The King’s Vegetable Garden

Le Potager du Roi

When Louisa brought me peaches and zucchini from Le Potager du Roi in Versailles, her birthday gift was really twofold — delicious produce to enjoy now, and the promise of a fascinating new place to discover later. And so it is that on a bright and sunny day last week, my parents and I took a little trip to Versailles, snubbed the castle and walked straight on to the Potager.

Le Potager du Roi — the King’s Vegetable Garden — was built by Jean-Baptiste La Quintinie between 1678 and 1683. A few years before, La Quintinie had been appointed by Louis XIV as the Director of All Royal Fruit and Vegetable Gardens, and part of his mission was to build a vegetable garden just South of the Château de Versailles, to accommodate the court’s needs for fresh produce. For this purpose he was given nine hectares (about 1,000,000 square feet) of swamps, which he dried out and structured into a large central square with a fountain and thirty smaller gardens all around, in which he proceeded to plant a wide variety of produce, experimenting and inventing a few horticultural techniques along the way.

More than three centuries later, his Potager would still do him proud. It is just a bit smaller — some elements have disappeared or been replaced — but it is still planted with more than 300 varieties of fruits and vegetables maintained by the students from the school of horticulture next door, and it produces over 70 tons of produce every year.

There were no guided visits that day (only on weekends and holidays) but we didn’t mind and we just walked around with our little maps and the entire garden to ourselves (there was just the one couple, kissing under an apple tree). Pumpkins, different varieties of eggplant (this one is called “Easter egg”), peppers, tomatoes (including tomates cerises and my dear coeurs de boeuf), aromatic herbs, zucchini, asparagus and peaches, but mostly apples (some with tattoos) and pears everywhere, the pear trees aesthetically (and probably somewhat painfully) arranged in espaliers.

There were flowers too, beautiful sunflowers in particular, but my favorite part was the large patch of strawberry plants featuring dozens of heirloom or modern varieties. Most of them were heavy with ripe and bright fruit, but since this isn’t a pick-your-own kind of garden, I really had to reason with myself not to pop a few into my mouth, and simply delight in the pretty sight. Oh, and another favorite is when I found out that they actually grow butter from trees *. Cool, huh?

There is a small boutique from which you can buy fruit and vegetables from the Potager, jams and juices, as well as books for the enthusiastic gardener. Nothing in the selection of produce that day made my heart swoon, but if Louisa’s gifts are anything to go by it may very well be a matter of luck or season.

(And you can read Louisa’s own account here!)

* OK, not really: the Beurré Superfin is one of the many pear varieties that are called Beurré something — Beurré d’Anjou, Beurré Clergeau, Beurré Hardy, etc.

Le Potager du Roi
10 rue du Maréchal Joffre
78000 Versailles
01 39 24 62 62

  • Rainey

    70 tons of produce is an impressive yield! Where does it all go?

    I have never seen a “tatoo”ed apple before. I have seen pumpkins deliberately scarred with designs growing on vines though. Do you know what causes the tatoo?

    I just love beefheart tomatoes too.

  • http://wednesdaychef.typepad.com Luisa

    Five years ago this fall, I visited the chataeu de Sully in Saone-et-Loire, Burgundy. It’s a beautiful castle (with amazingly aggressive black swans!) and the surrounding countryside was stunning, but my favorite part of that day was the castle’s potager – at that point of the year crammed with zucchini, squashes, end-of-summer tomatoes and peppers and eggplants, oh my.

  • http://wednesdaychef.typepad.com Luisa

    I meant, chateau… ;)

  • Patsy

    Clotilde: I spent a horrid weekend, losing a lease on an ideal place where I wanted to live and finding another (for just a year, but still!).That’s why your little trip to Potager was a lovely virtual escape for me. Thanks for sharing the experience — beautifully written, as always. It took my thoughts off my predicament, away to another world. Thank you.

  • http://www.lambertplanet.com kathie

    I work at the Unité de Soins Palliatifs de Claire Demeure in Versailles, so I have the ideal excuse to visit the Potager. Looking forward to it. Thanks for the introduction Clotilde.

  • Mootee

    When a friend told me about your blog, I just wondered what a food blog would look like. And I find my new internet homepage, happy to discover a new article posted when I open Internet explorer!

    The funny thing is that I sometimes have classes in Versailles, and after I saw the zucchini flower’s gift, I decided to skip class and go visit the potager last week.

    Very nice indeed. and the apples are delicious!

    Thanks clotilde for you website!

  • http://www.winosandfoodies.typepad.com/ Barbara

    Sounds like a wonderful day out with your parents.

  • coing

    The Potager looks wonderful, I would love to be able to visit. Here in Philadelpia, there are some gardens along a similar vein, but none of them doing well enough to offer produce for sale!

    Strawberries are plants, not shrubs. Shrubs are more or less like bushes–woody stems.
    It is so rare that you make a slip–you write like an American. Or rather, like a good American writer. I’ve noticed that other languages often have words for plants that don’t translate easily. An Eritrean friend was talking excitedly about a ‘tree’ she saw in my garden–it turned out to be rue (Ruta graveolens), just a little shrub two feet tall. It’s a great home remedy for Eritreans.

  • Miss Lisa

    Clotilde, thanks so much for the blog! I am planning on visiting Paris next July and one of my planned excursions is to Versaille … I just hope it’s open in July!! I love the blog, you write so descriptively it makes me salivate … and thanks just reading about raw fruit and vegies!

  • http://passionatenonchalance.com aria

    Thanks Clotilde! Your writing and beautiful pictures make me want to plan a trip:)

  • http://www.geekswithblogs.net/pstathakos Peter Stathakos

    Hi Clotilde,

    This sounds like an awesome place, it’s on my list for the next time I get to visit France.

    I believe that 9 hectares is closer to 1,000,000 square feet though. It seemed a bit small to produce that much!

  • http://blog.adnohr.net nod

    I was in the south east of France last summer visiting my in-laws and the strawberries were amazing. They taste nothing like American strawberries, they almost taste like candy. Since being back in California I have been looking for seeds for plants that look like the ones I had in Bassac, but no luck so far. :(

  • Matt

    I wish more land was dedicated to growing fresh fruits and vegetables, as described in your blog. Not only is there beauty along with good-tasting foods, but it just makes sense. You did a great job of integrating the pictures into your post. Thanks for sharing the experience.

    Matt

  • http://elipe.blogspot.com emi

    How lovely would it be to spend the day strolling around the gardens and then coming home with something grown there to create dinner with. Definitely something I’d like to do some day.

  • http://fidgetybudgie.typepad.com gaile

    oo I am so envious. I’ve always wanted to visit the famous potager’s of france!!! wonderful pictures!

  • http://www.livejournal.com/users/roxann_ireland Roxann

    To Nod in California –

    See if you can find seeds for the heirloom berries of Oregon and Washington. California berries are bred to be shipped fresh throughout the nation and so their chief characteristic is their resistance to bruising. Pacific Northwest varieties are bred for making jams and preserves, so they are softer and have a higher sugar content. These old varieties are getting harder and harder to find, though. The best are quite small and so dark red as to be almost purple in color.

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