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The Gardener of Versailles: My Life in the World's Grandest Garden

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  195 ratings  ·  42 reviews
INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards -- 2014 Finalist

For gardening aficionados and Francophiles, a love letter to the Versailles Palace and grounds, from the man who knows them best. In Alain Baraton's Versailles, every grove tells a story. As the gardener-in-chief, Baraton lives on its grounds, and since 1982 he has devoted his life to the gardens, orchards, and fields that w
Hardcover, 290 pages
Published February 11th 2014 by Rizzoli Ex Libris (first published May 17th 2006)
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3.56  · 
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 ·  195 ratings  ·  42 reviews

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Sue Rice
Feb 11, 2018 rated it liked it
A charming book written by the longtime gardener of Versailles. This book interweaves the historical heyday of Versailles with current day. The author starts with the devastation of the storm of 1999 and the effects on these remarkable gardens. A delightful read.
Randal White
Jul 13, 2014 rated it it was ok
Lost in translation. That is the only excuse I can imagine for the way this book turned out. What should have been an interesting read turned into a disjointed, frustrating experience. (If you’re interested in reading about the park police chasing lovers through the park, then this is the book for you). The author jumps around from one interesting feature to another, however, the actual physical layout is left to the reader’s imagination, as there are no maps or photos to orient oneself. The boo ...more
Apr 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoirs, gardening
I had the pleasure of visiting the Palace of Versailles last spring, on Easter Sunday as a matter of fact. For some reason, I was under the impression that because we were celebrating a catholic holiday in a catholic country, I would be greeted by relatively few tourists. Boy was I wrong! Instead of strolling care free through the palace corridors as I'd hoped, I enjoyed (not really) a "stiff-necked" experience, unable to move freely about as I was shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other tou ...more
Jul 14, 2014 rated it liked it
a fun look 'behind the scenses' at versailles, you get background and history, first person tales of trials of gardening (the huge storms of 1999 and ?) so reader gets a good view of the gardens and buildings 1976-2012
but, then reader also has to slog through rather arrogant idiosyncrasy blatherings of a frenchman too.

no pictures (Wha?, great job rizzoli, you of the picture book world), no notes, no bibliography, no index. but fairly fascinating look at really cool , huge formal gardens (an not
May 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
2019 bk 157. A most satisfying book for spring reading. Evidently written near his time of retirement, The Gardener of Versailles remembers the highlights of his career at Versailles. Much of the book is focused on the past, the royals of France, and the building of Versailles and its gardens. I would wish for more tales of his early years, and the different stages as he rose through the ranks to become in charge of the gardens. The details of his life living in a home on the Versailles estate a ...more
India Clamp
Aug 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Literary chocolate! Alain Baraton text regurgitates love for his profession. Great translation from French. Some phrases that exemplify the "chocolate" are: "at Versailles, it is felt that we need the best, the newest, and the most expensive, even if the results turn out to be disastrous. Unlike tractors, a horse does not pollute, destroys nothing and makes work time more agreeable for its gardener companion and even for the visitors watching regular garden work, which becomes sort of a spectacl ...more
Apr 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
I really loved this book. It loses one point for leaving me hanging on HOW he fixed all the problems after the storm and HOW he decided what to plant. Really? We are just going to digress and not get back to that? But I loved the history and the day to day. Great read!
Dec 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature
It's a great book. It starts with a tragedy when a storm took out many of the trees in Versailles and he talks about several of his predecessors. But I enjoyed learning about the various trees in the garden, including a tulip tree that was 10 feet wide and 100 feet tall.
It's always interesting to read memoirs and short biographies from people whose job is part of a national monument or at least, the unusual. To read their insights as well as well as some history from their point of view.

Monsieur Baraton is the gardener-in-chief for the park/gardens at the Palace of Versailles since 1982, a career that he never intended to follow for long. He discusses not only dealing with disasters like the massive storm that destroyed hundreds of trees but tourists, exhibitio
Molly Jean
Very disappointing. Hard to tell if this is a translation issue or simply that the translator had so little to work with. This book should have been a lot better, after all it is about the gardens of Versailles and the gentleman who is the chief gardener. But it jumps around and wanders to and fro; very disjointed and difficult to know what the author is talking about some times. After a great first chapter, it just fizzles instead of sizzles. Agree with previous posters that maps and photos wou ...more
Lyn Quilty
Dec 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. I enjoy gardening, history, France so this ticked many boxes for me. I read it while living in Cambodia doing aid work so this was a great escape from my surroundings, allowing me switch off time. Some reviewers criticise the way the author jumps around, I enjoyed this approach. It was like someone telling stories about their life, conversational and friendly tone. Interesting insights into the history of the gardens.
Jul 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I recently read that the gardens at Versailles are undergoing the first major alteration since Andre Le Notre designed it for Louis XIV in the 1660s. So when I saw this book written by Versailles's head gardener, I was intrigued.

One common thread throughout Alain Baraton's memoir is his passion for nature and simplicity (almost to the point of being a Luddite). He appreciates every tree and every bloom. This is a man who loves his work. He loves the seasonality, the connection to nature, and th
Lisa Hunt
Apr 02, 2015 rated it liked it
This was an interesting book written by the chief gardener of Versailles. Kind of a mix of Versailles history, modern day tales from the gardens and a bit on the life of a gardener. Some of it was fascinating and some a bit boring. It is a translation from the original French and some of it gets weighed down in the minutiae of art in France (French plays, etc.)but on the whole it was interesting. It doesn't have a ton of history of Versailles, bits here and there of the different Louis' that liv ...more
Samantha Bee
Jun 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
I had heard good things about this one and had been meaning to pick it up for a while now. I figure since I'll be returning to Versailles this summer that now was as good a time as any. Baraton's book focuses on both his own experiences as a gardener at Versailles and the experiences of his predecessors. Though I do love my history, I actually found the parts about his own personal experience to be much more interesting, sometimes making me laugh aloud while I was reading. The book was a nice lo ...more
Jun 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
An enjoyable book to read. You don't find many books written by gardeners of the many fabulous gardens around the world and I think that is societies loss. There are certainly those of us who love these display gardens and are TRULY interested in hearing the back story of the trees and plants from the gardener(s) who select, care and often mourn for the botanical treasures they are fortunate to be surrounded by.
Feb 27, 2016 rated it liked it
The maudlin memoirs of the guy who has been the head gardener of Versailles since 1982. An amusing book, particularly when the author talks about himself. He has an overly romanticized perspective of Versailles, decrying at one point that internal combustion vehicles, rather than horses, are used to carry around gardening equipment. You get the sense that the author would have been happier working at Versailles in the 1800’s.
Mar 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed The Gardener of Versailles immensely. The book is well-written, although some reviewers say otherwise. Perhaps they disregard that this is a translation and the beauty of the original French is not apparent. Others lament the lack of photographs. I, too, wish there were photos, but Monsieur Baraton has written several other books with photos of the gardens. Unfortunately, they have yet to be translated into English.
I went to Versailles in May, had the opportunity to visit the gardens only briefly. Got lost through no fault of my own. The memories are fond now, though it was a bit stressful at the time. Regardless, reading this book was like having a conversation with someone in the gardens. It was like being there and getting a personal tour from someone who knew them well. I quite enjoyed it. A few months post-trip and I am feeling nostalgic already.
Feb 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book! I have been to Versailles and it was interesting the way the author wove in his personal life, the history of the property, funny stories about the tourists and his experience as a gardener. Like others have mentioned, I wish that they had included pictures. I found myself Googling the different statues and gardens to give myself perspective and job my memory.
Nov 28, 2014 rated it it was ok
A little bit of history and personal stories but no where near enough to get above two stars. As other people mentioned it might be due to translation, but maybe this guy is really dry and a little cocky. I liked it a little more for actually having been there and being able to picture the places mentioned in my mind.
If you haven't been or don't plan on going, then skip this.
Jul 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is perfect for anyone who appreciates Versailles, in particular the Gardens there. I love the way Alain gives such credit to the gardens shaping him after he has spent so many years shaping the gardens. A beautiful, romantic story about a gardener and all of his take always from what is obviously a garden with some of the best history in the world!
Aug 15, 2014 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed many of the anecdotes in this book, but (like other reviewers) I really wish there were photos of the gardens. Obviously, I can Google the names of the various places in the book, but it would have been nice to be able to see them in the text. Not a bad book, but not one you'd need to go out of your way to read either.
Apr 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
An enjoyable, informative book written by a man whom, I believe, were he Japanese, would be declared a Living National Treasure: A Preserver of Important Intangible Cultural Properties. I was especially taken with his contrast of the 'old' ways of cultivating at Versailles as opposed to the 'new' technology and their effects on both the cultivators and the cultivated. Write on, Monsieur!
Jun 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Charming, warm, authentic- makes me want to go back to France and find Mr. Baraton himself. He shares more than just a tour of the gardens. I can almost smell the orange trees, and I can empathize with his thoughts about watching Versailles as it has changed over the ages. Delightfully splendid! Good for some summer armchair traveling.
Cathy Horneyer
Oct 29, 2014 rated it liked it
Even when allowing for the fact that I was reading a translation, I found the book overall to be somewhat boring. There were some interesting historical facts, but the book was uneven, jumping from topic to topic, without any smooth transitions. I kept waiting for things to get more interesting, but they never did. I wasn't sorry I read it, but I was glad to reach its tedious conclusion.
Feb 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
I read an English translation, which was excellently done. A few random little errors, but overall fabulously worded. Admittedly, I was a bit lulled by the extensive history of France and its previous royalty, but its inclusion was appropriate.
Ariste Egan
Aug 10, 2014 rated it liked it
An interesting read about a man who devoted much of his life to tending the gardens at Versailles. This work has given his life meaning and that is evident in the passion with which he writes. Pictures, maps or illustrations would have added much to the book.
Mary ~*Sweary McCoffeehound*~
This was a nice book, but didn't keep my interest. I'm sure those with more of an interest in the Palace of Versailles would do better than I, but I have other things to read. :) I'm trying to wean myself off the habit of finishing every book if I'm just not into it!
Kathy  Petersen
Baraton takes great delight in his career in this exquisite place, and he gives it to us as well. He also provides a soupcon of history vis a vis his Garden - and a large dollop of his most vocal opinions.
I enjoyed all the history of the gardens -- especially since we went to visit them (again) soon after I finished reading this book. I felt like I knew some of "the secrets" of Versailles.
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“Visitors are informed, but what do they feel? I can't find the warmth of Versailles in such blandness, and I don't think tourist come here in search of information at all. The bus-loads of Japanese tourists and honest grandmothers don't visit the Queen's bedroom to learn about the particular type of canopy bed she slept in or the sort of wood it is made from; they come to relive a moment in the queen's life.” 0 likes
“At the end of his life, suffering from gout and no longer able to walk, he set down the How to Show the Gardens of Versailles, a manuscript that exists in six versions...The fourth version is particularly touching, as it is an autograph copy. It is humanizing to see the marble king's handwriting and I find it amusing to note the royal spelling errors - which were numerous in the days before standardization...I almost feel a twinge of tenderness toward the king who couldn't spell...” 0 likes
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