Hello? It’s me! No, I haven’t entirely disappeared off the face of the earth and left Paris with my tail between my legs; I’m very much here and still plugging away at uncovering the city’s secrets. Apologies for the lengthy pause; the Motherland got hold of me and wouldn’t let me go and when you’re happily stuck in rural England without the technology to get the blog updated (doh!), there’s nothing for it but to dig your Mum a veg patch. So that’s what I did.
Happily in my absence Paris has had her gardening gloves on too, and she’s positively blooming in colour as the spring sunshine blankets the streets. Seeing beautiful flowers at every turn made me pine for a visit to one of my favourite places in the very centre of the city, where nature’s own art reigns as king – the Marché aux Fleurs on the Ile de la Cité.
Well I say ‘king’, but if we’re being proper, the full name is Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II, as in June 2014 on a visit to commerate the 70th anniversary of D-day, our Queen Liz’s name was added to the full title as a gift from the French state. Since our dear monarch turns 90 this month, it seemed more than appropriate to pay her plaque a visit (and try and find some parsley for the windowsill too).
Long though her reign may be, the market has been around much longer, having existed in some form or another since at least 1808. Its distinctive green pavilions were an addition in the early 20th century meaning that rain shouldn’t ruin the hunt for the perfect pot plant. Wander through the leaf-filled aisles spilling out into the open air, and you’ll forget you’re slap-bang in the middle of Paris, nestled in the heart of its biggest central island. Whereas plants grow from seed into magnificent blooms, even the grandest of cities has to start from a tiny geographical grain, and it was right here way back in 52 BC that the first settlers were believed to have set up camp.
Whatever your horticultural needs, you’ll find them answered with a huge array of pot plants, flowers (though less of the cut kind), herbs, trees and shrubs, with even tiny cactuses for the less green-fingered. Head over the threshold of the individual shops and your present-finding stresses will be calmed with a not-tourist-tacky range of ornaments, knick knacks and plant-themed merchandise that serve nicely as gifts for those gardeners in your life.
Head over on a Sunday and the feathered ferns turn into real-life plumes when the bird market pecks the plants into submission. Not quite as exotic as it sounds, it’s more of a magnet for strange small-time bird traders to make a bob or two on a couple of off-loaded zebra finches, but worth a look if you’re in the vicinity nonetheless. Because who knows, maybe a sorry looking budgie is the perfect birthday gift for the Queen who has everything?