Le Jardin Des Plantes


By Prue Young
Le Jardin des Plantes is one of Paris’s great treasures. The history of the garden spans for over four centuries and its main purpose has been to protect for future generations all living things, humans, animals and plant species alike through the development of medical and botanical science.

JARDIN DES PLANTES {botanical gardens} was originally known as Jardin Royal des Plants Medicinales and was built in 1635.

It was designed and planted as medicinal herb garden by Guy de La Brosse the physician to Louis XIII who consecrated an area for the specific cultivation of these herbs not only to “give great delight and adornment to the city of Paris” but as a place where the principles of medicine were taught. It was originally know as Jardin du Roi when it it was open to the public in 1640. By 1726 the gardens already had a strong reputation for botanical and scientific research and indeed Jardin du Roi became the centre for scientific thought in “Enlightenment France” and continued to reap the benefits of botanical exploration under the Royal patronage of Louis XV who ordered ships and expeditions to foreign lands to acquire and return with as many specimens and seeds as possible.

Now the traditional military strategic interests of France were combined witha new mandate of exploration into science and natural history.This led to the acquisition of many species previously unknown in the western world. The groundwork had been laid for the garden to become an important teaching and research facility for the University of Medicine and today remains a mecca for the study of natural science. The era of training doctors expanded to include the training of future botanists and naturalists.

The Jardin des Plants has always been an open air laboratory and a teaching garden with thousands of remarkable plants gathered together in one place. The first greenhouse was built in the gardens in 1714 to house a young coffee plant sent as gift to Louis XIV.
The summer house is the oldest metal structure in Paris and was built in 1788. It is said the Marie Antoinette, a devoted plantswoman, visited the summer house on many occasions seeking new specimens for her collection. The Empress Josephine sent many of her rose cuttings to the garden in a desire to share her significant knowledge of plants with the French people.

The outdoor classroom Ecole de Botanique boast thousands of exceptional plants all organised in groups with a botanical classification system still used today. Plant labels indicating family and genus have always been meticulously written in French and Latin for the benefit of both novice and the plant enthusiast alike.

Even though the gardens were of Royal origins they have always been open to the publicthanks to La Brosse who believed that knowledge of the thousands of important beneficial plants should be available to all the kings’subjects.
The “Histoire Naturelle”had strictly scientific purposes and boasts some important discoveries such as the discovery in 1896 of radioactivity by Henri Becquerel.
The Menagerie, the world’s oldest zoo was moved from the gardens in Versailles to the Jardin Des Plantes in 1792. Throughout history the zoo has managed to survive some tragic destruction inflicted on it by revolution and war. In 1827 the arrival of the first giraffe marked the zoos revival. A plaque was laid to commemorate her arrival inscribed with the words“On June 30 1827 Her Highness the giraffe made her entrance to Paris”.

The romantic and historical charm of this giant “curiosity cabinet”has bewitched and inspired writers, poet’s artists and philosophers for centuries. One of France’s greatest artists Henri Rousseau gained great inspiration for his paintings {Jungles in Paris} with exotic scenes depicted from plants and animals from the Jardin des Plantes”Nothing makes me so happy as to observe nature and to paint what I see”

This magnificent sprawling green space encompasses a selection of gardens filled with ancient and modern plantsfrom the four tropical greenhouses containing specimens from the steamy tropicsto the frosty alpine regions in the art deco alpine garden. There are over 2000 different plant varieties bought back from places such as Morocco and the Himalayas and the desert plants in the hot dry arid garden greenhouse.

The dinosaur garden goes back in time millions of years and is complete with dinosaur models. A garden with a French perspective featuring a parterre with vistas through two straight avenues of trees parallel to Rue Buffon provides a tantalising contrast to the mediterranean garden. Peony, iris, rose, perennial and wild gardens planted with hundreds of varieties of annuals and perennials, their symphony of colour emitting an intoxicating blend of sweet and spicy aromas that encourage insects, bird and other wildlife to the gardens. The lovely picnic area invites visitors to sit and reflect in a peaceful serene setting surrounded by the lush elegantly structured Judas trees one of which was planted by Comte de Buffon in 1783. The Maze and Labyrinth still remain today and were added by Buffon in 1739 when he took over responsibility for the gardens.

The gardens include a collection of Paris’s most historically significant trees. The 160 year old Ginko with its spectacular golden autumn leaves graces the garden. The Robinia false acacia dating back to 1636 is constantly regenerating through multiple new shoots and a Cedar of Lebanon from 1734 are all a living reminder of the gardens past.

Students and visitors alike can see first hand, nature in the garden and take workshops and tours to enhance their knowledge of the natural world which will lead to better preservation and conservation of the environment.

Le Jardin Des Plantes is the most important botanical garden in France covering 28 hectares and is one of the world’s foremost botanical gardens attracting millions of visitors a year and making it Paris s 4th largest tourist attraction. Jardin des Plantes is not only a tranquil shady refuge evidence that living close to nature in Paris is possible but a living breathing work of art, science, conservation and biodiversity, a magnificent garden originally designed “to serve the nation”while still remaining relevant to the modern age and holding a special place in the hearts and minds of Parisians.

Photography by Peter Young

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