Susan after the Tour with Friends
On April 4th, 2009 I gave a tour of the Albert Kahn Gardens in Boulogne, France, for the American Association of Wives of Europeans. I was working as a Garden Designer at Caracterre, a small garden design company also in Boulogne, France. The Gardens of Albert Kahn Les Jardin d’Albert Kahn are located south west of Paris, easily accessible by the metro line 10 (last stop).
Albert Kahn was born on March third in 1860 at Marmoutier in Alsace. This is where Kahn studied at the College de Severne from 1873 – 1876. At the age of six-teen, he moved to Paris where he finished his studies at the Ecole Normale Superierie. He also completed his baccalaurets de lettres in 1881, the Science in 1884, and then a license in law in 1885. He started working in a bank at Goudchaux at the age of twenty-one. In between 1889 – 1893 he started to make his fortune in diamonds and gold from South Africa. In 1893, he started his own bank, La Banque Kahn with other established financiers that worked in industry internationally noteworthy, Japan.
Birds Eye View
In between 1895 – 1910, Albert Kahn created an exceptional garden on four hectares of land. A garden that appreciates multiple worlds. Kahn traveled a lot to Japan, where it is believed he was inspired to create multiple scenes of landscapes on this in Boulogne-sur-Seine. He wanted to create a place that expressed the diversity of the planet; he dreamed of a world in peace.
Today we will visit a constructed space in the form of a vegetable mosaic; a Japanese garden, French garden, English garden, Forest, prairies and swamps. These different garden scenes we will see create contrasts and surprises in the landscapes. These contrasts have been created delicately, there by always keeping the harmony of the space. Each one of the gardens constituents different horticultural worlds from different countries that express their own ideas through vegetation, structure, perspectives, and views.
The Japanese Garden
The Japanese garden that we see today is an extension of what Kahn created in 1908 – 1909. Landscape Architect Fumiaki Takano drew up the plans for this garden and co-affianced it with Japanese art patron Mr. Murata. The general counsel of the Hauts-de-Seine helped also in the construction of the space as a memorial for the life and work of Albert Kahn.The Japanese garden consists of three spaces; the tea house, the village, and the contemporary garden which is a mix of traditional and modern elements. Here in the Japanese village, there is an effective door between the village and the English garden. This is a point of transition in the space that attempts to harmonize the difference between the two cultures; Anglo-Saxon and Japanese. We can also say Western and Eastern civilization
Inside of the Tea House, 1925.
The original tea house was bigger with a straw roof. It was replaced by the Urasenke school of Kyoto in 1966 as a gift. The tea houses imitates more of the traditional style of a tea house; which is used as a place of retreat and meditation. The principal door opens on to the landscape, creating a link between civilization and nature. Originally, there was a pagoda of five floors on this site. Unfortunately it burnt down in 1952. A pagoda is a temple of five floors; each floor symbolizing the five elements of the earth; earth, water, fire, wind, and sky.
Mountain of Azaleas
Looking around the landscape, we can see highs and lows of vegetation; a mountain of Azaleas, which symbolizes Mont Fungi (the largest mountain in the world). There is also imposing conifer’s that enclose the space, creating an intimate atmosphere. There are two things that make up a Japanese garden. The first objective is a garden with a collection of forms. Vegetation and other elements are used to imitate and symbolize these five elements of the earth artistically representative by the pagoda. The second objective is to create an illusion of a large landscape in a small space.
Japanese Garden Elements
The Beech Tree
There are several symbols in the village. The red bridge was built after the famous red ‘Bridge of Serpents’ that connects Daiya and Nikko. Its red color suggests fire and creating contrast in the landscape. At the center of the garden determined by the Beech tree, marks the gardens axes. The Beech tree symbolizing femininity crosses axes with the Cedar, which symbolizes masculinity. The axle of death with is symbolized by the cone of stones, which point up to the sky. The mountain of Azaleas represents the plenitude, richness of the banker life. The axle of the river symbolizes life. The fortifications represent the ruptures of kahns life. Dominantly the wall street crash of 1929, which lead to Kahns decline in wealth. The fortifications represent pieces of the earth, mountains, cliffs after destruction from an earth quake. Finally, the inward spiral represents Kahn death in 1940. This currant of water that turns in a continuous spiral represents new cycles of life. The notion of eternal life that will forever transmit ideas and aspiration of Kahn dreams of a world in peace.
Contemporary Garden Elements
The Japanese garden section of Albert Kahn gardens, mixes tradition and modernity. It is traditional in its composition, representing mountains, water currant, waterfalls, and a terraced river. The modern elements are best represented by the sculptures of carved tile that can be seen through out the garden. They symbolize the sea, wind, and storms. The fortifications add a modern touch. The flags are representative of the link between Japan and France.
The objective of Fumiaki Takano is to make the vistior understand the sentiment of the nature and culture of Japan and Japanese gardens in France. It was very well known at the time, it was a luxery to travel to far away places. Creating a link forever between western and eastern cultures …. inspiring a ‘world in peace.’
The French Garden
Albert Kahn commissioned two famous landscape designers of the time Henri and Achille Duchen. They drew up the plans for the French garden and orchard/rose garden as a tribute to the french classical style of the 17th century, and the Renaissance.
Classical French Garden Elements
Allee of Lime Trees
The French traditional style is regular, formal, symmetrical as represented here, but normally on a much larger scale. Though out time, the French have expressed an over all hostile attitude towards towards nature, which has influenced their conception for garden design. It is expressed in their way of cutting trees and shrubs. The French used their gardens to show their powers over nature by their desire to control and manipulate the nature. Traditional trees and shrubs were used as architectural elements often cut to form walls and arches (ie; the Garden at Versailles). Their desire to control the nature is also expressed in their flower beds, used to create symmetry, and formality. When ‘new’ plants arrived in France from abroad they were planted in flower beds as objects in a museum. To show their splendor as they were plants in fashion, and new for the time.
The French formality, regularity, and symmetrically is expressed here with its rectangular lawn, always cut short to create a smooth consistent surface. Around this central element of the space; there are four symmetric flower beds that enclose the space. They are always planted with seasonal annuals of the same color that add to the consistency of the space. From autumn to spring; pansies, forget-me-knots, and tulips.
Regularity, symmetry, geometry forms accentuates and dominates this landscaped scene with its adjacent short avenues of cut chestnut and lime trees. These trees have been traditionally a favorite in French gardens, used for creating long promenades witch can be seen all over France.
French Flower Beds
As we move into the orchard, the visit quits its strict classical style, and becomes more spontaneous, keeping its classical lines remain dominant. Spontaneity is apparent by the pyramid’s, and sphere of different forms in the U and V shapes. These first four carres / squares are concerned with creating palmettes and forms with fruit trees of apple of pear.
The second four carres / squares is part of the orchard is concerned with fruit trees. They are normally free flowing forms that add movement in the space by the wind.
Allee of Roses
As the most ornamental time in the orchard is the spring and fall, the rose garden provides ornamental roses during the summer months. Albert Kahn specifically wanted a walking frame, a tunnel of arches of climbing roses for strolling. Creating a touch of the renaissance in a classical French garden. The addition of roses in the French garden is an Anglo-Saxon influence that arrived in France at the end of the 19th century. Kahn also created an English garden in this area. Looking in this direction; the perspective leads us to the English garden through this central promenade of the Orchard. There by connecting the French and English spaces.
English Garden in the Fall
The regularity of the French gardens is contrasted here with the natural fashion of the English garden. However, this juxtaposition is not shocking for the visitor. Before England developed its own garden style, it was influenced by French, Italian, and Holland garden styles. It was not until 1728, that the first garden plans expressing irregularity were introduced in English garden design. It is believed that the French formal style lost its popularity due to the war between the two countries.
English Garden Elements
Irregular Plant Style
Irregularity is expressed here with the gardens small valley appearance with its curved lines. It is also expressed by the way the plants are planted and their abundance. During the spring the lawn accentuates a lot of attention by all the bulbs that are in bloom, such as daffodils, crocuses, narcissus and primroses.
Along the lawn is a miniature river that meanders towards the rock garden / miniature cliff. Water is a very strong element here that invites the eyes an ears of the visitor to follow the rhythm of its succession. The free flowing English styles of how their vegetation is planted; plays with light and shadow. It is a characteristic that creates a natural landscape in a large or small scale. Kahn selected the trees because of their color in autumn. In autumn the garden is exuberant with yellow, gold, and brown by the Ginkgoes, Linden, Birch and Mable trees.
The Blue Forest
Through the English garden we enter the Blue Forest, it consists of a swamp and prarie. Kahn objective was to create surprises ans spontaneity in the landscape. All year round the forest is dense with the blue conifers, they are cedar of Colorado. In the spring there is a contrasts of color by the Rhododendrons and Azaleas. Originally the forest was dense before the storm of 1999. Many tall conifers fell to their deaths, we can easily see where they have been replaced. Kahn objective was to create a dense neutral forest to enter and get lost in. To the visitor wouldn’t have any reminders of the what country they were in.
Kahn was inspired to create a wild prairie by the free flowing English style, to create contrast and harmonize with the different garden styles represented here.
The Forest Vosgienne
What is remarkable about the forest Vosgienne is that you really have the impression that you are in a real forest of a large scale, and not a small surface. Construction and plantation started here in 1902. Kahn wanted to create a forest that reminded him of his childhood, growing up in the region des Voges. Big blocks of granite and full grown trees were delivered here directly from des Vosges by wagon. When the trees arrived it was necessary to remove the electric cable wires in the area during their installation. These trees were Horn beams, Beech, chestnuts trees.
On the forest floor, there is ivy, ferns, and seasonal digitalis. In the spring there are a lot of Narcissus to celebrate the traditional ‘Fete des joquilles’ party of daffodils, known in the Vosges.
The big blocks of granite are planted here in the manner to evoke the environment on top of the mountains of des Voges. In the center, there is a dry river, common to find in the region as well. The region Vosges is the principal influence in the creation of the garden, but the forest of Alsace also plays it part.
Kahn objective was to create a sentiment of solitude …. of peace known in big forests all over the world.
After the storm of 1999, a lot of trees were destroyed and had to be replaced. Archives of 1910 through 1950 were used for the restoration of the space. The restoration took two years between 2000 -2002. A large group of professional of engineers, gardeners, landscape architects, and hydrolyze engineers lead the restoration. First they had to evacuate 650 fallen trees, leval the ground, and remove 150 tonnes of debris. With a lot of hard work and skills used …. we can still today appreciate the atmosphere that existed before the storm.