destiny.

I chat for a while with the shop’s uber-cool owner, David Jeannerot Renet. With his bleached hair and electric blue velvet blazer, he’s a stand-in for David Bowie.

Like most English speakers do, I translate the store name, Les Mauvaises Graines, literally as “The Bad Seed” and wonder why he chose that name for his garden store. He explains that the French term, les mauvaises graines, is “argot” or slang, translating to “diamond in the rough.” Very different.

The back forty of Les Mauvaises Graines.

4:45 pm: Cocktails and Cell Phones
David tells me about his favorite neighborhood wine bar and directs me down the street to the mobile phone store. Voilà! I’m connected and can now call home for about 5 cents a minute. Even with the SIM’s cost, this is way less expensive than the Verizon international plan.

Just another lovely neighborhood garden shop and florist. Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens.

I walk in a very circuitous route and up hundreds of steep steps to the Buttes, praying I’d soon get to the top.

Graffiti artist comments on the endless Montmartre steps. Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens.

Even in the off-season, the area is buzzing wall-to-wall with tourists, gazillion trinket shops, and “artistes.” Still, it’s nonetheless a historical part of the city worthy of exploration. I’m sure I will spot Amélie any minute but she does not appear.

As the sun sets over Paris, I navigate through the hordes at Sacré-Cœur, where I take in a postcard-perfect view of the city with the Eiffel Tower looming in the distance.

Huge site art bandage on building facade; Eiffel Tower in distance. Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens.

I love walking around without a map or GPS and always stop to experience street entertainment…

Street entertainment with Paris backdrop at sunset. Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens.

…and peeking into hidden gardens and nooks…

Taking note of the banal and the unusual along the way, I start heading back to the apartment via the rue des Saules where at the corner of rue St.Vincent I realize I am gazing at the grapevines of Paris’s oldest and only still-operating urban vineyard, Le Clos de Montmartre.

Le Clos Montmartre. Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens.

Nestled atop the Butte Montmartre, one of the city’s sort-of secret gardens, Le Clos de Montmartre dates back to the 12th Century when the Romans built a temple there dedicated to Bacchus, the god of wine.

Le Clos Montmartre. Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens.

Church-owned vineyards produced wines for Montmartre’s cabarets and bars until the 18th and 19th centuries when vineyards in and around Paris gradually disappeared. In the early ‘30s, a group of local artists appealed to the government to give them a patch of land to reestablish the Montmartre vineyards. The plan was approved in 1933, resurrecting the Clos de Montmartre, and the neighborhood celebrated the first harvest or “vendange” in early 1934. What survived as a local artists’ project today spans 1556 square meters, cultivating 27 varietals of wine including Gamay, Pinot, white Sauvignon, and Riesling.

Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens.

8 pm: Groceries and Wine
My appetite once again revved up, and as jet lag begins to wear me out, I pop into a little market for some smelly cheeses, fresh figs, strawberries, grapes, and a three-euro bottle of pink-tinged rosé. I then settle on the sofa to write, eat, and get a bit tipsy on the inexpensive but delicious wine. The next day will be Day One of the international design fair, Maison et Objet, and I plan to hit the ground running as early as I can get some strong caffeine into my veins.

Day Two
I join my new friend David at his shop and we join some of his pals for a drink at the bar across the street before heading for a tour of his not-yet-planted home garden.

Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens.

As we step around piles of collected garbage and wade through tall patches of weeds, a mirror’s reflection captures this diamond in the rough and signals its potential. David shares his design plans and I begin to visualize how he will transform his mauvaises graines into a polished gem of an urban garden.

Stay tuned as I report back on trends from Maison et Objet and Paris Design Week, and then from London where I will be reporting back from the Modenus and sponsors’ BlogTour for five days during the London Design Festival.


  1. Lucrecia said:

    Wonderful 1st day, Love it every minute.
    Thanks for sharing. I have never been to Paris so I`m glad I can see it thru your eyes.
    Enjoy the rest.

    — September 17, 2012 @ 08:12

  2. hazel jarvis said:

    So wonderful. I love your pictures. Really makes me wish I were there, now..

    — September 17, 2012 @ 08:41

  3. Sheryl said:

    Am salivating for a Paris visit now with your great descriptions and fab photos! Can’t wait to catch up with you when you return!

    — September 17, 2012 @ 09:14

  4. Lynn Hoffman said:

    Thank you for sharing. I’m so envious. Enjoy!

    — September 17, 2012 @ 10:12

  5. susan hirsch said:

    Love your vision of Paris..exactly what I would be doing “were I there”!

    — September 18, 2012 @ 12:50

  6. umesh said:

    Nice post and wonderful image’s.Thanks for post it.

    — September 19, 2012 @ 06:13

  7. Steamtherapy said:

    From Paris straight to London – lucky you! Looking forward to the rest of your reports.

    — September 19, 2012 @ 14:08

  8. Rachel @ eGardenSheds said:

    Thanks a lot for the very wonderful page. Love those pages. Thanks!

    — September 28, 2012 @ 11:36

  9. Andrew Keys said:

    Oh, Paris. My heart melts. Sigh. LOVE the photo of the building bandage with the tower. Can’t wait to hear about Les Mauvaises Graines.

    — October 20, 2012 @ 08:15

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