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Le Comité des Parcs et Jardins de France

In order for you to understand the exact aims and efforts of the “Comité des Parcs et Jardins de France”, (CPJF), our partner in preservation, French Heritage Society, has kindly allowed us to reproduce the last published interview with Didier Wirth, President.

Monsieur Wirth, who represents the Basse Normandie region, took over as President two years ago from Monsieur Jean Gueroult. He works from an office in Paris and travels extensively to the individual regions.

French Heritage Society is pleased to work in close collaboration with its third partner association alongside La Demeure Historique and Vieilles Maisons Françaises.

Unlike the preservation of monuments and buildings, the responsibility for protecting parks and gardens is a different and often difficult task. The heritage is a living one, which is constantly changing. Trees for example, as they grow or die, can bring about considerable change to the appearance and design of a garden of park, making classification and landmark status difficult to define.

The CPJF has a representative association, with an independent structure, in each of the 21 regions of France, with the exception of the city of Paris. Gardens there are either very private of belong to the city of Paris and are therefore eligible for State funding.

Each association has two categories of membership, one for garden owners, who can be private individuals of whole towns –who are the owners of gardens or parks within the town – and one category for Friends of gardens of a given region.

A regional association has on average 400 members consisting of 150 garden owners and 250 Friends. Members attend meetings of the association, participate in visits to gardens and carry out botanical studies of plants. France overall has about 8000 members with an annual membership fee of on average $50 to $100 for garden members and $20 to $100 for Friends. Their membership is relatively small as it is a young organization, compared with, for instance, the Royal Horticultural Society in England which counts over 100,000 members.

The CPJF consists of a Board of 12 Directors under the leadership of a President. Members of the Board include representative of other preservation entities such as the Deumeure Historique, Vieilles Maisons Françaises and the Parcs Botaniques, formed of private botanical garden and arboreta owners, as well as representatives chosen from the regional associations.

The essential role of the CPJF is to form a federation of different preservation organizations such as the DH, VMF, and the Parcs Botaniques and be the spokesperson fronting the government, able to have an impact on the development of rules and regulations involving the protection of the landscape as well as in regards to financial concerns and fiscal benefits which affect garden and park owners. Thanks to its efforts, when a park or garden is open to the public, the cost of the maintenance of the property is now taw deductible. Specific legislation is required and a designated body within the French Ministry of Culture must be appointed.

An initiative is being studied to undertake the creation of a National Park and Garden Institute, which would be located in Saint Cloud, where the Garden by Le Nôtre are what remain of the Chateau estate and suitable buildings exist to house the Institute. To cover an initial budget of $1.5 million, private investors are being sought as founding members of the Institute. The Institute would be an archival repository, but would also coordinate information on the many private collections of garden archives throughout France. It would insist that the regions take charge and be responsible for making such archives available for research.

The CPJF recognizes the need for landscapers to be trained in garden maintenance and to develop a taste for garden history. At the same time, the teaching of botany should be encouraged in schools. With the creation of an Institute, national awareness of the great history of the French landscape art beyond the names Le Nôtre and Duchêne would be raised. In order to do this, the CPJF hopes to establish a central library for landscape design and garden architecture.

The CPJF, Comité des Parcs et Jardins de France, is the supporter of legislation to protect gardens in their surroundings. Unnecessary power lines and roads, especially highways scar the countryside and some discipline is required when situating them in the landscape. Equally, if a garden has been abandoned for many years, no one ill step in to restore it if its surroundings have been destroyed by, for instance, being absorbed into a built-up area. Using the model used in England, attempts are being made to establish a “protect views” policy. So far only by special governmental decree can a view be protected in France. This was done in the case of Versailles, where the view is “protected” over a 10-mile radius. A more recent example is of a serious that that faces the wonderful Chateau of Vaux le Vicomte : urgent action needs to be taken to prevent a garbage dump and incinerator chimney from being erected in the landscape a bare two miles from the estate.

Thanks to French Heritage Society

Both CPJF and its members endeavour to :

  • broaden the range of known exceptional grounds and gardens
  • protect them and their surroundings
  • increase their botanical variety
  • develop their remarkable features,
  • secure the economic conditions essential to their permanence, especially by setting up medium-term management plans taking their maintenance and restoration into account,
  • promote the parks and gardens which agree to open to the public, by organizing national opening days and specific labels.

It aims at defining the specific needs felt by the private owners and managers of parks, gardens and estates, and at representing them in regional, national and international administrations and organizations.

Besides its efforts to define and defend a ground-and-garden policy, the CPJF takes an dynamic part in national initiatives for the preservation and improvement of exceptional grounds and gardens.