The Potager du Roi
The potager de Roi, the
kitchen garden of Louis XIV at Versailles, was overseen by Jean-Baptiste de Le Quintinie, a man originally trained as a lawyer
in Poitiers. The story is that de La Quintinie, son of a provincial parliamentarian,
traveled through Italy, and was so impressed by the gardens there that he was inspired to change vocations and take on horticulture. This was an inspired decision, as Monsieur de La Quintinie was a gifted horticulturist.
He authored a 1200-page book “Instructions pour
les Jardins Fruitiers et Potagers.” published posthumously in 1690. This book, translated into English in 1693 as “The
Compleat Gard’ner” by George London and John Evelyn, contains details of what varieties of fruits, roots, vegetables
and herbs Monsieur de La Quintinie believed should be in a kitchen garden. As
well as details of the kitchen gardens at Versailles with diagrams, a gardening calendar, a glossary of horticultural terms,
the book offers advice and observations on gardening.
Monsieur de La Quintinie worked in the kitchen gardens
gardens of Rambouillet, Chantilly, Sceaux (Home of Mme de Montespan, mistress of Louis XIV), and finally at Vaux-le-Vicomte
until his master, Nicolas Fouquet was disgraced. In 1670 he was made “Director
of all the Fruit and Kitchen Gardens of the Royal Family.”
Although there was already a kitchen garden left from
Louis XIII’s residency at Versailles when de La Quintinie took on his position as Director, Louis XIV decided that there
needed to be a larger garden, as the present garden was not producing sufficient quantities for the royal table. There was a site with fertile soil was located at some distance from Versailles, Louis wanted the garden
to be closer, and so it was created about a 10 minute walk away from the chateau, in an area previously referred to as “the
In 1678 the 5 year process of transforming “the
Stinking Swamps” into a gardening wonder began. Mansart, architect of Versailles, built the walls surrounding the garden, as well as the masonry of the
grounds. The new kitchen garden was laid out over a 22 acre site. A central courtyard
featured a water reservoir and fountain. From this center the garden plans broke
the land down into 16 quadrangles. Radiating out from the 16 rectangles were
29 wall-surrounded “micro-climates” specific to the plants in bed. The
13’ high walls were themselves all utilized for espalliered fruit trees and other plants, such as grapes.
To remedy the excessively damp soil, Monsieur de La Quintinie
created a system of underground aquaducts to drain the soil. These underground
pipes led back to the centralized reservoir and fountain. He worked to improve
the soil further by relocating dirt from the nearby Satory hills and mixing in warm manure from the royal stables.
From this meager beginning de La Quintinie produced fruits
and vegetables for the royal table regardless of the season. Louis XIV was partial
to figs, so de La Quintinie created a “Figuerie,” in imitation of
the Orangerie, and Louis was kept in figs for up to six months of each year. Having
mastered techniques such as housing plants in cold-frames and using warm manure to warm-up other plants, he was able to produce
strawberries in the winter, peas in spring and asparagus in December.
One of Monsieur de La Quintinie’s lasting contributions
to the world of horticulture was his pruning method for producing greater yields from fruit trees. He advocated severely cutting back the trees, which were trained to grow in geometric planes, so that while
their production was intitially retarded, the trees would eventually return with a vengeance and out-produce normal fruit
trees. This method is still used today in gardens around the world.
M. de La Quintanie lived in a house on the kitchen garden
grounds and was ennobled by Louis XIV in 1687. He died November 11, 1688. His son succeeded him in the postion of Director of the King’s kitchen garden.
Today, the garden remains virtually unchanged from the
time of Monsieur de La Quintinie. It has become the home of The National Landscape
The appearance of M. de La Quintinie’s book
was part of an emerging trend during the second half of Louis VIV’s reign: the “How-To” book. In addition to this gardening book, there were important contributions in the world of cooking from La
Varenne (originaLe Cuisinier rotla et bourgeois (cooking for the Royalty and for the Bourgeousie) by Francois Massialot in