Matignon Garden

The Matignon Garden

Discover what goes on behind the scenes as you explore the garden’s harmonious landscapes, shaped over the years since 1725.
 
Behind a discreet blue door at 36 rue de Babylone lies one of Paris’ most beautiful parks: the garden of the Hôtel Matignon, the Prime Minister’s residence. Its three hectares make the Matignon Garden one of the largest in the capital. We owe its existence to two prestigious landscape architects: firstly André Le Nôtre’s nephew and collaborator Claude Desgot, and then, in 1902, Achille Duchêne. The garden combines French-style symmetry with dense English-style flowerbeds planted with a wide range of species.
 
Once over the threshold, you enter the garden along a gravel path. The first impression you get is of a park laid out in the 19th century, its thickets of trees reminiscent of natural forest vegetation. One of the garden’s first surprises is the discovery of a pair of ivy-covered tombstones beneath a magnolia tree. They mark the graves of a dog and a cat, dating back to the days when Matignon belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Embassy.
 
As you continue along the curved pathway, you come upon the trees planted by past Prime Ministers, one after the other. One of the most remarkable of them all as far as its botanical characteristics are concerned is the ginkgo biloba planted by Edith Cresson in 1992, a tree that made its first appearance some 220 million years ago and is known for its extraordinary tenacity: it was the only species to survive on land devastated by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. It is also known as the “tree of forty crowns” due to the golden colour its leaves take on in autumn.
 
Since 1978, thirteen trees have been planted by succeeding Prime Ministers (see inset below). The choice of tree is always in line with the garden’s layout, both in terms of place and species.
 
From the residence’s terrace, a magnificent perspective opens up on the garden redesigned by Achille Duchêne in the 20th century. Commissioned by the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador, the landscape architect was instructed to create a sweeping reception lawn. His creation’s originality lies in the six banks of flowers that act as “wings” to the open-air festivities held on it, providing areas ideal for holding private conversations. During the Ambassador’s time there, a performance of Gluck’s Ombres et Lumières was staged and balls held on it. As you walk alongside them, the banks of flowers open up and close a series of perspectives across the park.

The story of the Hôtel de Matignon

 

The purple beech: Matignon’s oldest tree

The purple beech: Matignon’s oldest treeThe purple beech is about 150 years old and is one of the park’s finest specimens, remarkable for its 21-metre height and 3.70-metre circumference.
 
But what it really stands out for is its foliage. In the shade of its branches, sheltered from the light, its leaves are green, but when they are exposed to sunlight they turn purple. This beautiful tree literally bronzes in the sun.
 
Use of chemical products to maintain Matignon’s garden is strictly prohibited.
 

The alley of linden trees’ accelerated perspective

Approaching the middle of the garden, walkers come across its two finest viewpoints: on one side, at the far end of the lawn designed by Achille Duchêne, the Hôtel de Matignon, and on the other, the rectilinearity of the 18th-century alley of linden trees.
 Hôtel de Matignon and its garden
The 111 aligned marquise-cut linden trees lead the observers’ eye to a statue of Pomona.
 
The alley of linden trees’ accelerated perspectiveThe cunningly constructed perspective gives the illusion that the sculpture can be reached in a single leap. Another subterfuge: the gap between each tree shortens as you advance.
 
Your tour ends with a final curiosity: a visit to a “glacière, an ice storage cave hidden beneath a mound of earth. Inside, successive layers of ice and straw enabled ice collected in winter to be preserved and used in the summer months.
 
 
A tree for each Prime Minister
In accordance with the republican tradition initiated by Raymond Barre in 1978, each new Prime Minister can plant a tree in the Matignon Garden. Every head of government apart from Jacques Chirac has planted a tree upon taking up residence.
  • Bernard Cazeneuve: magnolia kobus (2017)
  • Manuel Valls: English oak (2014)
  • Jean-Marc Ayrault: magnolia grandiflora (2012)
  • François Fillon: table dogwood (2007)
  • Dominique de Villepin: pedunculated oak (2005)
  • Jean-Pierre Raffarin: Persian ironwood (2002)
  • Lionel Jospin: elm (1997)
  • Alain Juppé: cercidiphyllum (1996)
  • Édouard Balladur: silver maple (1994)
  • Pierre Bérégovoy: Virginia tulip tree (1992)
  • Édith Cresson: ginkgo biloba (1992)
  • Michel Rocard: American sweetgum (1988)
  • Laurent Fabius: Austrian oak (1984)
  • Pierre Mauroy: Hungarian oak (1983)
  • Raymond Barre: sugar maple (1978)

Prime Minister's biography