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

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  274 ratings  ·  58 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
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Hardcover, 290 pages
Published February 11th 2014 by Rizzoli Ex Libris (first published May 17th 2006)
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Average rating 3.61  · 
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 ·  274 ratings  ·  58 reviews


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India M. Clamp
Aug 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Tuck
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
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Haley
Apr 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Eden
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
Diane
A very interesting account of the history of Versailles and his story of working in the gardens over 30 years. You can see why there was a French Revolution - none of the 3 kings involved in making it, cover themselves in any sort of glory - selfish, self entitled, capricious and megalomaniacs.
Baraton's history is fascinating from a tough childhood to arriving at Versailles when survivors of the 2nd W. War were working at Versailles, with the old ways and even using horses. The irony is that in
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Lorie
Dec 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very enjoyable. Who knew I could care so much about trees?
Jennifer
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!
Kim
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. ...more
Claudia
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
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Lissa Notreallywolf
This is a master gardener's rambling remembrance of his garden. It in no way reflects on the overall structure of Versailles, and probably should be the third or fourth book one reads on the topic if you are not familiar with the gardens. I have repeatedly stopped to look for internet pictures to better understand what Baraton refers to in the book. There are no pictures, and no structural attributes aside from cryptically named chapters. It has been a very long and frustrating read, but that is ...more
Jennifer
Nothing makes me happier than finding something that isn’t found in any book.


In retrospect, I guess this book is about what one would expect of a French gardener. Where I expected to stumble through details about plants and gardening I have little experience with, I instead received tips on romance.

This is part autobiography and part history of the gardens of Versailles and the palace by extension. Scandalous tales of the royalty, ghost stories, and a history of the most prominent ga
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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
Meredith
Pop Sugar Reading Challenge - a book set mostly or entirely outdoors; a DNF book from my TBR read list
I started this book and DNF after 100 or so pages. I picked it up again as a DNF from my TBR list for the Pop Sugar Reading Challenge. I see now why I DNF. Rambling, incoherent, and sexist. He loves nothing more than salacious, probably made-up and/or exaggerated, stories about Marie Antoinette and the King's mistresses.
Too bad, because the gardening part could have been a lot more interesting.
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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.
Elizabeth McNair Demolat
When I first got this book, I was worried because it wasn't what I was expecting. I definitely thought that there would be pictures, but somehow a book of stories about the gardens of Versailles is still incredibly interesting even without photos. I loved the behind-the-scenes peek at life in the gardens, the descriptions of the work it takes to keep the garden going, and the historical moments scattered throughout. If you're even just a tiny bit obsessed with France, this is a wonderful book. ...more
Ashley
Jun 29, 2020 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. I loved Baraton's descriptions about gardening, plants, etc., and the translation from French was better than some others I have read. Some of his opinion pieces (down with mowers! Bring back horses!) were a little much. Overall, a very interesting read. I am definitely adding Versailles to the list if I go to France...especially since he is still the master gardener there. ...more
Mlbolton56
Nov 05, 2019 rated it it was ok
Rambling.
Christie
Aug 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Transported me into experiencing a span of 400 years of the magical world of The Versailles Palace Gardens that l could have never otherwise so vividly imagined!
Liz
Apr 09, 2021 rated it liked it
I liked the chapters about his experiences gardening, not so much the history ones.
Rose
Mar 17, 2022 rated it really liked it
The story of the gardens of Versailles through the eyes of the chief gardener from the time of his earliest work.
Jacquelin
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
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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
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
Amy
Jun 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: trees-gardening
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. ...more
Sara
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.
Annie
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.
Joe
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.
Beth
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.
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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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