Charles Elliott

Horticultural Masters

The Sun King’s Garden: Louis XIV, André Le Nôtre and the Creation of the Gardens of Versailles

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Bloomsbury 370pp £30 order from our bookshop

Strange Blooms: The Curious Lives and Adventures of the John Tradescants

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Atlantic Books 400pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

Versailles has never been the object of universal admiration. Horace Walpole called it ‘a garden for a great child’. The waspish Duke Saint-Simon – notably unfriendly toward Louis XIV, the founder and proprietor of this vast assemblage of fountains, allées, palaces, lakes, statuary and assorted horticultural splendours on the outskirts of Paris – objected more specifically. ‘The violence everywhere done to nature repels and wearies us,’ he complained, before calling it ‘The saddest and most ungrateful of all places’. Yet of all the great gardens ever created in the world, Versailles has at least a fair claim to be the greatest, given its scale, its originality, its influence, and – perhaps above all else – its absolutely empyrean cost. Besides, many find it beautiful.

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