The Vegetable Garden of the King
Most Beautiful Espalier Fruit Collection on Earth
In France, espalier fruit training ascended into an unparallelled art of both craftmanship and science. The largest and most beautiful collection of espalier trees in the world can be found right next to the Castle of Versailles, in “Le Potager du Roi”. The roots of this collection go back to the 17th century. Since 1921, Le Potager du Roi has the status of Unesco World Heritage.
The garden Le Potager du Roi (translation: “the Kitchen Garden of the King”) was created between 1678 and 1683 by gardener Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie, on behalf of King Louis XIV (the Sun King). Initially the estate was located in the countryside, but in today’s era Le Potager is completely enclosed by the city of Versailles.
Upon entering the garden of Le Potager you get an impressive view over the vast fields stacked with trained fruit trees. By then you don’t realise you are only overlooking the walled courtyard (“Le Grand Carré”). Because behind the towering walls you see, the garden continues much further. Every time you look around the corner of a wall you will again be amazed seeing hundreds of espalier fruit trees that you see (and did not expect).
The Great Square (French: Le Grand Carré)
Le Grand Carré consists of 16 square fields with vegetables. Each square is bordered with espalier trees. The Grand Carré is demarcated with high fruit walls on an elevated terrace. Outside the Grand Carré you’ll find another 29 walled gardens full of old espalier trees in tree shapes you never imagined possible.
Eight Wonder of the World
For sure Le Potager can be regarded as the eighth wonder of the world.
- The garden comprises about 5,000 espalier fruit trees.
- Many fruit trees are over 100 years old.
- Many types of fruit plants are represented.
For example: pear, apple, grape, fig, sweet cherry, sour cherry, bigarreau, peach, apricot, plum, mirabelle.
- The garden counts some 450 varieties of fruit and vegetables. In addition, various cultivar combinations between rootstock and topstock are being tested
- About 68 different espaliers types can still be seen. For example: cords, palmettes, fans, berceaus, 3D art forms. Also in harmonious combinations of espalier trees. Each row of fruit trees has a name tag with cultivar name and rootstock used (a painstaking job in administration!).
An overview of photos of espalier shapes (classified by category) you can discover at Le Potager du Roi:
3D Art Forms
Combinations of Trained Fruit Trees
Other Trained Fruit Forms
Founding Father La Quintinie
Jean-Baptiste La Quintinie was the master gardner who made espalier fruit culture in Le Potager du Roi world-famous. Although initially trained as a lawyer, he developed an interest in gardens and decided to focus on horticulture. He was so successful on this topic that, at a certain time, King Louis XIV appointed him as director for all of the royal gardens in Versailles. With his ‘green fingers’ La Quintinie turned Le Potager into a garden that would impress the world for centuries.
Transformation from Lawyer to Master Gardner
Le Potager du Roi owes its allure and transformation from Jurist to it’s founder Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie (1626 – 1688). La Quintinie grew up in a noble family. His father, Guillaume de La Quintinie, was a tax attorney and high-ranking court counsel. Following his father, Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie studied Law and started a glorious career as a Lawyer at the Parliament in Paris. Jean Tambonneau, the President of the Court of Auditors, is impressed by his qualities. In 1653 he approaches La Quintinie with the request to tutor his son, Michel Tambonneau, during his study period. La Quintinie accepts this task of a private tutor. As part of the study, La Quintinie accompanies Michel Tambonneau on a study trip to Italy. According to the legends that during that journey La Quintinie became so inspired by the gardens he sees that he decides to devote his career to gardening. La Quintinie delves into gardening literature and specializes in fruit growing. Jean Tambonneau makes space available for experimentation in the garden of his hotel, located on Rue de l’Université in Paris. That hotel is regularly visited by important guests, which also yields La Quintinie an extensive network.
La Quintinie makes two study trips to England, where gardening is at a high level. After that he also maintains contacts with the Royal Society of London (the predecessor of the current Royal Horticultural Society, RHS).
In 1662 La Quintinie married Marguerite Joubert.They got three sons: Michel, François-Jérôme, and Gabriel-Louis of which only the eldest, Michel La Quintinie, survives.
The green talent of La Quintinie does not go unnoticed. He is asked for increasingly larger projects in the construction of vegetable and fruit gardens, and is appointed as a supervisor.
Gardens Managed by La Quintinie
- Castle Vaux le Vicomte (in 1661)
- Castle de Chantilly (in 1665)
- Castle de Choisy
- Castle Rambouillet
- Castle Sceaux
Expert on vegetable and fruit gardening
Gradually, La Quintinie is gaining a reputation among the nobility as a landscape gardener for fruit and vegetable gardens.
Master Gardener in Versailles
King Louis XIV also notes that La Quintinie has “green fingers” and uses his services from 1667 onwards. In 1670, Louis XIV even appointed La Quintinie Director of the royal vegetable garden in Versailles. The term “vegetable garden” is definitely an understatement here. At least 30 experienced gardeners worked on the domain.
From 1678 to 1683, La Quintinie focuses on a total renovation of Le Potager du Roi. Le potager had to become the most ambitious vegetable garden in the world, a global knowledge center where a lot of experimentation took place.
Architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart designed the floor plan for Le Potager. La Quintinie then tackles the plot thoroughly:
- the swampy peat soil is excavated and replace
- the soil is improved with manure from the royal stable
- drainage is being installed
- walled gardens and greenhouses are built (with an optimal micro-climate for each crop)
- He has 12,000 fruit trees planted (400 different cultivars of fruit and vegetables, including 50 pear varieties, 20 apple varieties and 16 varieties of lettuce).
Haydays of Le Potager du Roi
Le Potager reaches the historical peak of espalier fruit culture. Fruit production is then about 50 tons per year.
Proud Sun King
Louis XIV was extremely proud of Le Potager du Roi. Via an impressive gateway (still present) he had a short route from Châteaux of Versailles to Le Potager. From the raised road around the Grand Carré, the king had a good view upon operations by his garden workers. He often invited important guests to join him on these outings.
According to anecdotes, not a single day went by when King Louis XIV forgot Le Potager. On the contrary: the harvest was a regular topic of conversation during his dinner (twice a day). He also regularly sent pears from his favorite pear variety (‘Williams Bon Chrétien’) to befriended heads of state. He did this not only as a business gift, but also to show off.
La Quintinie surprised the king time and again as he was capable of conjuring early harvests: strawberries (in March), peas (in April), figs (from June), asparagus and lettuce (in December). He was a pioneer in the field of early cultivation techniques. Vegetables were forced with farmyard manure and figs in a greenhouse. These innovations were completely new at the time. It was not until 50 years later that the first greenhouses would be introduced in the Netherlands to make early harvest possible.
As a tribute, La Quintinie is knighted by Louis XIV in 1687.
La Quintinie died in 1688 at the age of 62. He had been a gardener up to the very last moment.
La Quintinie has written down his experiences with espalier fruit during his lifetime in his book Instruction pour les jardins fruitiers et potagers (Manual for fruit and vegetable gardens). He had this bequest published in 1690, two years after his death, by his eldest son.
Le Potager du Roi belongs to the so-called living heritage (or green heritage) and is recognized as a Unesco werelderfgoed site. Preserving living heritage is a time-consuming task by default. But within that category espalier fruit is the most labor-intensive pick of the bunch. Maintenance is a debilitating job every year, requiring both a great deal of expertise and discipline. King Louis XIV had a small army of 30 experienced gardeners at his disposal for all that manual work. Today, maintenance depends on merely 9 gardeners, plus volunteers. Maintaining the living collection and maintaining knowledge and skills is a constant source of concern. Because of the limited budget, but also because some rows of espalier are getting so old that trees breath their last and pass away.
Biological Pest Control
Old historical fruit varieties are typically more resistant to diseases and pests than modern varieties. After all: centuries ago, the options for controlling diseases and pests were very limited. Cultivars from those days therefore often have better disease resistance than modern cultivars.
Currently, Le Potager du Roi is also committed to control diseases and pests in a natural way whenever possible. In 2000, a hedge with dozens of species of native shrubs and trees was planted to support ecological pest control.This hedge increases biological life and improves the delicate natural equilibrium.
This legendary garden is well worth a visit! It is actually quite strange that the Palace of Versailles is so well known, and the adjacent Le Potager du Roi so unknown. Especially if you consider that this green pearl has always been part of Versailles Castle, like hand in glove.
Opening Hours & Entrance Fees
- free tour on weekends and public holidays. It is not necessary to make a reservation for a tour unless you are coming with a group.
- Dogs are not allowed.
Tips for your Vist
- Do you know a fruit grower or someone who has an affinity with fruit growing? Perhaps it is a nice gesture to give him or her an entrance ticket. For instance at the occasion of an anniversary. Every fruit-growing entrepreneur should experience this Walhalla at least once in his life. Also fun and educational as a foreign excursion for students Arboriculture.
- Do combine your visit to the vegetable garden with a visit to the Palace of Versailles. Be aware you need to buy separate entrance tickets for both sights.
Other Gardens with Trained Fruit in France
- Château de Chenonceau (FR)
- Château de Valmer (FR)
- Château de Montigny(FR)
- Château d’Acquigny (FR)
- Château et Parc zoologique de La Bourbansais (FR)
- Château de La Bussière(FR)
- Les Jardins Fruitiers de Laquenexy(FR)
- Manoir du Plessis au Bois(FR)
- Abbaye Saint Georges de Boscherville(FR)
- Le Domaine Saint-Jean-de-BeauregardLe Domaine Saint-Jean-de-Beauregard(FR)
- Le Potager Caillebotte(FR)
- La Société régionale d’horticulture de Montreuil
Other Gardens with Trained Fruit in Europe
- Buitenplaats Berbice (historic country resort)
- Museum of Fruit Cultivation Kapelle
- Huis te Manpad (historic country resort)
- Castle Twickel (Kasteel Twickel)
- Castle Middachten (Kasteel Middachten)
- Estate Clingendael (Landgoed Clingendael)
- Royal Palace Het Loo (Paleis Het Loo)
- Perenlaantje (longest berceau in Europe)
- Villa Augustus (country resort)
- Buitenplaats Spaarnberg (espalier fruit discontinued)
- Historic Grape Nursery Sonnehoeck (Druivenkwekerij Sonnehoeck)
- Ridderhofstad Hindersteyn (castle)
- Buitenplaats Hilverbeek (country resort)
- Landgoed Beeckestijn (country resort)
- Landgoed Schaep en Burgh (country resort)
- Buitenplaats Sparrendaal (country resort)
Gardens with Trained Fruit Abroad
Potager du Roi bezocht
Share your experiences with us
Have you visited Le Potager du Roi or one of the other locations with trained fruit that have been mentioned in this artikel please share your experiences with us!Inform me