Cultiver son jardin

Fleur

By the look of her garden, my sister would not qualify as French. Tucked in a medieval courtyard in the foothills of the Alsatian wine country, wildflowers and greens mix and thrive as they please — or so her artist’s eye and green thumb make it seem.

Jardin Turckheim

Paysage et peinture,” her miniature garden has the wild, poetic charm of un jardin à l’anglaise — and stands in stark contrast to the rigueur of the French-style garden Le Nôtre made famous throughout 17th-century Europe.

Jardin de Versailles

By Izaaaak (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Was “the king of gardeners — and the King’s own gardener” a pioneer of “horticultural quietism”? Not what first comes to mind, considering the magnitude of his work, but a possible explanation for the renown and longevity of the unassuming jardinier who, shunning the intrigues of the court, “kept the King’s favor right to the end and — a rare achievement — his friendship.”

Il faut cultiver notre jardin,” Voltaire’s philosophical recommendation, could well have been Le Nôtre’s precept a century before Candide gave it international fame. The masterpiece, literally a must-read for all lycéens, left the 11th graders we were with this boring thought: To work, work, and work in our own enclosed garden is how to find true happiness and make the world a better place.

Those hungry for more excitement have the choice between the story rehashed at the speed of light …

… or read in its original form. Or, even better, reviewed by Julian Barnes. His “candid view of Candide” is worth the detour.

Now my teacher’s two cents. I’d say don’t be too French when you learn French. Le Nôtre brought l’art de corriger la nature to perfection, asserted the triumph of order over “chaos.” An aesthetic form that the British landscapers, who chose to enjoy — not control — nature and work with its imperfections, made a point to reject. Why not take after the old enemy and trouver le juste milieu? Keep your garden green and growing, good old Voltaire had a point, and learn to look at your mauvaises herbes with a new eye. Les sauvages de votre rue may not be that bad after all. Some even say: “If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em!” or else “get in shape pulling ‘em.” Something for the Walking Wounded to chew on.

5.jardin potager_photo 3

— Claire

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Acknowledgements: Izaaaak via Wikimedia Commons
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