The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 3: European Gardens (500AD-1850)

Jardin des Plantes in Paris

Previous - Next

255. The Jardin des Plantes was founded by Louis XIII., in 1610, and finished in 1634; after, as La Brosse, the first director, remarks, �eighteen years of prosecution and six of culture.� The subsequent history and description of this garden, at different epochs, are given by Adanson, Jussieu, and Thouin. A plan of the Jardin des Plantes has been given by G. Thouin, in his Plans Raisonnes des Jardins, which contains not only the ichnography of the garden (fig. 68. 1 to 21), but in the margin are placed elevations (22 to 42) of the houses in which the living animals are kept, of the immense buildings in which the museum of natural history is contained (24), and of the hothouses (23), and entrance gates (32). The entrance to the garden is through a handsome iron railing, between lodges (1, and the elevation 32), opposite the Bridge of Austerlitz (42). On the left is the menagerie, commencing with the ferocious animals, in a long building, with wings and a fore court; and next in order is a number of small irregularly-shaped enclosures of pasture, covered by trees, each devoted to one genus of animals, and containing a building in the centre for their repose or shelter (2 and 3). Passing these we arrive at the dwelling-houses of the professors of natural history; and the large amphitheatre (4, and elevation 26), in which the lectures are given. Here is also the hothouse department (7, and elevation 23), with a sunk area in front, for pots and frames; a space called the seed-garden, for raising seeds, and for nursing them till they flower. Adjoining is an artificial mount, crowned with a kiosque (5), which overlooks not only the whole garden, but great part of Paris; it contains a sundial, which, by means of a lens, is contrived to discharge a cannon every day at noon. The museum of natural history is a large building at the upper end of the garden, exactly opposite the entrance (6, and elevation 24); it is separated by a handsome low wall and iron rails from the open garden, which consists of 36 plots, enclosed by lattice-work from the walks, which are at all times open to the public. These plots contain specimens of the mode of propagating all herbaceous vegetables, all trees and shrubs (8) � a department which is particularly rich in specimens of grafting and inarching (9); a large basin for aquatics, and aquatic birds and reptiles, situated at the bottom of an excavation more than ten feet below the level of the general surface of the garden (10): the sides of this excavation are planted with marsh trees and shrubs. The next divisions consist of florists' flowers, arranged according to their colours and times of flowering (11); medicinal plants (12); illustrations of the operations of agriculture on plants, as the different kinds of hedges, live fences, rows, &c. (13); all the sorts of fruit trees, vines, and fruit shrubs, which grow in the open air in France, with different modes of pruning and training them (14); all the sorts of vegetables used in rural economy throughout Europe, the more tender sorts, as the Convolvulus Batatas, being protected early in the season by glass (15). The general arrangement of all the plants grown in France, tender and hardy, occupies ten plots (16); the classification adopted is that of Jussieu. The tender species are brought from the hothouses in June, and plunged in their places in the beds, where they remain till September; the hardy tree and shrub kinds are kept dwarf by pruning, and brought into flower by ringing. The different sorts of annual plants and the mode of raising seeds of every kind, are displayed in a large plot (18). There is a general arboretum (17); one of winter or evergreen trees (19); of trees in perfection in autumn (20); of summer trees (21); and of spring trees. The principal buildings are the menagerie for ferocious animals (22); the conservatory (23); museum (24); lodge for East India deer (25); lecture-theatre (26); near which is situated the office of administration for the garden; retreat for buffaloes (27); stable for the E'quus tribe, with pigeon-house over (28); merino and other sheep-cots (29); cot for goats (30), for camels (31), for elephants (86), for foreign oxen (37). for red deer(39), for the dromedary (40), for packing plants (41), and for a public coffee and milk house, situated at the base of the mount (38). There is a restaurateur in the spring arboretum (21), also a number of other buildings of less note; and so complete is this establishment, that in some of the areas destined to show certain branches for culture, there are lodges containing specimens of all the implements in use in that branch. (Annales du Musee; Royer's Descriptive History of the Paris Garden.) In the office of administration, which is remarkably complete, is the botanical cabinet (fig. 69.), the state of which, in 1817, is thus described in the Horticultural Tour: �'In the staircase (a) is preserved a tall palm stem from South America, which had been naturally clasped in a very extraordinary way by some line or twining shrub, and evidently strangled by the deeply indented grasp of its invader. Professor Desfontaines's working-room (b) adjoins, and next, the working-room for the professor's assistants (c). Here a respectable looking female was now employed in fixing dried specimens of plants to sheets of white paper, after they had been arranged for that purpose by Professor Desfontaines. There is a room (d) appropriated to the keeping of the specimens of dried plants. They are contained in close presses, and so accurately and conveniently arranged, that the specimens composing any particular genus can be produced for examination the moment they are called for. Another (e) contains specimens of wood of very many species of trees, we believe of almost all that are figured in the quarto volume published by Sepp, of Amsterdam, and edited by Dr. Houttuyn, and of many unknown to these laborious Dutchmen. The samples are in general smoothed with the plane, the better to display the grain, and the extreme beauty of some kinds. A vase, nicely formed out of the stem of a date-palm, is a curious object: it is about a foot and a half in diameter, and somewhat more in height. A large apartment (f), extending the whole breadth of the building, contains the seeds and seed-vessels of plants, with specimens of vegetable products in general. In the same room several commodious presses and drawers are appropriated to the reception of the seeds saved in the garden from the more rare or tender plants, particularly those of only annual duration. We may add, that the great attention paid to this part of the business of the garden, the saving of seeds, and keeping them in the nicest order, received our unqualified approbation. A glazed frame, containing numerous skeletons of leaves and flowers, had a very pretty and unusual effect. Fronds of the great umbrella-palm of Ceylon (Corypha umbraculifera) decorate the ceilings of two of the rooms. ' (Hort. Tour, p. 353.) As a school of botany and vegetable culture, the Jardin des Plantes was made what it is by the late Professor Thouin, during the first years of the consulship. Speaking with reference only to what concerns plants and their culture, this garden is unquestionably the first establishment of the kind in Europe. We have in Britain several botanic gardens, but none maintained for the same objects as that of Paris. These objects are two: first, to collect useful or remarkable plants from every part of the world, and to distribute them to every part of France, and, as far as practicable, to every other country; and, secondly, to form a perpetual school of botany and vegetable culture. Plants are brought to the Paris garden from all countries, by an universal correspondence; by particular naturalists sent out at the expense of the nation; and by the general protection and favour of government to the objects of science and the pursuits of scientific men. Objects of natural history destined for the Paris garden, in whatever description of vessels they may arrive in a French port, pay no entrance duty; and they are mostly forwarded by government conveyances to Paris free of expense. Every warlike, exploring, or commercial expedition is accompanied by naturalists officially appointed, or voluntarily offering, to whom every facility is afforded in the objects of their pursuit. Plants received in Paris are propagated without loss of time, and distributed, in the first place, to all the botanic gardens of France, of which there is at least one in the capital of every department; next, seeds or plants are sent to such of the colonies as it is supposed may profit most by them; and, lastly, they are sent to foreign correspondents, in proportion to similar favours received, or returns expected. The departmental botanic gardens propagate with all rapidity the plants received from the central garden, and distribute them among the eminent proprietors and cultivators of the department. This, at all events, is remarkably good in theory. Botany is taught by the lectures, demonstrations, and herborisations of a professor, and illustrated by an exemplification of 124 orders of the Jussieuean system in living plants. A considerable number of these plants are necessarily exotic, and are kept under glass during winter; but, in May, before the demonstrations begin, they are brought out in the pots, and sunk in the earth in their proper places in the systematic arrangement, with their names, and the names of the orders to which they belong, placed beside them. The plants are named on different coloured labels: red indicating the plants used in medicine; green, those used as food; blue, those employed in the arts; yellow, ornamental plants; and black, poisonous plants. The cultivation of vegetables, and all the different operations of agriculture and gardening, are taught by another professor, with assistants, and exemplified by different compartments in the garden. For instance, there is one compartment in which all the different operations on plants, and on the soil, are exemplified, from the different modes of preparing the soil for sowing or planting, through all the species and varieties of propagation, training, and pruning, even to hedge-growing and fence-making: another compartment contains all the plants of field culture; another all the medicinal plants; another all the principal timber trees; another, as far as practicable, all the fruit trees. Specimens of the different implements are kept in one building, and of the different soils, manures, and composts in an appropriate enclosure; and so on. The essence of the lectures, accompanied by figures of such of the implements and operations as admit of representation by lines, will be found in Thouin's Cours de Culture et de Naturalisation des Vegetaux, by his nephew, Oscar Leclerc, 3 vols. 8vo, with one quarto volume of plates; and a complete description of the garden is given in the well-known work of Royer. In 1840, a new and magnificent range of hothouses was erected, and the whole of the gardens were greatly enlarged and improved. These gardens were seriously injured by the insurgents during the civil war of June, 1848; as the rebels had possession of the gardens for some days, when they cut and burnt many of the rare trees for fuel.