In Paris, there are plenty of grand gardens to visit: Jardin des Plantes, Jardin du Luxembourg, the Tuileries to name a few. But there are also small gardens that offer a respite from the city. One such garden is the Square Boucicaut in the 7th arrondissement. It’s notable not only for its wonderfully central location near Saint-Germain-des-Prés but also for its unexpected plant specimens.
First off, dozens of different trees fill this park. Of note are the warmer weather ones. Being in Zone 8, Paris’s climate can support trees that are often associated with tropical places but in species that are hardier. Windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) and palmetto palm (Sabal palmetto) punctuate the landscape with their fan-like leaves and hairy trunks. Monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) draws attention with its unusual scales and spindly form. A lovely curly leaved willow (Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’) provides interest and shade. In addition, I’ve spotted Austrian pine, black locust, cherry, London plane, and some cultivar of Cercis as well.
A Cacophony of Color
In summer, the park’s interior border explodes with color via annuals: dahlias, salvias, petunias, geraniums, coleus, etc. A sweet little pond offers a cooling view. Its bank is planted with water-loving shrubs like paperplant (Fatsia japonica). Grasses like Japanese sedge grass (Carex morrowii) and giant cane (Arundo donax) either border the water or happily pop out of it. Perennials like sweet flag (Acorus calamus), coral bells (Heuchera), and dark-leaved spurge (Euphorbia) add varying hues of foliage and contrasting structure.
A central courtyard with plenty of comfortable benches attracts both locals and tourists. A sand area and playground offer activities for families. At an impressive staircase, a massive marble statue of Madame Boucicaut with children stands. She was the wife of Aristide Boucicaut and the sculpture depicts her performing acts of charity. His store, Le Bon Marché, was one of the first department stores, and still overlooks the square.
A Dark Activity in a Bright Place
The Square Boucicaut makes an appearance in my novel, The Forgetting Flower. When my main character Renia needs to have a secret meeting, she chooses this park. Why? Because it’s near her plant shop and a plant lover like she would like it. Unlike other Parisian gardens, it features undulating borders and a naturalistic planting approach. A pond to attract birds and wildlife. It also boasts unique botanical specimens. She would be drawn to all of that and visit often to eat her lunch or simply take in the natural world.
If I worked near this lesser known gem of a garden, I would probably do the same.
Photo by Guilhem Vellut, Paris, France.