Today, the city of Bordeaux boasts not one, but two botanic gardens, and the joint endeavours share a history that stretches way back to ...

The botanic gardens of Bordeaux 1/2: Jardin Public

Today, the city of Bordeaux boasts not one, but two botanic gardens, and the joint endeavours share a history that stretches way back to the 17th century. Today, we are braving the rain to witness the older of the two structures, which lies in the grounds of the Jardin Public.

It is said that the city’s first gardens, initially known as “Jardin des Plantes” were founded in 1629 as a formal collection of indigenous plants cultivated for medicinal, aromatic or culinary purposes. The Jardin enjoyed a number of different locations throughout the city until 1856 when it moved into the Jardin Public, the extensive parc à l’anglaise in central Bordeaux. 

By this time, the city had of course become a major merchant navy hub, and homecoming ships were returning with tropical plants that had been recovered from the world over. The botanic garden gained momentum with the construction of large greenhouses, which remained there until 1931. The philosophy developed by the gardens throughout this heady period remains the same today: the structure seeks to conserve genetic diversity, protect species of plants, support scientific research, and to inform, educate and raise awareness among the general public.

The main entrance to the Jardin Public botanical gardens, complete with a rather impressive fishpond.
The Jardin Public botanic gardens are now home to around 3,000 types of indigenous and exotic plants, the latter from faraway lands such as China, Australia, Japan, Indonesia and Mexico. Although the gardens welcome less general public visitors that their more modern Right Bank counterpart, the structure remains an important research and resource centre for botanic scientists.

Deep in the heart of the gardens with, top left, the administrative building in the background.
The compact gardens are very much worth a meandering visit. While the rows of plants are neat and ordered, there’s a pleasing mix-and-match combination of greenery at ground level. However, for casual visitors such as myself, there’s a distinct lack of information panels, which means that for the most part you’re looking at a mass of plants while getting that frustrating feeling that you’re missing out on their potential significance.

Every now and then though there are interesting titbits of information, such as the plaque on a Chinese windmill palm stating that the palm, planted by the botanist Michel Charles Durieu de Maisonneuve in 1856, was the first of its type in Europe. The species now flourishes across the continent.

The modest scale of these historic gardens is in marked contrast to the Right Bank gardens, which we explore here in the next Invisible Bordeaux item…

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