The gardens of the Jardin des Plantes
An alpine garden, an ecological garden, a rose and rock garden, a maze and endless delights... Discover the eleven gardens that together make up the unique and varied Jardin des Plantes (Garden of Plants), always changing, always something new.
Between two rows of magnificent plane trees, five squares known as perspective squares lead the eye across the structure of the Jardin des Plantes.
Strolling through the garden
While strolling around, you may notice something a little odd... The "squares" are rectangular in shape! Perhaps the architect made a mistake... or perhaps squares were just too... square. In fact the name comes from the French word for a cultivating frame - a carré - which also means square.
Following the tradition of the "French garden" in which open space, symmetry and the harmony of forms are privileged, the squares constitute a vast effect of perspective, 480 metres long and covering 2.5 hectares, between the statue of Lamarck on the banks of the Seine and the statue of Buffon, by the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution (Gallery of Evolution). A relaxing place for pleasant and colourful walks, always changing as the seasons turn, thanks to the two annual series of plantations. As soon as winter ends, biannual plants and bulbs planted the previous November come into full bloom. The May plantation gives rise to a magnificent summer display. Seven hundred plant varieties will play a role in keeping the flower beds dazzling from June to October. This living catalogue is the result of collective work carried out by a team of botanists, horticulturists, seed producers and suppliers who come together to promote an awareness of ornamental garden plants. It offers a wealth of ideas for amateur gardeners short on imagination!
The garden of useful plants
Many of the medicines we use today come directly or indirectly from medicinal herbs used traditionally. The Jardin de Plantes Ressources (Garden of Useful Plants) offers a great many examples, such as rosemary, which has antiseptic, anti-oxidant and purifying properties. Textile plants such as linen, ramie and sisal can also be found in this garden. While strolling around, you may also notice so-called “tinctorial” plants from which pigments are extracted to make dyes.
This is true of woad, which was once used to produce indigo in the Haut-Languedoc. The leaves were ground then shaped into balls known as coucagno in Occitan, said to have given their name to the region, the Pays de Cocagne.
This garden also reveals the diversity of field crops (wheat, barley, triticale, etc.); plants used by the perfume industry (rose, iris, jasmine, etc.), in cosmetics (St John’s wort, saponaria, purple coneflower, etc.); aromatic and condimentary plants (horseradish, saffron, lovage, etc.); vegetable crops (lentils, peanuts, quinoa, etc.); plants with traditional uses; and other plants with cleansing properties or those used to help look after other plants in the garden.
The Botanical school
Welcome to a school without walls, in the open air — a garden where amateurs and professionals alike can revise their knowledge of all things green.
Learn while walking
The École de botanique (Botanical School) offers both students and the general public a chance to discover the diversity of plants from all the temperate regions of the globe, from flowering plants to ferns and mosses, and from dwarf herbaceous plants to shrubs. A selection within each family, and then from each genus has been made, in order to present the species most contrasting in their morphological diversity, while also showing as many different lineages as possible to give an idea of their evolutionary diversity.
The evolutionary tree of terrestrial plants is presented on an "orientation table" in the middle of the garden, which explains the link between the evolutionary history of plants, their classification, and the way they have been planted in the display.
Four flower beds illustrate some interesting phenomena related to the evolution of plants: Adaptation, Diversification, Convergence, and Orientation of Evolution.
A garden at the forefront of botanical sciences
Since the earliest attempts to order the living world in the 18th century, classifications have evolved with biological knowledge: the introduction of the concept of evolution in the 19th century with Darwin, mathematical methods of determining the branching of the evolutionary tree in the 20th century and finally an understanding of genetics and molecular biology.
Since the creation of the garden in 1635, the École de botanique has been reorganised six times following the progress of the science of systematics, first in 1683 by Tournefort, in 1773 and 1774 by A.L. de Jussieu, in 1824 by Desfontaines, in 1843 by Brongniart, and from 1954 to 1957 by Guillaumin and Guinet.
Finally, since 2010, the École de botanique has been classified in accordance with the APG (Angiosperm Phylogeny Group), an international group of botanists. This new “phylogenetic” classification reflects the history of the evolution of plants to a high degree of accuracy. Each group within the classification corresponds to a branch of the evolutionary tree, consisting of an ancestor and all its descendants.
The alpine garden
Right in the middle of Paris, nestled in the heart of the Jardin des Plantes, the Alpine Garden is a magnificent collection of more than 2,000 species of mountain plants. Take a walk in an amazing place, with a particularly subtle charm.
From the mountains to Paris
The original Jardin Alpin was created in 1640, as the jardin des plantes de montagne (garden of mountain plants). Enlarged and developed during the tenure of Buffon during the 18th century, it achieved its present form around 1931. It was planted on the Carré des couches, one of the perspective squares, which had previously been used for the breeding of plants. Extending over almost 4,000 square metres, the Jardin Alpin brings together plants from high, medium and low altitude regions of France and the world. It is also home to some typical specimens of specific ecological environments, such as peat bogs.
One of the major challenges facing our gardeners is to have plants from such diverse habitats as the dry Mediterranean regions and the high, cool mountain slopes, all living together outdoors in the centre of Paris!
A gardening challenge
The presentation of the plants is based on their geographical origin or their ecological adaptations. One of the main difficulties is to artificially reconstitute environmental conditions favourable to the life of the plants in the collection. To achieve this, the gardeners have created veritable microclimates around the site, by taking advantage of their locations in the garden. Its design, below the level of the pathways of the Jardin des Plantes, forms a green valley protected from drying winds and extremes of hot and cold weather.
Nevertheless, certain natural conditions are difficult to recreate. In winter, for example, mountain plants need a period of rest, without rain, which they find in their natural home environment in the snow covering. In order to recreate these conditions, some plants in the Jardin Alpin are covered with tarpaulins in autumn. In this way, our closely supervised and fragile environment offers walkers special moments of new flowering every year.
A privileged place for observation
The Jardin Alpin is not merely intended to enhance the visitor’s walk – this remarkable place also has a rich scientific history. One distinguished specimen, the pistachio tree, is one of the oldest plants in the Jardin des Plantes and was used by Sébastien Vaillant used in 1718 to prove that plant species have sexual characteristics too.
This garden is not open all year round. For opening times and days, see the practical information about the Jardin des Plantes.
The ecological garden
An enclave of unspoiled nature within the Jardin des Plantes, the Ecological Garden welcomes the fauna and flora of the greater Parisian region. All the ecological diversity of the Paris Basin is represented in its four forest environments and its seven open environments.
A wild garden
Created in 1932 on the initiative of Pierre Allorge, a professor of botany at the museum, and Camille Guinet, a horticultural engineer at the Jardin des Plantes, the Jardin Écologique is an enclosure devoted to the natural environments of the Île-de-France (the greater Parisian region). The area around Paris has been populated since prehistoric times, and humans have played a central role in the formation of the landscapes and the various relationships between the plants that grow here. The Jardin Écologique presents the biodiversity of the Île-de-France with a wide variety of environments. It shelters a range of animals, both settled and migratory, which find a privileged place to feed and reproduce here. To preserve their peace, the gardeners do as little as possible to disturb the natural balance in this ecological sanctuary. The garden is a fragile environment, and can only be visited by guided tour, in order to preserve its delicate balance.
The ecological diversity of the entire Île-de-France region in the heart of Paris
Opened to the public until 1960, the Jardin Écologique (Ecological Garden) was closed and left to its own devices until 1982, which saw the start of a succession of inventories and renovation projects that would lead to its reopening in 2004. The intervening period allowed a great many insects, molluscs, small mammals and birds to flourish. The garden is now home to four forest environments: an oak and ash wood on calcareous soil, an oak and hornbeam wood on rich damp soil, an oak and chestnut wood on acid soil and an elm wood on moist soil with plenty of nitrates. The non-forested area is made up of a field cultivated with cereals using gentle practices that promote the flowering of a procession of harvest flora such as poppies, cornflowers and corn-cockles. To create this unique garden, it was necessary to modify the soil and collect species according to their preferred habitats. The plants do not grow at random: they are grouped together according to their ecological requirements to form plant groups. Involving significant work, each redevelopment stage also has to be carried out in a way that disturbs the wildlife as little as possible!
A guided tour of the flora and fauna
During this guided tour, visitors will walk across a hay meadow and an area of wilderness, illustrating the various stages of the spontaneous way in which flora takes back an environment abandoned by humans. Visitors will also skirt a patch of heath and learn about the particular plants that grow in the pools that form on the slabs of sandstone that make up the geology of Fontainebleau. These reservoirs of water are temporary: they are formed in the depressions of the rocks and dry up during the summer. Further on, visitors will come across a vineyard and its succession of bulbous specious (gagea, ornithogalum umbellatum, rare wild tulips, etc.) as they walk towards another pool with damp banks, a fragile environment rich in protected plants.
This garden is not open to the public. Please consult our diary to find out about the guided tours on offer (in French).
The rose and rock garden
Entirely dedicated to the queen of flowers, the rose garden has been grown elegantly and delicately around the galerie de Minéralogie (Mineralogy Gallery). Romantically inspired, visitors are invited to walk among 390 wild species and varieties of old and contemporary "botanical" roses.
Beauty and education
Whether they form dense shrubs or grow in sprays over the arches, whether they offer a single bloom each year or flower several times during the season, the roses of the Rose and Rock Garden exhibit all their diversity, and bring into the open the richness of the genus Rosa. Roses with simple flowers, double flowers, scented or odourless, climbers, tea hybrids, English style or bouquets... all your senses will be called into play by this symphony of colours and fragrances, with its magnificent climax in May and June.
The rose garden was designed and planted in 1990. The layout is based on the history of cultivation of the rose since ancient times. The central pathway, shaded by climbing roses, is surrounded by dense flower beds, through which visitors can discover all the colours and scents of several varieties with famous names, such as "Ferdinand Pichard", "Souvenir de la Malmaison", "Baron Girod de l'Ain", "France"…
Among the delicacy of the flowers, you'll see several rocks and stones providing a contrasting backdrop. These are the outdoor echo of the mineralogical collections housed in the building around which the rose garden grows. They show the huge diversity of the rock types found in France. The sandstone of Fontainebleau (Île-de-France) stands next to the talc of Luzenac (Pyrenees) and the gabbro of Queyras (Alps). Discover them all as you walk!
A scientific conservatory
For the pleasure of the senses and the cultivation of the spirit, a stroll in the rose garden allows our visitors to learn more about the various species of the genus Rosa offered for your delectation. The site is home to botanical species originally found in nature, to what are called the "old roses" (created before 1867) with their delicate fragrances and the "modern roses" (created after 1867), with their beautiful blooms. Among the varieties on display: Pimpinellifolia, Cinnamoneae, Gallicanae, Caninae, gallic roses, hundred-leaf, sparkling, damask, portland, alba, rugosa, noisettes, bourbons, hybrid tea roses…Every year, the gardeners in the rose garden provide free rose-pruning training to the public. What more enjoyable way could there be of learning about botanical science and horticulture?
At the top of the maze stands one of the oldest metal constructions in the world, the Gloriette de Buffon, a wrought iron gazebo, built by Edmé Verniquet, architect of the Grand Amphithéâtre (Grand Lecture Hall) of the Museum.
In the beginning...
The maze hill was one of the first lands acquired for the foundation of the Royal Garden of Medicinal Plants. Its dry soil favours a Mediterranean vegetation, such as cedars, pines, maples and yews, which is not exactly the natural Parisian vegetation... The reason is rather quirky. In fact, the hill was formed in the 14th century by an accumulation of rubbish and limestone rubble from the suburbs of the capital, making an all-but natural mound with very particular geological features! Initially covered with vines, the hill was topped with a kiosk in honour of Buffon by Edmé Verniquet in 1788. Predating the works of Victor Baltard by 60 years, and more than a century before the achievements of Gustave Eiffel, the Gloriette de Buffon is one of the oldest metal buildings in the world.
Its iron frame, of very high quality, was made in Buffon's own forges in Montbard. The structure once included superstructures and decorations in bronze, copper, lead and gold. A "solar gong" once sat at the top. It would ring every day at noon thanks to a hammer triggered by the breaking of a horsehair when it was burned through by the sun focussed by a magnifying glass.
Unfortunately, the combination of various metals transformed the structure into a multi-metallic battery, and many parts degraded rapidly due to electrolysis. Recently restored, the structure has regained its original appearance, with the exception of its solar gong.
A grave, a bust and a poem
Going back down from the maze you'll pass many remarkable trees, such as the Cretan maple (Acer sempervirens) brought back from the East by Tournefort in 1702, the chestnut-leaved oak (Quercus castaneifolia), and the highly poisonous European yew (Taxus baccata), at the origin of some of the most powerful anti-cancer medicines discovered in the 20th century. A little further on you'll find the tomb of Daubenton, the first director of the brand new museum when it opened in 1793. Finally, at the foot of the maze hill, the poem Nocturne, by Saint-John Perse, is engraved on three bronze sculptures... Can you find them all?
The iris and perennials garden
Ideal for strolling and letting your thoughts wander, the Jardin des iris et des plantes vivaces (Iris and Perennials Garden) is highly appreciated by lovers of floral painting.
Calm and sensuous
Brick bays and turfed pathways feature in this Dutch-style garden, located between the Paleontology and Botanical galleries. It was created in 1964. Originally constituted of an old collection of irises, it covers an area of 1,500 square metres. Modified in 1984, it was joined by large flower beds of perennials, coming to rest on rows of shrubs at the bottom.
This quiet garden, located away from most footfalls, gives the visitor a pleasant feeling of isolation and calm. While in a meditative frame of mind, you might like to contemplate the 450 species of perennials that unfold during your leisurely wander along the covered pathways and around the lush lawns.
Come back whenever you like — the perennials flower in all seasons! During the cold dark days most perennials disappear, but they don't die. Buried underground, their buds safe, they stay alive ready to reappear in an explosion of shapes, colours and scents the following spring.
Whichever way you go, your walk will always take you through the very centre of the garden. More than 100 varieties of iris grow in squares lined with bricks. The genus Iris has 120 species, but all the varieties found in the garden come from the selection and hybridisation of European or North African iris varieties. Their flowering season, in May, is an exceptional burst of colours ranging from blue and yellow to tawny hues, pink and carmine red. These sublime shades have attracted and inspired generations of artists... as well as gardeners looking for ideas to make their own flower beds as colourful as possible!