Paris is my favorite city, and one of the reasons for this is the abundance of green space and trees. Miniature parks abound, such as the Place Paul Painlevé off the rue des Ecoles on the Left Bank or the little garden at the western tip of the Île de la Cité, just minutes away from Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dame (pictured above). Even paved areas are filled with trees: a narrow strip along the southern bank of the Île Saint Louis which abuts the high retaining wall that guards the island from floods is planted with chestnut trees every few feet, adding to the romantic view along this iconic part of the River Seine.
The chestnut trees are ubiquitous. I think of them as THE Paris tree. Chestnuts line the long allées of the Jardin des Plantes, the city’s magnificent botanical garden, which is located just outside of the touristy areas, at the southern edge of the fifth arrondissement. They also grace Paris’s other major Left Bank park, the Luxembourg Gardens. Both parks are large and divided into a multiplicity of varied spaces that accommodate everything from sitting quietly with a good book under the trees to play areas for kids to allées and circuits for joggers. Each provides a neighborhood oasis where people can leave the bustling streets and relax.
In his book Second Nature, journalist Michael Pollan writes about the way gardens create a particular type of space, neither wilderness nor concrete jungle, where humans and nature attain a mutual accommodation: Trees and bushes are pruned and weeds weeded out, but in return the plants that live in this tamed space are given attention and care. Paris is a perfect example of how this balance can be played out in an entire city.
If you’re curious to read more about trees in Paris, here are some excellent blog posts, the first two dealing with the historical reasons behind the city’s wealth of trees, the last one a lovely and detailed appreciation: http://www.deeproot.com/blog/blog-entries/history-of-street-trees-in-pariscity-making-and-the-golden-age-of-the-boulevard and http://sustainablecitiescollective.com/deeproot/150026/history-street-trees-paris-paris-minute-paris-modest and http://www.thesanguineroot.com/?p=1691