When we visited La Roserie du Val-de-Marne and strolled along the gravel pathways amongst masses of roses the words of Pierre de Ronsard’s romantic poem “Ode to Cassandra” were running through my head……
Mignonne, allons voir si la rose
Qui ce matin avait déclose
Sa robe de pourpre au soleil,
A point perdu cette vesprée
Les plis de sa robe pourprée,
Et son teint au vôtre pareil.
Las ! voyez comme en peu d’espace,
Mignonne, elle a dessus la place,
Las, las ses beautés laissé choir !
Ô vraiment marâtre Nature,
Puisqu’une telle fleur ne dure
Que du matin jusques au soir !
Donc, si vous me croyez, mignonne,
Tandis que votre âge fleuronne
En sa plus verte nouveauté,
Cueillez, cueillez votre jeunesse :
Comme à cette fleur, la vieillesse
Fera ternir votre beauté.
He is telling his sweetheart (Cassandra) to look at the rose which has just unfurled all its beauty in the sunshine, and unfairly, like the rose whose beauty lasts only a short time, her beauty will fade. So he implores her that if she believes him to make the most of her youth and potential while she is young. Interpret that how you will; nevertheless it’s a classic of the French Renaissance period and the words are as velvety as roses.
Under the warm sun with the heady scent of rose perfume wafting up from exquisite blooms all about the sense of romance is clear. It’s no wonder Monsieur Ronsard chose the rose to symbolise the beauty and promise of his sweetheart.
Coming back to reality now, this garden is about 8km south of Paris in the town of L’Hay les Roses. It was established as a rose garden from 1894 onwards by an interesting chap, Jules Gravereaux, and is now superbly maintained by the Val-de-Marne Council. There are more than 3,300 rose varieties on show including rustic antique roses, Far Eastern roses, Gallicas, modern French roses, tea roses, a garden planted with the roses Josephine Bonaparte grew at Malmaison and more.
June is the best time to see them and it is magnificent. I found many of the roses I had grown previously in my gardens – Alberic Barbier, Albertine and Madame Alfred Carriere – and easily remembered why I had loved them so much.
At strategic points along the pathways there are sign-posts with QR codes (those things that look like a square of chopped up bar code) at which you can point your smartphone to download spoken commentary (in English or French) for interesting background information about particular sections of the garden. In the photo below you can see me showing how technologically savvy I am scanning the QR code. You can find all this information on the Roserie website as well – click on the tiny flag (Union Jack) button for translation.
The Roserie garden is next to a large green-lawned park with views back to Paris; eating our picnic lunch there in the sunshine we could see the Eiffel Tower peeping up above the highest buildings on the skyline.
The practical details: getting there on public transport was easy; with a Mobilis Zone 3 ticket we Metro’d to Gare du Nord, took the RER Line B train to Bourg-la Reine, then from right outside the train station took the number 172 bus toward Creteil-L’Echat-Parking and got off at Sous-Prefecture Eglise de l’Hay-les-Roses.