From Marie Blanc’s greenhouses to the Jardins de la Petite Afrique, the gardens of the Société des Bains de Mer bear witness to Monte-Carlo’s development over the years.
It all began in 1863 when the Casino de Monte-Carlo opened on the rock of the Spélugues, just before the arrival of François Blanc, founder of the resort. Blanc’s wife, Marie, had the idea of creating a series of greenhouses to complement the gardens of the gaming establishment. At the top of the Casino gardens, the Sigaldi property was transformed into an English garden, while a little higher up the barns, cowsheds and dairy were a lively hub. Nurseries flourished on the Carnier property towards the church of Saint-Charles, and vegetable crops were planted throughout the De La Tour property above the district of Les Moulins. They produced an abundance of fruits and vegetables, and the guests of the Hôtel de Paris enjoyed the milk and eggs supplied by “Monte-Carlo Farm”. The same tradition is carried on today at the Monte-Carlo Bay, where two-Michelin-starred chef Marcel Ravin has partnered with Terrae to develop his own kitchen garden, cooking the local seasonal treasures he grows there for the Blue Bay.
On a natural slope towards the large pond
Following her husband’s death, Marie Blanc would add her final touch to Monte-Carlo – which translates as “Mount Charles”, named after Charles III of Monaco. She called on the Belgian horticulturalist Jean-Jules Linden and landscape architect Edouard André to tame the gardens that were dominated by unruly lemon trees and carobs. Linden and André were greatly inspired by the prevailing spirit of the French Riviera at the time. The region was considered a very hot country that should only be inhabited in winter, and whose fiery, tropical plants and flowers must have given the impression of an eternal spring. The trend shaped how all the Riviera’s gardens were landscaped, and informed an ambitious project in Monte-Carlo. The old central path was replaced by two avenues leading to the Casino, between which flourished the “Boulingrins”, a term derived from the English “Bowling green”. On either side of these gardens with flowerbeds, green spaces were created that married the grand lines of French-style gardens with waterfalls, streams and ponds imbued with a sense of the exotic. The same atmosphere is still present in the Jardins de la Petite Afrique, which is home to a number of remarkable species including Brachychiton x hybridus, Wollemi pine and New Zealand Christmas tree, which are worth a detour alone.
Protecting rare or remarkable species
While Marie Blanc was responsible for the overall design of the Casino de Monte-Carlo gardens, their development is intimately connected with the life of the resort. Hence, a five-level underground car park was built under the Boulingrins gardens. The space, which originally had a decorative function, was redesigned so visitors could enjoy a walk enhanced by pools, descending in terraces towards the Monegasque temple of gaming. The transformation of central Monte-Carlo, with the destruction of the Sporting d’Hiver and the renovation of the Hôtel de Paris, led for a time to the installation of a very popular shopping promenade in the gardens, until One Monte-Carlo opened. Following this period, the historic plants have been moved back to their old location or thereabouts, and they now line the spaces reinvented in a contemporary way by the landscape architect Michel Desvigne. In a city that focuses on hosting events, the gardens serve as a location for sculpture exhibitions, fashion shows, and the stands for the Formula 1 Grand Prix. Today, thirteen agents ensure their upkeep while preserving and enriching their green heritage as part of a strategy for sustainable development.