‘Good for the soul’ weekend in Paris part 1

I can’t even speak about Brexit because I am so angry and ashamed in equal measure.  Angry that all of this has been unleashed as a catastrophic error by Teflon Dave and his mates, and ashamed that so many of my generation and older, who should remember wartime, have denied our children the benefits of being European.

A very good blog by Noel Kingsbury captures it pretty much.

But, the soul benefitted very much from a really great weekend in Paris, feasting on all things botanical.  And so to that.

I really went to Paris with Andy pretty much with the sole objective of catching the ‘Jardins d’Orient’ exhibition at the Institute du Monde Arabe, but ended up seeing and doing so much more.

But to start with the exhibition.  It was a rare opportunity to learn about the history of the Islamic garden, and the enormous and pervasive influence that it had on the Western world from before Jesus Christ till now.  The indoor exhibition was a comprehensive bringing together of artefacts, photographs, drawings, carpets and costume telling the story of the significance of the Islamic garden as a space for pleasure.  We spent nearly two hours inside taking in the exhibits.

There was a fascinating section on the technology and science of water distribution and retention which revealed much that we in the modern world could usefully adopt.  The one item that spoke to me was a small oblong of clay, dating back to 3500BC.  This tiny thing  was in fact a written contract to construct a canal for a garden.  The photograph below is not the exact item that I saw, but gives an idea.  It measured maybe 7-8 cms square.

Cuneiform tablet from Mesopotamia detailing the numbers of animals owned by a man dating from approx. 3000BC. Photo credit: http://www.kids.brittanica.com

Outdoors, in the courtyard of the IMA, accompanying the exhibition was a contemporary garden specially designed to evoke the spirit of the Islamic garden principles that the exhibition had explored.  The French landscape architect, Michel Pena, designed the courtyard garden, and the land artist, Francois Abelanet, created an anamorphosis or optical illusion to contribute to the space.

There were some lovely details in the garden.  Here is a pick of some that I noticed.

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The tiled sitting walls evoke Andalucia, and the pots of orange, oleander and olive make a convivial and attractive space, Jardins d’Orient, IMA, Paris, June 2016
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A stepped Corten steel water ladder fed a central canal that bisected the garden, Jardins d’Orient, IMA, Paris, June 2016
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A refreshing contemporary use of grasses, Carex testacea giving a bronze tone and Festuca glauca ‘Azurit’ contrasting with blue/grey tones.


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A striking use of red and yellow was scattered through the planting.

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A cool green and white planting of an olive tree surrounded by white French marguerites and salvia.

But, for me, although I would applaud the successful creation of a restful and convivial space in an otherwise unforgiving concrete environment, the design as a whole didn’t succeed in bringing all the elements together.

The vast numbers of large clay pots filled with roses could have made a perfumed paradise, but the choice of scentless modern hybrid teas had prioritised flowering power over perfume and attractiveness.  I couldn’t help thinking that a selection of species or old roses with varying flowering periods, but with beauty and scent, would have been a better choice.

The planting was too sparse for what was, in effect, a 3 month show garden, with the result that bark chippings predominated.  Shame.  And to be honest, the anamorphosis or optical illusion, a large tilted area, underneath which relaxing seats were placed, was a damp squib really.  Most visitors when I was there, struggled to see the ‘illusion’ without the use of phones or cameras.  It would have benefitted the space better to have created two or three pavilions, in a contemporary style, rather than dominate the proceedings with the anamorphosis, to my mind.

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The anamorphosis. You may be able to see the eight pointed star created around the central basin…or you may not!

Sometimes less is more.

But having said that, the garden did create a very pleasant interlude with mint tea, cakes and snacks available, that did capture the spirit of the Islamic garden in the way it was used.  And for many visitors, that would have filled the bill.  I enjoyed my snack lunch there too!