Trip around Jardin des plantes: Part I

We twice visited the Jardin des plantes. On arrival in Paris to see the illuminations that evening and then on the following morning when we began our perambulations in the garden. Winter’s generally not the best time to visit a garden but there was so much more……….

The Jardin des plantes de Paris is the main botanical garden in France. The term is in fact a short form of Jardin royal des plantes médicinales which is related to the original purpose of the garden back in 17th century.

Headquarters of the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, the Jardin des plantes is situated in the 5th arrondissement on the left bank of the river Seine covering some 28 hectares. Since March 1993, the entire garden, its buildings, archives, libraries, greenhouses, ménagerie, works of art and specimens’ collection have been classified as a national historical landmark.

How it all began

The garden was formally founded in 1635 as the Royal Garden of Medicinal Plants following an edict of King Louis XIII. The garden was put under the authority of the Physician of the king, Guy de la Brosse. It was staffed by a group of demonstrateurs, who lectured visitors, particularly future physicians and pharmacists, on botany, chemistry and geology, illustrated by the garden collections.

Le jardin botanique du roi Louis XIII - Histoire analysée en images et œuvres d'art |

In 1673, under Louis XIV, and his new royal physician and director of the Garden, Guy-Crescent Fagon, great-nephew of Guy de la Brosse, the garden was given a new amphitheater, where dissections and other medical courses were conducted.

In the early 18th century, the chateau was given an additional floor to house the royal botanists’ medicinal plant collection. This section was gradually turned into galleries to display the royal collection of minerals. At the same time, the greenhouses on the west and south were enlarged, to hold the plants brought back to France by numerous scientific expeditions around the world. New plants were studied, dried and catalogued. A group of artists made Herbiers, books with detailed illustrations of each new plant, and the plants of the collection were carefully studied for their possible medical or culinary uses. 

The most celebrated head of the garden was Georges-Louis Leclerc, who served from 1739 until his death in 1788. Buffon was responsible for doubling the size of the garden, expanding it down to the banks of Seine. He enlarged the Cabinet of Natural History in the main building, and added a new gallery to the south. He also brought into the scientific community of the garden a team of important botanists and naturalists, including Jean Baptiste Lamarck, author of one of the earliest theories of Evolution.

Under the sponsorship of Buffon, explorers and botanists were sent to different corners of the world to collect specimens for the garden and museum. They returned with shiploads of specimens, which were carefully studied and classified. 

In June 1793, during the French Revolution, the new government, the National Convention, ordered a complete transformation of the former royal institutions. They joined the Royal Garden of Plants and the Cabinet of Natural Sciences together into a single organisation: the Museum of Natural History.

The Museum and gardens also benefited from the 1798 expedition launched by First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte to Egypt. The military force was accompanied by one hundred and fifty-four botanists, astronomers, archeologists, chemists, artists and other scholars. Drawings and paintings of their findings are found in the collections of the Natural History Museum.

L'histoire du Jardin des Plantes | Galeries, Jardins, Zoo - Jardin des Plantes

The major addition to the garden in the late 18th century was the Ménagerie (zoo) du Jardin des plantes. It was proposed in 1792 by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, the head of the gardens, to rescue the animals of the royal menagerie at the Palace of Versailles, which had been largely abandoned during the Revolution.  In 1795, the government acquired the Hôtel de Magné, the large estate of a French nobleman next to the gardens, and installed the large cages that had housed the animals at Versailles. 

On 25th of August 1944, Allied American troops (2nd DB) were stationed here for the night after the Liberation of Paris from Nazi Germany.

The appearance of the gardens changed in late 19th and early 20th century with the construction of new buildings. In 1877, the gallery of zoology, the landmark building that overlooks the formal garden, designed by Jules André, was begun. It was built to contain the immense zoological collections of the museum; the central hall is a landmark of iron construction, comparable to the Grand Palais and the Musée d’Orsay. It was inaugurated in 1888, but thereafter suffered from a long lack of maintenance. It was closed in 1965.

In the 1980s, a new home was found for the museum’s gigantic collections. The Zoothêque, was constructed between 1980 and 1986 underneath the Esplanade Milne-Edwards, directly in front of the Gallery of Zoology. It is accessible only to researchers, and contains the thirty million specimens of insects, five hundred thousand fish and reptiles, one hundred fifty thousand birds, and seven thousand other animals. The building above underwent a major renovation from 1991 to 1994, to house the updated Grand Gallery of Evolution.

See what I mean! Look out for Part II tomorrow.

23 Comments on “Trip around Jardin des plantes: Part I

    • Next time Lyssy. It’s just not possible to see everything in Paris in a week. I’ve been coming here for years, since I was 15, and I’ve still not seen everything.


  1. I love visiting botanical gardens whenever I can! This one is beautiful, even in winter. OK, I’ve checked the box to be notified of your posts so hopefully this works!


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another beautiful tour of a wonderful place! I just love visiting gardens and I love gardening too, almost as much as photography. Thanks for letting me come along Sheree!😊📷😺🌞

    Liked by 1 person

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