Tucked away at the outskirts of Paris (Boulogne-Billancourt to be more exact), but still easy reachable by metro, lies one of my favorite Parisian gardens : The Albert Kahn Garden. This place is more than just a garden, it is the life work of, you guessed it, Albert Kahn. But who was this man ? And why did he create these beautiful gardens ? Let’s find out.

Albert (born Abraham) Kahn was born in 1860 in the Alsace region and was the eldest son of a Jewish cattle dealer Louis and Babette Bloch. Luck was not on their side and his mother died when he was 10 years old. When shortly after Germany annexed Alsace, they moved to the North of France. After his studies he became a bank clerk in Paris and later on became an associate of a highly regarded financial institute. He starts to make a fortune with speculating on gold and diamond mines in South Africa, and soon he started his own financial bank. This fortune gave him the leverage to dedicate his life on projects to promote world peace. He created several foundations to had as goal to create a better understanding between people and have more worldwide cooperation. He also started his Archives of the Planet project, for which he collected around 72.000 pictures from cultures all over the world, that are beautifully displayed in the museum adjacent to the garden.

In 1895 Albert buys a beautiful mansion in Boulogne-Billancourt and starts to buy surrounding plots to make his dream come true : a garden that illustrated his idea of world peace. On a total of 4 hectares he united a Japanese, French and English garden, different types of forest, a bog garden and a prairie. They all transition in each other in a subtle way, which was for him how he wanted different cultures and people to live in harmony with eachother. Of course Albert Kahn didn’t do this alone, he worked closely together with his head gardener Louis Picart and his team of gardeners. Let’s have a look around.

We will now look it a bit more closely to the different parts of the garden and I’d like to start with, one of my favorites, the Japanse village .

Japanese Village & Contemporary garden

When Albert Kahn came back from a travel to Japan, he decided to create a garden that brings him back to this place he truly likes. Of course he didn’t settle for a fake interpretation and he hires Japanese craftsmen, ships over plants and bonsaï trees and even two pavillions he bought in Japan. These structures were shipped in seperate pieces and reconstructed by the Japanes craftspeople. Later on he would add a tea pavillion and a five storie high pagode (unfortunately that one burnt down In 1953) The structures are surrounded with tranquile gardens containing a beautiful collection of Japanese maple trees, clipped pine trees and the typical symbolic stone elements, that depict existing landscapes.

After Albert went back to Japan in 1908 he added a second part of the Japanese garden and a Chinese alpine garden. These parts completely disappeared over time and was replaced between 1988 and 1990 by a contemporary garden by landscape designer Fumiaki Takano. The beautiful red bridge, an old Himalayan ceder and a weeping beech links to the lost gardens. Large part exist of a large water element representing the life of Kahn. A stone cone spring, symbolizing his birth , flows into a large pond, symbolizing the fullness of his life. Pebble walls stand for the great amount of his achievements. The water flows further through a rough rocky part, representing the stockmarket crash that brought Albert to ruin…and at the end the water flows down in the spiral of death. It’s really a calm tranquil place to wander around. Let’s hop to another part of the garden.

The French Garden

Here we are on completely different esthetic, a traditional geometrical classical French garden. For this garden Albert hired Henri and Achille Duchêne. In front of a beautiful glasshouse a manicured lawn framed with montone flower beds is center stage, from here you walk in two other squares. A beautiful rose garden / orchard. Where fruit trees in different forms are beautifully combined with roses. Strictly contained, but at the same time also quite natural. One step out of the geometric squares and you enter in the different forest zones.

The Blue forest, the golden forest and Vosges mountain forest

Albert Kahn didn’t go for just one forest, but three different ones. The blue forest derives its name from the tree species you can find here : the Atlas Ceder and blue spruce. He wanted to evoke the North African forests and the American mountain forests. He also added a bog garden. Nowadays it is often the colorful rhododendrons and azaleas that steal the show. From here we walk straight in the ‘golden’ forest. In Spring some of the spruces here take on a slightly yellow color and in autumn the leafs of the birches take their turn to bring a golden glow. Here we go more natural and the forest is enhanced with a beautiful wildflower meadow, changing throughout the seasons.

The last pieces of land Albert purchased he kept to go back to his childhood… a true Vosges mountain forest. No efforts or expenses were too big for this undertaking. Large trees and bolders were brought in on carts and the electricity lines of the whole neighborhood had to be cut to put these large trees in place. In this part of the garden you completely forget you are in the middle of a bustling city. When we were visiting this garden the last time, someone said, a bit agitated, this is not a garden, it’s just a forest. Clearly this person had no idea what immense effort went into bringing this landscape here.

From here you walk into the English garden…probably my least favorite part of the garden. It looks more like a traditional city park with some faux rock parts and a pond.

You can easily spent half a day here, so take your time and enjoy. The only thing still missing is a place to have a drink during the visit.

Musée Albert Kahn : 2 Rue du Port, 92100 Boulogne-Billancourt, France

Metro : Stop : Pont de Saint-Cloud (terminus of line 10)