Towards the Ecological Paris: Permaculture – Parisian Style

Palaces such as Versailles Paris are famed for their ostentatious gold-leaf roofs and elaborate décor. Now, a different type of gold, and a different type of leaf form beautiful guilds on the roofs.

Paris is an ancient city famed for being a centre of the arts, culture, innovation, love and learning. Home to many classics which have defined new movements. There’s a difference between the ephemerality of fashion and the longevity of good design. Hence, the little black dress by Coco Chanel, in one stroke, created a whole new freedom for once-stuffy and formal dinner occasions.

Progression and innovation is typical for both Parisian design and Permaculture design, both are capable of altering entrenched cultural trajectories and heralding paradigm shifts in what we consider to be desirable and essential. Designs and movements such as these are quickly becoming ubiquitous.

600m² of cultivated rooftop garden; flowers, vegetables, herbs, wildlife and many bees!
600m² of cultivated rooftop garden; flowers, vegetables, herbs, wildlife and many bees!

Whether the arts, philosophy, apparel, culture or the environment, truly authentic, natural and wholesome, yet exceptional and extraordinary movements are embraced, illumined and celebrated in Paris. That’s why Permaculture is warmly welcomed in this city, with the Mayor of Paris driving an agenda for innovation, urban agriculture and ecosystem services.

Deep in the 20th arrondissement, among the most densely populated places in Europe, at around 30,000 people a square kilometer, a Parisian beauty is unveiled in accord with the French Capitol’s wisdom and maturity.

Garden on the Roof
Garden on the Roof

Amidst soft scents of moist earth and fresh herbs, buzzing bees and colourful flowers – not the ususal sensory city experiences; we find ourselves… nestled in the Parisian skyline.

Welcome to “Le Jardin sur le Toît” (The Garden on the Roof) of Vignoles Gymnasium in the 20th arrondissement (District) of Paris.

A poster at the gate reads:

“The Roof Garden: A Collective, Solidarity, Shared Garden, managed by the Arfog-Lafayette Association. The first roof terrace in Paris; 600m² of cultivated garden space; flowers, vegetables, aromatic herbs… Accessible to the public, with open gates:
Gardening Workshops for Adults Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays
Gardening Workshops for the Children on Wednesdays
Open to the Public at the Weekend
For more information, please contact the lady facilitator Francoise Spuhler directly by telephone.”

Gateway to Le Jardin sur le Toît - Rue Des Haies
Gateway to Le Jardin sur le Toît – Rue Des Haies

The shelter here is afforded by nature, clothing us with a natural dignity among high risers and the urban landscapes below; the drone of traffic now out of earshot, in a shared community garden.

Maize Ablaze – Three Sisters Guild on the Parisian Rooftops
Maize Ablaze – Three Sisters Guild on the Parisian Rooftops

The beauty of this garden is not only visual; it’s depth goes much further – in its conception and realisation, and also in the immense potential it unlocks for people, wildlife and environment, both locally and further afield.

Many birds visit the site and a number of insect houses are dotted around the garden.
Many birds visit the site and a number of insect houses are dotted around the garden.

Frances Spuhler – the garden facilitator, head gardener and manager of the project, organises the activities as a social initiative for the Arfog-Lafayette Association. The gardens provide activities and engage the public in an open and clear way, creating the opportunity to make friends, learn and connect with nature in the city.

Rooftop Urban Polyculture – a fine blend of herbs, insectary flowers, vegetables and small trees.
Rooftop Urban Polyculture – a fine blend of herbs, insectary flowers, vegetables and small trees.

Urban gardens, whether on a roof or on the ground create communities and opportunities for people – through solidarity and skill-sharing workshops, and creating a space for growing food.

Top left: Cosmos, Verbascum, Verbena and climbing beans. Top Right: Tomatoes, beans, fennel and Sunflowers. Bottom: Leguminous Cercis siliquestrum trees underplanted with raspberries.
Top left: Cosmos, Verbascum, Verbena and climbing beans. Top Right: Tomatoes, beans, fennel and Sunflowers. Bottom: Leguminous Cercis siliquestrum trees underplanted with raspberries.

This garden is the result of two organisations working together with local people; Les Jardins Partegés Parisiens (The Shared Gardens of Paris) is a network created by the Mairie de Paris (Mayor’s Office of Paris) for facilitating access to the land and gardening in the city, and the Arfog-Lafayette Association; a charity helping single mothers, children and elderly, they also assist with reintegrating adults into the community.

Le Jardin sur le Toît is currently one of 96 shared gardens in Paris registered with Les Jardins Partegés Parisiens network. These are gardens developed on land offered by the Mairie du Paris (Mayor’s Office of Paris). They presently cover a total of 4.5 Hectares in the city.

Public Shared Gardens in Paris.
Public Shared Gardens in Paris.

The gardens average between 200-400m² each. “Paris is a very dense city, these spaces may be small but they are very important, even if its 4m² in a school, it’s very important to us.” said David Crave, Deputy Director of the Urban Ecology Agency of Paris.

This roof garden is among the first of 100 Hectares of urban vegetalisation of roof and wall space announced by the socio-ecologically progressive Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo. A third of the 100hectares is being dedicated to urban agriculture and shall be completed by 2020.

Top: Recipe for healthy compost. Bottom left: Heritage squash and pumpkin varieties. Bottom right: Urban rooftop composting – there are several composing bins around the garden.
Top: Recipe for healthy compost. Bottom left: Heritage squash and pumpkin varieties. Bottom right: Urban rooftop composting – there are several composing bins around the garden.

How did it Happen?

In 2003, the Arfog-Lafayete Association created a shared garden at Saint-Blaise at ground level. It was realised to offer people a creative activity and the opportunity to learn new skills and meet with others. Head gardener Francoise said the shared gardens are very important in the city

“…to give access to the earth; to create cultural change through an artistic and creative activity, and also as a therapy.”

The first garden was so successful they opened a second garden, again at ground-level, at Place Jean Jaurès in Montreuil-sous-Bois.

In 2006 a need was identified for a new public fitness gym in the 20th Arondissement (20th District) of Paris. The architectural team seized the opportunity to create a roof terrace at the same time.

The Gymnasium opened in 2009. Originally, the terrace was planted with Sumac trees (Rhus typhinia) and Judas trees (Cercis siliquastrum), as per the architects plan, and was to act as an open-air terrace for gym users. However, city planners were quick to identify the potential of the site as a shared garden and the roof terrace was offered to d’Association Arfog-Lafayette to manage.

The first two gardens created by the Arfog-Lafayete Association continue to be hugely successful to this day. It is due to their energy and popularity that the Association was offered another space. The Jardin Sur le Toît site was offered by the Mairie de Paris – to create the Association’s third shared social garden, this time it was three storeys-up!

The Roof Terrace in 2009 – Source: www.le75020.fr Credit: Pierre Bohm
The Roof Terrace in 2009 – Source: www.le75020.fr Credit: Pierre Bohm

According to Francois (Head Gardener), the 17 beds, totaling 600m² of cultivated space had “just a few poppies and grasses when the Mayor’s Office offered the space” to the Arfog-Lafayette Association – to continue their successful bio-social work.

17 beds filled with food, flowers and herbs: a meeting place for people and nature.
17 beds filled with food, flowers and herbs: a meeting place for people and nature.

Five years later, with the input and dedication of many volunteers and staff, together with visiting children and under the careful guidance of Francoise Spuhler, what has resulted is a truly beautiful rooftop garden. There exists a great array of activities and opportunities – a hugely important resource in dense urban areas.

This roof has been guilded! The garden in 2014.
This roof has been guilded! The garden in 2014.

The terrace is still open to gym users and in addition, its full potential has been realised by opening up opportunities for a wider range of users and activities – benefitting children, single parents, adults seeking new skills, and the environment.

The garden is focused upon ecological methods, so people can learn about organic gardening. It’s also open at the weekends for people wishing to do some gardening or learn a little about the different plants, fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs; it is a means to communicate the idea and principles into the public domain and create a new cultural activity.

Françoise Spuhler – the Animatrice (Moderator) and Head Gardener

Urban Oasis – provide sanctuary and refreshment: Food and seeds for thought.
Urban Oasis – provide sanctuary and refreshment: Food and seeds for thought.

The garden is open during the week for both adult workshops and children’s workshops, with a local school visiting who now include gardening time into their curriculum.

“It’s a good place to come for picnics, exhibitions and events – and to learn! Some people use it for outdoor meetings and conferences. We only ask that you participate a little in some gardening while you are here.” Said Madame Spuhler.

The Jardin Sur le Toît was officially opened on 23rd October 2009 by Frédérique Calandra, Mayor of the 20th district in Paris, Olga Trostiansky, Deputy for Solidarity, Family and the Fight Against Exclusion, and Fabienne Giboudeaux, Deputy for Green Spaces for the City of Paris.

Biodiverse Greenery; intermixed aromatic herbs, pollinator plants, brassicas, aubergine, alliums, fennel, sages and so on…  this garden’s focus is more on education and solidarity as opposed to productivity, but still produces an abundance of food and habitat in a city with 21,000 inhabitants per km².
Biodiverse Greenery; intermixed aromatic herbs, pollinator plants, brassicas, aubergine, alliums, fennel, sages and so on… this garden’s focus is more on education and solidarity as opposed to productivity, but still produces an abundance of food and habitat in a city with 21,000 inhabitants per km².

This and similar initiatives are included in the ‘Charter la Vertes’ (Green Charter) for Paris. One of the first initiatives announced by the Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo after her inauguration in April 2014, was for the city to create 100 Hectares of green roofs and walls by 2020, with a third of this dedicated to urban agriculture. The vegetalisation is one of a number of initiatives announced by the Mayor. Others include Orchards for Schools in Paris, Green Roofs or Solar by Law on all new commercial buildings and Citizens’ Street Gardens are some of the schemes already taking effect – too numerous to list here.

“Before, it was a question of greening the city; in recent years the opportunity has been recognised to create biodiversity and grow food as part of this greening” Said David Crave, Assistant Director of the Urban Ecology Agency of Paris. “When we asked the Mayor about greening the roofs, she said ‘Now’ is the time – we are going to be building this way in the future so we start now.”

Gardeners, Journalists and d’Association Arfogg-Lafayette Representatives converge at the Garden with the Co-Director of Urbanism and Sustainable Development for Paris,  Co-Director of the Urban Ecology Agency of Paris, Co-Director of Green Spaces and other members of the Mairie du Paris - to celebrate the successful culmination of efforts in this pilot project, August 2014.
Gardeners, Journalists and d’Association Arfogg-Lafayette Representatives converge at the Garden with the Co-Director of Urbanism and Sustainable Development for Paris, Co-Director of the Urban Ecology Agency of Paris, Co-Director of Green Spaces and other members of the Mairie du Paris – to celebrate the successful culmination of efforts in this pilot project, August 2014.

People who join the shared Parisian gardens scheme (Les Jardins Partegés Parisiens) are asked to sign a declaration on three points:

• they promise to respect the plants and the garden,
• they will not use any chemicals or pesticides.
• they will not waste water.

Anyone can create and register a shared solidarity garden within the city if they live locally. For groups or new groups wishing to connect a garden space to the Jardins Partegés network, the garden must not use any pesticides and must be open at least twice a week to the public. Visitors are guaranteed there is always one representative present from either the respective garden association or the Jardin Partegé scheme of the Mairie du Paris.

The garden is then registered and published on the map and in the listings on Les Jardins Partegés Parisiens city council website page.

The roof terrace was built, and is owned by Mairie du Paris. The garden is managed and funded by d’Association Arfogg-Lafayette – a charitable organisation which also receives a small amount of state funding to support the social support activities. More detailed information may be found on their website.

For more information about this and about the legislative changes, please visit another of our posts, https://permaculturenews.org/2015/04/13/recent-legislation-transforms-cities-one-roof-at-a-time/.

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