Marie-Antoinette, Gardener

My mom sent me this pretty book,

From Marie-Antoinette’s Garden: An Eighteenth-Century Horticultural Album by Élisabeth de Feydeau

From Marie-Antoinette’s Garden: An Eighteenth-Century Horticultural Album by Élisabeth de Feydeau

…probably because when I was in first grade I did a “Night of the Notables” project where I dressed up as Marie-Antoinette. The hairstyle and costume I donned has always been a fond memory.

For the record, that is my real hair.

For the record, that is my real hair.

In my own words...

In my own words…

For the record, it was 1793, not 1893. Guess the teacher missed that opportunity for a correction (though note that she did correct my spelling of “Ouch”). I still think “OOwch!” may be more appropriate. Note the guillotine drawing hahaha.

In reading...

In reading…

…we were surprised to learn that Marie-Antoinette was quite the passionate gardener. Marie-Antoinette is often described as having decadent and opulent interests. It certainly wasn’t cheap to redesign her gardens and she did spend a lot of money having plants shipped in and in making major changes to the landscaping, but usually…

The queen flitted about the gardens in a white percale gown…and a straw hat, going from her farm to her dairy, leading her guests off to drink her milk and eat her fresh eggs, luring the king away from his reading beneath a clump of trees to take tea and a picnic on the grass…It was rumored that the queen had taken to dressing like a ladies’ maid, and the silk traders of Lyon accused her of willfully seeking their financial ruin.

Most portrayals of Marie-Antoinette (including that ghastly movie with Kirsten Dunst) follow the clichéd and ill-informed notion that wealth and privilege equals evil and pretention. She’s often portrayed as a rich, self-indulgent and careless elitist. This book paints a much different picture of the Queen as a mother who is passionate about gardening and other arts of the home.

She writes of her four year old son, “I think it would be best to let him play and work the soil on the terrace…” Agree, Marie! Wholeheartedly! Just call me Marie-Antoinette. Or maybe Marie-Antoi-Internet.

Petite Dauphine de Spy Jardin

Petite Dauphine de Spy Jardin

The's French ;)

The braid…it’s French ;)

Petite Jardinier

Petite Jardinier

The book features various varieties grown in her gardens, a few of which are near and dear to Spy Garden…

Staghorn Sumac

Staghorn Sumac

Black Walnut

Black Walnut

(I wonder if Marie-Antoinette ever tried to make ink from the husks?!)

I especially enjoyed this highly entertaining story of the potato…

In 1785, at a loss to know how to tackle the famine sweeping the country, Louis XIV ceded fifty acres of land…to the botanist Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, for potato planting…French peasants were suspicious of this strange, exotic vegetable…To support the botanist in his efforts, and to encourage potato eating, Louis XVI slipped one of the flowers into his buttonhole. Marie-Antoinette set a similar example, wearing a potato flower in her hair when she visited Parmentier’s plantation that same year. The people’s suspicion was undimmed. Parmentier decided to whet their curiosity, and mounted an armed guard around his potato fields (which were now ready to harvest). The guards left their posts at night. Mightily intrigued, the people of Paris hurried to steal the closely guarded “treasure” within. The root vegetable conquered the public…The tide of public opinion turned, and the exotic root vegetable became that staple European favorite, the ‘humble’ potato!

Imagine? No pommes frites!?

Marie-Antoinette was made the Queen of France at barely 18. It’s often said she “played” peasant in her gardens and private home. But I question the notion of “play”. Was it really pretend? Was it wrong for her to defy the politics of the court of Versailles and frolic in the flowers with her kids? Was dismissing the culture of the court more than a personal preference? A conscious political statement? Surely anyone who is so fond of gardening can’t be all bad. So far as I know, Robespierre was no gardener…While Marie-Antoinette cut flowers and ribbons all he seemed to cut off were heads!

12 thoughts on “Marie-Antoinette, Gardener

  1. Eliza Waters

    Guess I missed this post! Thoroughly enjoyed it, esp. the multi-generational Maries. I loved learning about Parmentier. It solved a puzzle for me. One of my favorite Pierre Franey (totally French chef!) recipes is called Hachis Parmentier, a beef and potato dish similar to shepherd’s pie. Now I know the origin of the name! Thanks!

  2. narf77

    Love the little sans front teeth Spy mum. He looks just like you aside from the dark hair :). It looks like he has your penchant for gory illustration as well ;) It is MUCH easier to chop someones head off with public acceptance if you paint them as a self indulged dictator rather than someones mum who spends her days bums up in the garden. First distance your “victim” from public empathy and THEN “off with her tete!”

    I had to laugh about the spuds. If you want someone to haul something away for free you don’t put it out on the verge with a note saying “free”. It will still be there next Christmas. You leave it back from the curb, you make it look like you are trying to hide it behind a shrub and the next morning it will be gone ;)

  3. shelly

    Loved the pictures and excerpts! I’m of French heritage and found them fascinating. I recently read “The Essence of Style” by Joan Elizabeth DeJean(recommended by my daughter) which talks about how Louis XIV set new standards in so many areas which we are so effected by today. I loved the book.


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