“As noisy as Paris was in those days, it always had its unexpected moments of stillness. At Cours-la-Reine, between one and one-thirty in the afternoon, when the last trucks had reached their canteens, those who loved flowers and silence could savor a strange respite, a solitude in which the flowers seemed to recover from human curiosity.”
We’ve been in Paris, where our son has been studying and working in industrial design. I had so much fun walking around this enchanting city which, among other treasures, has secret gardens galore, flower vendors and flower markets, and floral shops offering spring flowers, herbs, and foliage, all beautifully arranged and presented.
A few years ago I was browsing in a local used book shop when I discovered a volume of essays by Colette, Flowers and Fruit, first printed in the US in 1986.
Some of the essays were inspired by a Swiss publisher, who for a time sent Colette a bouquet of flowers once or twice a week so she could write sketches of those that inspired her.
Colette wrote one of the longer essays in this collection, “Flora and Pomona,” during the Nazi occupation. According to the collection’s editor, Colette conceived of the writing project to “keep the coal bin at 9, rue de Beaujolais well filled and pay the black-market prices for rabbit and cheese and chicken and other comestibles otherwise unavailable, even to much-loved novelists living in the Palais-Royal.”
At the time of its publication, some critics said factual errors, weak editing, and a less than adequate translation detracted from Flowers and Fruit. I find Colette’s writing challenging, so this isn’t the kind of book I’d read straight through. It’s a little treasure for floral enthusiasts that’s fun to browse when I want Colette’s unusual take on flowers.
We were lucky to be in Paris on May Day. This holiday’s signature flower is lily of the valley, one of my favorites. They were everywhere.
Here are some of my Paris floral photos paired with Colette’s thoughts on flowers and gardens:
“Garnet red, bright pink, sentimental pink, and three or four other carmine reds, they are the colors of good health and will delight me throughout the coming week.” (These peonies have not yet opened, which is when you should buy them.)
Lily of the valley is the May Day flower in Paris. “In spring, nearly an entire nation demands lily of the valley like bread.”
“More than a flirtation, better than a superstition, almost a religion, the lily of the valley is celebrated on the first of May. Its cult stirs the Paris population to fever pitch…”
You’ll find lily of the valley everywhere on May Day, even at the chocolatier. I saw these lovely desserts at Sylvain Mussy on Rue Bourg Tibourg.
My May Day bouquet. Lily of the valley, gloriosa lily (also known as fire lily or flame lily), and angel hair fern. “The true lily’s favorite soil is the kitchen garden’s, with tarragon, sorrel edgings, and purple garlic for neighbors.”
Campanula and Persian violets. “…the sleeve of blue-violet campanula that grows immoderately, framing the windows in a single rush and decking them with flowers all season long.”
“Below my window, among the puddles of water, the bathing pigeons….we have old-fashioned, floriferous rosebushes that have survived both war and frost. Never have they failed to flower, and to flower again, and yet again before November.”
There are many secret gardens hidden on the side streets of Paris, where the public is welcome.
This one is Square Georges-Caïn on Rue Payenne. “Creating a garden takes us back to childhood imaginings.”
Some streets, like Rue du Trésor, are gardens, too.