Bonjour from Paris. My family and I are at the start of a month long vacation in France and what better city to begin our travels than Paris. The City of Lights has been the centre of culture for centuries — one of the best cities in the world to enjoy art, food, culture, cafés, romance and people watching.
We have had the opportunity several times before to enjoy all the big tourist sites like the Eiffel Tower, the museums Louvre and Orsay, Notre Dame, the Champs-Elysees and cruising the Seine. But Paris is also a city of fabulous gardens. The French put a high priority on green spaces and throughout the city you will see numerous pockets of green and secret gardens tucked around Paris. Even if you don’t have a garden to call your own, Parisians create vertical gardens from their balconies and window sills. Everywhere you look in this dense city of millions, you see flowers.
Two of the most famous public gardens in Paris are the Luxembourg and Tuileries gardens, which never cease to amaze and delight, and after hours of standing in lines, are a much-needed respite.
This year, we were lucky enough to stumble upon the Jardin des Plantes, on the left bank of the Seine, and slightly off the beaten tourist path. Located in the 5th Arrondissement, it is worth a wander around and packing a picnic lunch to enjoy with the people of Paris and school children at day camps as they take lunch.
The Jardin des Plantes is a botanist’s dream and boasts one of the largest botanical schools in France. It is a popular destination not only because of its beautiful gardens, but also sports a small zoo, a cool labyrinth, and the Natural History Museum.
The gardens were founded in 1626 and was first established as a royal garden of medicinal plants that were used for the elite. The gardens were not open to the public until 1650 and were designed and planted by a physician of Louis XIII named Guy de La Brosse.
Today it is one of the most popular botanical gardens in France and covers about 69 acres of prime Paris real estate. Most people stumble upon the Jardin des Plantes as they are en route to visiting the Natural History Museum, but if you love plants, just skip the museum and wander.
Every single plant in the garden is meticulously labeled and comes complete with zone and growing information. The first thing you will notice while strolling through its varieties of gardens is that is rather unkempt. And when I say unkempt, it is strictly speaking from a Parisian viewpoint as usually the French love to manicure their gardens to within an inch of their lives.
In the Jardin des Plantes you will see natural plantings, clover in the grass and a sprawling wild loveliness not found in other gardens in Paris. They are growing flowers from a relatively organic perspective and what you see is a revolutionary attempt at creating a natural garden among the usual strict, stringent French growing perspective.
The Jardin also has tropical hothouses that are home to a variety of unusual and rare plants native to Mexico and Australia, but as the afternoon was rather humid and tropical already, we decided to take a pass.
There is also a large alpine garden, an outstanding rose garden and Art Deco-style winter garden. The botany school is located on site and students have planted a large number of demonstration gardens and also participate in special projects around the gardens — learning for everyone to see.
One familiar aspect of French culture I always enjoy is their ability to incorporate art throughout cities and public spaces. The garden was presenting an outdoor installation of natural-themed photographs, which were cleverly interspersed among the gardens.
Looking at art while walking through an artistically designed outdoor space and garden is a treat.
The next time you visit Paris, I highly recommend the Jardin des Plantes. Happy growing.