Louis XV, who enjoyed the intimate life at Trianon, decided in 1749, at the instigation of the Marquise de Pompadour, to have a menagerie built beside this palace. The new menagerie, with a very different design to the one in Versailles, was to house not elephants or monkeys, but cows, chickens and sheep. To give variety to the royal visits, the architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel added to this menagerie a garden, to be both decorative and provide vegetables, surrounding a summer pavilion for games, collations or concerts (the French Pavilion), that was completed in 1750. The following year a second and smaller pavilion was added top be used as a dining room, probably for serving the products of the dairy and market gardens.
In front of this second pavilion, called the Pavillon Frais, was a small garden surrounded by a rectangular portico of trellis work whose long side faced the pavilion (fig. 1 and fig. 2). On either side of the pavilion, the alignments of arcades were doubled to form two walks. The pilasters of the portico concealed the trunks of the lime trees and revealed only their foliage, trimmed to form balls. The two main pilasters framing the entry to the garden were surmounted like the pavilion with an entablature and large wooden baskets. Fifty-four other and smaller baskets decorated the clamps of the arcades between the pilasters. The whole structure was painted green.
The garden had two oval pools on the inner sides of two symmetrical rectangular flower beds whose outer sides had fan palms in the centre. The flower-beds and pools were framed by strips of flowers interrupted by small paths, and the centre was occupied by flower-beds set in a strip of lawn. The two pools were surrounded by slabs of Languedoc marble, like the chimney of the pavilion, paved with two-coloured stones and decorated with a water spout.
The Pavillon Frais was destroyed in 1810, its portico pulled down the following year and its pools filled in between 1830 and 1840 – according to a bottle with the coat of arms of Louis-Philippe found in one of them during the excavations (fig. 3). The restoration of the pavilion was begun in 1980, but was interrupted after the reconstruction of the building itself which has stood since then facing simple lawns and devoid of its trellis decoration. But the opportunity of sponsorship from America recently made it possible to replace this building in its garden and part of its trellis.
What this garden originally looked like is known, but mostly from estimates, and perhaps not all the details survived in the finished work. Moreover, the different plans of the project show the hesitations of the architect. So an excavation was undertaken to determine the exact siting of the different blocks of masonry. It involved at first only the eastern half of the garden, as this was symmetrical.
In 2006, a geophysical prospection method using electricity was carried out. This non-destructive method consists of studying the resistivity of the ground by passing an electric current through it. It was followed by three probes: the first on the site of the pool and the two others at the south-east and north-east corners of the portico. The overall site coverage of this half garden was thus discovered.
The pool was well preserved, with its outer wall, its potter’s clay bed, its drystone drain and, especially, its decorative paved floor (fig. 4). However, the inner wall of the pool had been levelled (probably to recover its stone slabs) and the lead piping had been removed, destroying part of the paving. Several fragments of the marble edge were found in the filling material. The foundations were found to be still in place in the two corner probes, as were those of the niche and the pedestal of the statue in the south-west corner.
The following year a more general excavation uncovered almost the entire foundations of the portico of the eastern half of the garden (fig. 5). It was completed in 2008 by a study of the still well-preserved timber platforms under the inner wall of the pool.
In 2009, an in-depth stratigraphic study revealed the different stages in the laying out of the garden. Then, before the restoration work began, the pool in the western section of the garden, in a much poorer state than the one in the eastern half, was excavated. The diggings revealed the pool, part of its drystone drain and the manhole where the valve activating the water spout was located. The configuration of this manhole showed that the two pools were supplied indirectly from the Trefle reservoir, bypassing the French Garden.
|| Figure 1 Figure 2 Figure 3 Figure 4 Figure 5