CHAPTER IV. THE GARDENS, THE FOUNTAINS AND THE GRAND TRIANON

The first gardens of Versailles - those that gave a modest setting to the villa constructed for Louis XIII, comprised a few parterres of flowers and shrubs bounded by well trimmed box hedges, and two groves planted on each side of the Allee Royale. To Jacques Boyceau is accredited the first plan of the gardens of Versailles, but Andre Le Notre greatly amplified and improved the original scheme. Le Notre's achievements at Versailles gave him rank as the most distinguished landscape gardener of his time, and of all time.

Besides the luxurious and symmetrical gardens at Versailles, he originated the designs of those at the royal houses at Trianon, Saint-Cloud, Merly, Clagny, Chantilly and the Tuileries. The Parterre of the Tiber at Fontainebleau also added to his high reputation. For a long period the style of garden perfected by Le Notre was taken as a model and imitated throughout Europe. In 1678 he went to Italy on a mission for the King, who desired him to make researches there. While at Rome the eminent artist from France was commissioned to plan the gardens of the Quirinal, the Vatican and the villas Ludovisi and Albani. The Elector of Brandenburg summoned him to design the garden at Oranienburg; Kensington Park in London is still another example of Le Notre's skill. In his genius were reflected the qualities that distinguished the art of his century: regularity of design, harmony, dignity and richness of materials. Louis XIV had an enduring admiration for the work and character of the Chief Gardener - a man at all times honest, retiring, and inspired by enthusiasm for his calling.

We are told by a French chronicler that "when Le Notre had traced out his ideas, he brought Louis XIV to the spot to judge the distribution of the principal parts of their ornamentation. He began with two grand basins which are on the terrace in front of the chateau, with their magnificent decorations. He explained next his idea of the double flight of stairs, which is opposite the center of the palace, adorned with yew-trees and with statues, and gave in detail all the pieces that were to enrich the space that it included. He passed then to the Allee du Tapis Vert, and to that grand place where we see the head of the canal, of which he described the size and shape, and at the extremities of whose arms he placed the Trianon and the Menagerie. At each of the grand pieces whose position Le Notre marked, and whose future beauties he described, Louis XIV interrupted him, saying, 'Le Notre, I give you twenty thousand francs.' This magnificent approbation was so frequently repeated that it annoyed Le Notre, whose soul was as noble and disinterested as that of his master was generous. At the fourth interruption he stopped, and said brusquely to the King, 'Sire, Your Majesty shall hear no more. I shall ruin you.'"

In 1695 the King ennobled Le Notre and bestowed upon him the Order of St. Michael. Later, Le Notre presented to his sovereign his collection of pictures and bronzes, for which he had previously received an offer of 80,000 francs, or about $16,000. This collection was placed in one of the King's intimate rooms among the rarest objects in his possession. On occasion, when about to make a tour of the gardens, Louis liked to command a rolling chair similar to his own for the aged Le Notre. Discussing new projects, appraising those that were finished, they made the promenade together.

One of the first garden decorations undertaken was the Grotto of Thetis, a green alcove beautified by exquisite marbles and a fountain that stirred the muse of La Fontaine to sing. This graceful conceit, dominated by Apollo seated among the nymphs of Venus, was destroyed when Mansard built the north wing of the palace; the groups were removed to adorn other sites. While the vast pleasure-house was in course of construction, each year marked the creation of new fountains and woods. In 1664, the Parterre du Nord was laid out below the windows of the north wing; in 1667 and 1668 the Theatre d'Eau, the Maze, the Star, the Grand Canal, the Avenue of Waters, the Cascade of Diana and the Pyramid on the North Parterre, and the Green Carpet ( Tapis-Vert) spread out in view of the windows of the rear facade of the palace. In 1670 and the three succeeding years the low-lying Marais (fen) was constructed next to the Parterre of the Fountain of Latona, to meet the wishes of the King's favorite, Madame de Montespan. While she was in power "people spoke of the Marais as one of the marvels of the gardens, but it was undoubtedly considered less wonderful after her fall," a writer comments. "In the center stood a large oak surounded by an artificial marsh, bordered with reeds and grasses, and containing plants and a number of white swans. From the swans, from the reeds and grasses, and from the leaves and branches of the oak, thousands of little jets of water leaped forth, falling like fine rain upon the masses of natural vegetation that flourished amid the artificial. At the sides of the bosquet there were two tables of marble, on which a collation was served when the marquise came to her grove to see the waters play. In 1704 the King ordered Mansard to destroy the Marais and transform the bosquet into the Baths of Apollo."