May 19, 2018

Laurent Ballot looked every bit a cliché–Frenchman with stylistic tweed coat and a bit of understated charm! A botanist to lead us through National D’Histoire Naturale and the Jardens which were created 400 years ago. Famous folks of natural history have contributed here–Sebastian Vidal y Soler, a famous Spanish forester and botanist (specialty–woody plants, specimen collections), Director of Botanical Gardens of Manila in 1878 and Jean Baptiste Lamarck, both studied and contributed there. In fact, my taxonomist husband, Ernie who has a great affinity for systematic classification thought Ballot had in-depth classification knowledge of taxonomy by the manner in which he imparted information.

In the 18th century, the gardens became a museum of natural history. They now encompass 23 hectares. Purposes are to research plants and textiles and teach medicinal plant knowledge. The collection houses the largest herbarium in France.


Lament escorted us to the exquisite Iris Garden. It was like being led into a beautiful dance hall of flowing colors as the irises paraded in the fresh breezy air. Consisting of twenty square planting areas, each square containing twelve varieties of irises. Laurent instructed that flowering cycles were short.

Gardeners divide the precious irises every two years and regulations forbid any changes to be made. The species may only be used for research and as heirloom plants, they are revered. Caveux is the foremost breeder of irises in France, we are told.

Next Laurent took us through an ecological teaching yard which dated to 1932. The eco-forest was closed from 1965 to 2005 without maintenance. Voila, in 2005, the director wanted a hands-on study for students and the public. He unfolded areas; the first were  remarkable trees (American, Asian, etc.) and cereal plants. Nostalgic for many, Laurent shared the emotion plants can evoke. Visitors saw crop plantings that they remembered seeing as young children decades earlier.

Other areas developed were: bud and insect, sandstone plateau, and grazing crops. For example research on what to grow in the middle or open areas under the cover of trees has been investigated.

Laurent explained that hedges are popular in France so research was done on demarcations including woven branches. An aromatic section featured intricate bee houses, and an insect hotel which provided laboratories for study. Bands for trapping caterpillars were shown on the trees. Dry plants and tree groups for forests made up other sites. At the 100-year-old Ginkgo tree, Ernie asked if it was male or female, and Laurent answered it was female. Female trees are not used in landscaping because of their odorous fruit. Landscaping ginkgos are created by grafting from the male trees. Fields devoted to acid plants and aquatic plants were also in place.

Many students in the landscape school come for training on how to keep landscape space in a city. Much work is being done on urban gardens. They employ forty gardeners. In the greenhouses and natural museum, we saw innovative displays of botany classification and exhibits by sections of the world set up as teaching labs.

            When you go into this space, you will forget you are in Paris, said Laurent.

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