Monday, 17 August 2009

Versailles planters

The modern interpretation of the ever popular Versailles planter is usually a square shaped wooden plant container with a ball finial on each corner post. Some have an egg shaped finial, which is more in keeping with the original Versailles planter.

In 1661, Louis XIV commissioned landscape gardener André Le Nôtre with the design and laying out of the gardens of Versailles. The works were undertaken at the same time as those for the palace and took forty years to complete. The architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart drew up scenic plans and built the Orangery.

Louis XIV must have had a penchant for orange trees as he amassed a collection of at least a thousand. As they would not survive a heavy frost, the citrus trees had to be planted in moveable boxes or caisses, which were transported to the enormous orangery for overwintering.

Originally, orangeries were simple shelters covering citrus plants that were often planted by a wall. The plants were covered with straw, planks of wood and waterproof sheeting. As the orange tree and other tropical plants became more popular as a status symbols, so the orangeries built to overwinter them became more extravagant. The early purpose built orangeries had an open fire to keep the frost at bay but later versions had their own underfloor central heating.

The caisses originally designed for Versailles were built entirely of timber. They were redesigned in 1820 to include cast iron corner posts. Some of the 1820 style planters lasted for a hundred and fifty years! In 1992 work began on the replanting of the gardens. Inspired by the renovation, three Frenchmen, who had a long association with landscaping and craftsmanship at the palace of Versailles, started to faithfully reproduce the 1820 versions and make them available to the wider world.

Every autumn, the thousand or so trees have to be moved in to the orangery. You can have a virtual tour of the orangery by clicking on the following link. You may need to download some software for this.

Once you have seen the orangery, come back to this page and buy the planters! The modern generic Versailles planter is now made in softwood for economy, hardwood for durability, GRP (glass fibre) for longevity and synthetics for economy. The copyrighted reproduction version shown here is only really for gardeners that buy their trowels at Tiffany's.