One must have known the Champ de Mars from the time when the Emperor spent reviews there, to appreciate the miracle that has taken place in this little corner. Imagine a stretch of natural tarmac, muddy in winter, powdery in summer, and calculate how much time, work and money it took to bring about such a transformation. But there was no time; as for money, the Imperial Commission, which disdains neither great nor small savings, did not care to bury millions in a garden that must live six months. And yet the soil has been transformed, the valleys have been dug, the hills have been raised, the water runs in the streams and rests in the lake; more than forty buildings, some of them masterpieces, have sprung up at once; the most beautiful and precious plants in the world have come to form harmonious groups. Great old trees, including a gigantic plane tree and a chestnut tree, have travelled here without accident.
The author of this fairy tale is a very modest and gentle man, like all superior talents. His name is M. Barillet, and he is the head of the city's plantations. M. Alphand, chief engineer, had, as it should be, the direction of the whole, but this illustrious president of the Consultative Commission had scarcely to sanction the plans of M. Barillet.
I do not believe that it was possible to do better and more cheaply. M. Barillet brought together the various exhibitors whose industry is carried on in the gardens, the greenhouse builders, the kiosk makers, the makers of rustic bridges, the horticulturists, nurserymen, etc., etc., etc., and he made an agreement with each of them to have them contribute to the decoration of his work. Except for the earthwork and a few minor details, everything is on display in the reserved garden. The bed of molten lava that stretches across the bottom of the lake and river is the exhibit of a French industrialist; the gate that closes the garden is the collective exhibit of several metallurgical factories; each basket of flowers is the work and property of an exhibitor.
Each one finds its account in this ingenious combination. The expense is shared among the interested parties; the various works are mutually beneficial; the garden embellishes the cottages and aviaries which adorn the garden; the various industries which had arranged to meet as in a tournament cooperate fraternally in the common work and merge, as it were, in a vast solidarity. The whole garden is the result of an association between workers of all kinds, who lend their products in public and pay each other in advertising, without prejudice to other rewards.
But Mr Barillet had to have a strong head for the pressure of so many and so diverse worries not to have burst him. The garden has been open for a month now; and one still meets at every step people who ask:
"Do you know where M. Barillet is? I need to talk to him right away.
- And I'm looking for him too, by Jove! "Everyone is looking for him and everyone finds him, and it is impossible to find a more patient, more obliging, more tireless man, more devoted to this impossible work which, in eight days, will be brought to a successful conclusion.
His office, always open, is occupied by five employees of rare complacency; so true is it that the stay in the gardens softens the man's morals by relaxing his nerves! They are named, in hierarchical order, Messrs Lavialle, Quénat, Lemichez, Viollet and Morel.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée