…So said some frog or another on a lonely Monday afternoon. Well, whatever his particular woes, he may have had a point, but in the Paris of 2016 under the environmental-leaning lead of mayor Anne Hidalgo, the statement doesn’t really ring true. In fact it is unbelievable easy to be green in France’s modern capital, despite how life in a congested, polluted, concrete-coated sprawl might suggest otherwise.
Long-term readers may have picked up on the point that thanks to a country upbringing, I have chlorophyl rather than the red stuff coursing through my veins. Despite the miniature confines of my precious Granny Flat actively discouraging me from persuing my horticultural passions, I’ve managed over the years to grow in my window boxes everything from mustard leaves to rocket, basil to kale. Yes, kale. I have a family of spider plants who between them have produced over 25 babies. Too long a time between seeing a green tableau of trees and I start to turn into a quivering crazy person.
So a strange choice to move to the big bad city you might say, but just because the urban address often wins, doesn’t mean any of us need to forgo a frequent inhalation of green air in our daily lives. Despite not having a central blanket of luscious green as cities like London and New York can boast, Paris can offer the bookend parks of Boulogne and Vincennes and plenty of little pockets of lawn and flowers for picnics and plant-gazing.
But cast your eyes away from your smart phone whilst trotting along the pavement (dear God, please), and you might just find something a little bit more guerrilla going on. In numerous tiny pockets around the city, local residents have said a rousing non to allowing useless slabs of ugly wasteland to remain untouched and unused, taking it upon themselves to get planting, turning these urban eyesores into environmentally friendly tableaus, full of flowers and green things, and even fruit and veg.
Many have to fight the powers-that-be to stay as horticultural spots, coming up against urban developers who would prefer to fill the voids with concrete instead. But thankfully, the Parisian authorities have realised the power of nature, and in summer last year launched a scheme to allow and persuade local residents to cultivate their own patches of vegetation wherever they could find an empty space ripe for planting, whether it be a lonely street corner, a bare patch of wall or the base of a pavement tree.
Willing participants must contact the city of Paris and obtain a permit giving them the right to greenify their chosen spot, and are sent a planting kit complete with earth and seeds ready to burst into colourful life. Your permit will last for three years (though renewal is possible) and there are a team of green-fingered experts on hand if you don’t know your pansies from your begonias.
And it needn’t only be flowers brightening up the urban landscape; walking past Montparnasse one afternoon, I spotted a fledgling veg patch bringing the grocer, quite literally to the streets. In these times of increasing poverty and food banks, what could be better then a couple of home-grown free tomatoes? If your plant skills encompass only the power to kill anything in a pot, then just walk by and silent appreciate the efforts of others. Just don’t let your pooch pee all over their hard work, ok?