2018 World Monuments Watch
Potager du Roi, the kitchen garden of the Palace of Versailles, has had a long history as a place of horticultural instruction and innovation. The garden was created by Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie (1626-88), an expert gardener and agronomist, and French architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart (1646-1708) during 1678-99, to fulfil King Louis XIV’s vision of creating the most impressive palace in the world. The Potager is just over 23 acres with 28 small gardens on the periphery and a Grand Carré, made up of 16 square vegetable gardens surrounding a central fountain.
For over 300 years, the Potager du Roi has been cultivated, introducing new microclimates and methods for producing fruits and vegetables in and out of season. Additionally, it maintains a tradition of education. In the early 1990s, through support from Mrs. Paul Mellon, WMF engaged in conservation of the garden, including completion of condition surveys, creation of a conservation plan, and the restoration of the finely detailed Grille du Roi—the king’s private entrance to the Potager—and the central Grand Carré fountain. Since 1995, the garden has housed and has been under the stewardship of the École Nationale Supérieure de Paysage (French National Landscape Architecture School). There are over 450 varieties of fruit trees and, depending on the year, between 300 and 450 vegetable varieties are cultivated. Every year approximately 40 tons of fruits and vegetables are produced, a labor-intensive process of planting, pruning, and harvesting that is carried out by a small group of people and with limited resources.
Despite being open to the public daily, the gardens cannot be visited under the same ticket as the palace and the rest of the gardens since Potager du Roi is not under the management of the Palace of Versailles. A process of identifying and engaging stakeholders to plan for the future of the site is currently underway and aims to address a number of challenges, including damaged and outdated drainage systems, greenhouses, supporting structures, and amenities for visitors. The need to select and cultivate species that can grow without pesticides and are adaptable to climate change means that approximately 40% of existing fruit trees (already in poor condition) need to be replaced. Inclusion of Potager du Roi on the 2018 World Monuments Watch hopes to help mobilize local and international stakeholders to embrace and become part of a new vision for the site.