le jardin des plantes–did you start your garden before 1635?
“Cela est bien, repondit Candide, mais il faut cultiver notre jardin.” ― Voltaire, “Candide”
“Big? You think that’s big? You know what’s big? Well, let me tell you!”
Le Louvre Musée is big. La Tour Eiffel is big. Sacre Coeur is enormous. Le Jardin du Luxembourg is gigantic. Le Musee d’Orsay is immense. (I am using a Roget’s Thesaurus now.) Le Grand Palais des Champs-Élysées is gargantuan.
Le Jardin des Plantes is . . . well . . . “of considerable or relatively great size.” Words seem to minimize, do not do justice to, the scale of the garden. Acreage does not really address its size: it is instead the extra-ordinary number of plants and species, all diverse, representing not only France but other areas of the world.
If you enter from the main entrance (recommended) at Place Valhubert, where Quai Saint-Bernard and Boulevard de l’Hôpital converge, you see the large exterior of the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution in the distance. Between you and that Grande Galerie is planted a vast garden.
The Jardin des Plantes has also four museums: the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution, the Mineralogy Museum, the Paleontology Museum, and the Entomology Museum; a small zoo, the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes; and a botanical school.
What drew me during my last visit, however, were the Mexican and Australian hothouses. These magnificent glass-and-metal Grandes Serres have been in use since 1714.
Basically, one explores two separate hothouses. After visiting the first, one exits with ticket in hand and walks to the next hothouse and scans the ticket to enter.
Henri Rousseau, the French Post-Impressionist painter, who depicted jungle scenes, even though he never left France or saw a jungle, was a frequent visiter to the hothouses. To the critic Arsène Alexandre, he said, “When I go into the glass houses and I see the strange plants of exotic lands, it seems to me that I enter into a dream.” (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)
Let’s step inside and look around. On first entering one is immediately overwhelmed by the enveloping heat and humidity. Everywhere one is confronted by a thick sheer wall of green living breathing vegetation. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)
If I showed weakness, I thought I might be consumed without hesitation. Except for turning around and leaving, only one way is allowed–forward.
I stood there. Did I know the laws of the jungle? I remembered reading “Tarzan of the Apes.” (I suppressed a call.) I recalled “Heart of Darkness” and the scene of the boat going up river in “Apocalypse Now” and then the music from “Die Walküre” played in my head.
As I walked through, I stopped occasionally and looked up. I could see the jungle ceiling, the foliage but also the glass and metal that encased the hothouse. Sometimes the air would fill with mist and float down. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)
Plants plants everywhere and not a leaf to eat.
Green and its infinitesimal vitality of shades: if only knowledge and wisdom and judiciousness drew breath in them and I could pluck a green-of-the green leaf and take it with me.