Kitchen Garden of King Louis XIV
Potager du Roi
The Potager du Roi (fr: Kitchen Garden of the King), near the Palace of Versailles, produced fresh vegetables and fruits for the table of the court of Louis XIV. It was created between 1678 and 1783 by Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie, the director of the royal fruit and vegetable gardens. Today it is run by the École Nationale Supérieure du Paysage, the high state school in France for the training of landscape architects. It is listed by the French Ministry of Culture as one of the Notable Gardens of France.
The finished garden looked very much as it looks today. It covered twenty-five acres (nine hectares), with a circular pond and fountain in the center, surrounded by a Grand Carré, a large square made up of sixteen squares of vegetables. Around this was a raised terrace from which the King could watch the gardeners work. A high wall surrounded the Grand Carré, and behind the wall were twenty-nine enclosed gardens, with fruit trees and vegetables. The careful arrangement of the different chambers of the gardens created individual microclimates, which allowed La Quintinie to grow fruits and vegetables out of their usual season.
In his Instruction pour les jardins fruitiers et potagers,, on the results obtained by his use of different types of manure, he wrote:
“la chaleur, tant dans la terre que dans l’air ne peut régulièrement venir que des rayons du soleil. J’ose dire pourtant que j’ai été assez heureux pour l’imiter en petit à l’égard de quelques petits fruits : j’en ai fait mûrir cinq et six semaines devant le temps, par exemple des fraises à la fin mars, des précoces, et des pois en avril, des figues en juin, des asperges et des laitues pommées en décembre, janvier…”
“heat, in the earth as well as in the air, can come regularly only from the rays of the sun. I dare say, however, that I was lucky enough to imitate it a little in regards to some small fruits: I succeeded in making some ripen five or six weeks early, for instance, strawberries at the end of March, early vegetables and peas in April, figs in June, asparagus and lettuces in December, January…”
Since Louis XIV was fond of figs, La Quintinie created a special figuerie. a hollowed-out garden which was sheltered from the elements in winter, which enabled him to grow figs in mid-June. He also had special gardens for melons; three gardens for “herbs, cucumbers and other green leaves;” and gardens reserved for strawberries and cherries. He raised fifty varieties of pears and twenty varieties of apples for the King’s table, and sixteen different varieties of lettuce.
During the time of Louis XIV, the potager was an enormous enterprise; it required thirty experienced gardeners to tend to the garden plots, greenhouses, and the twelve thousand trees. Louis XIV brought important visitors, such as the Ambassador of Siam and Doge of Venice, to see the wonders of the garden. He also sent samples of his favorite pear variety, Bon Chrétien, as gifts to other heads of state. The varieties of vegetables served in the garden were an obligatory topic of discussion at the dinner at Versailles. As Madame de Sévigné wrote, “The craze for peas continues; the impatience waiting to eat them, to have eaten them, and the pleasure of eating them are the three subjects our princes have been discussing for the past four days now.”
La Quintinie supervised the gardens until his death in 1688. His post was occupied briefly by his colleague, Nicolas Besnard, and then was taken over François Le Normand in 1690. Le Normand’s two sons and their descendants ran the potager du Roi for the next ninety years. They created a new garden for raising asparagus, and had to make major reparations to the garden after the extreme cold spell of 1709.
Today the garden is open to the public. It produces over fifty tons of fruits and thirty tons of vegetables each year, which are sold in Versailles markets and at the school. In addition to teaching, the school regularly re-introduces historic varieties and carries on an extensive program of experimentation. Students come with at least two years’ prior university education, and spend a further four years studying at Versailles, including carrying out studies on their own small plots, and planning and executing a project on a particular terrain..
Jean de La Quintinie – Instructions pour les jardins fruitiers et potagers
Instruction pour les Jardins Fruitiers et Potagers: avec un Traité des Oranges, and des Reflexions sur l’Agriculture. Volume 1
By Jean de La Quintinie