The flower markets of Paris are always worth a visit, whether you are buying cut flowers to make your own arrangement or just for sightseeing. The florists themselves buy daily from the markets at Rungis, but if you do not fancy a trip to that southern suburb at 4 a.m., there are excellent markets in the city itself. The street market in the Rue de Seine on the Left Bank is one of the liveliest in Paris. On Saturday mornings, when jazz quartets entertain the crowds in the cafes, you can comparison-shop between 15 different types of mushroom or buy five boxes of strawberries for the price of four. La Grange a Buci, at the end of the street, sells fresh and dried flowers and a large selection of impatiens, geraniums, smartly striped petunias and other window-box plants.
Under a canopy of flowering purple catalpas, the largest flower market in Paris is held every day but Sunday on the Ile de la Cite. There are plants for terraces and balconies, indoor plants and an enormous variety of cut flowers. This is the place to buy pots of cyclamen, blue bells and hyacinths, and slender stems of delphinium, foxglove and yarrow.
The more rustic market across the Seine at Chatelet sells herbs, bulbs and garden plants. In the spring, the market in the Place de la Madeleine is the place for tulips: double, parrot, Rembrandt, striped, frilled, fluted, black and green.
Despalles, on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, is the \o7 ultima Thule \f7 of the urban gardener. Antique cabinets hold hundreds of different types of seeds. There are shelves of useful books and catalogues, and a large selection of garden furniture massed in front of the showcase boxes of scented geraniums, columbines and stephanotis.
But even if you cannot tell a calla lily from a cucumber, do not miss the two shops of Jule des pres on the Rue du Cherche-Midi. This young woman is one of the poets of Paris. From the stilted, spinsterish tradition of dried flowers she has created something evocative, idyllic and quintessentially French.
Part sculpture, part still life, all of her arrangements are inspired by the graceful geometry of French formal gardens. There are obelisks of silvery laurel leaves, perfectly globular "trees" studded with hundreds of tiny pale pink roses, traditional pomanders, boxes mixing subtly shaped spices and long sheaves of wheat, twisted and tied into simple sculptural shapes. The colors are those of a fine faded carpet, and the prices run into tens of thousands of francs.
Across the street at Gens J, behind a Chinese yellow shop front, Jule des pres has created one of the most original shops in Paris . . . and possibly the prettiest. From among the spices, dried petals and blossoms, berries, nuts, seeds, pods and roots, each customer can concoct his own potpourri. The ingredients, contained in long cabinets of wavy-grained elm, are each identified by historical and horticultural notes. Of the Hibiscus karkade we learn that it is woven into marriage garlands in certain tropical counties, and its flowers used in incantatory rituals by sorcerers in the South Pacific. Each purchase is wrapped in a parchment triangle and stamped with sealing wax bearing the insignia of the store.
Most people who love flowers hate fake ones, but Trousselier on the Boulevard Haussmann is an interesting curiosity. Its atelier has been making hand-painted pure silk flowers for more than a century, and is the last shop in Paris to still do so.
The flowers, which are deliberately irregular, imperfect and in different stages of development, are amazingly lifelike. Trousselier provides bogus blooms for theater designers, film sets and the major Paris couturiers. There are bridal headdresses and corsages mixed with pearls, tulle and beading, as well as fashion flowers in striped silk and black velvet. The prices are commensurate with the labor involved; a single rose can run to hundreds of francs. Finally, Un Jardin en Plus, the ultimate emporium for flower fanciers. With numerous branches in Paris, Europe, the Middle East and Japan, this shop offers all the requisites for a true, \o7 vie en fleurs. \f7 There are flowered fabrics, wallpapers, painted and upholstered furniture, lamp shades, blinds and curtains, carpets, porcelain, tea services, boxes, trays, picture frames, sheets, towels, tablecloths, tea towels, toilet bags, pillows, potpourri, scented soaps and candles, perfumes and framed floral prints. The roaring success of this establishment suggests that deep in the heart of the most hardened Parisian there lurks the shade of the provincial and a taste for pastoral pleasures.
Finding Fine \o7 Fleurs \f7 in Paris
Cerard Massot, 5 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 6th \o7 arrondissement\f7 ; local telephone 4548-7031.
Christian Tortu, 6 Carrefour de l'Odeon, 6th; 4326-0256.
Lachaume, 10 Rue Royale, 8th; 4260-5726.
Moulie-Savart, 8 Place du Palais Bourbon, 7th; 4551-7843.
Guillon Fleurs, 120 Blvd. Raspail, 6th; 4548-9616.
La Grange a Buci, 7 Rue de Buci, 7th; 4326-1934.
Marche aux Fleurs de l'Ile de la Cite, Place Louis-Lepine, Quai de Corse, 4th.
Marche de la Madeleine, Place de la Madeleine, 8th.
Despalles, 76 Blvd. Saint-Germain, 5th; 4354-2898.
Jules des pres, 19 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 6th; 4548-2084.
Gens J, 12 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 6th; 4548-9087.
Trousselie, 73 Blvd. Haussmann, 8th; 4266-9795.
Un Jardin en Plus, 224 Blvd. Saint-Germain, 7th; 454Q-2571.