There’s something indescribably peaceful about being in a garden.
Perhaps it the extra oxygen, perhaps it’s the vibrant colors, or perhaps it’s something more primal – a sense of getting back to nature. But, on a recent cold March morning, all I wanted was to be reminded of spring. To know that following behind the bland, gray sky would soon be bursts of blue and on the dull, brown ground would soon be patches of green.
I headed, with a small group of people, into the 16th arrondissement, just across from the Bois de Boulogne, into the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil. This garden, originally created by Louis XV for his sons to enjoy, near the aptly named Parc des Princes, houses flowers and plants of all types, as well as sculptures by Auguste Rodin and Jules Dalou.
We headed past the outdoor Mediterranean and French gardens, and into one of the greenhouses. Offering a break from the cold, these greenhouses were built in 1898, as part of the garden’s metamorphosis into a botanic garden. Designed to supply flowers and plants to Paris’ many parks and government offices, these magnificent greenhouses feature elaborate cooling and watering systems that are still in use today.
With so many flowers and plants to explore, an unexpected highlight for me was the cactus. You probably know that a cactus has thorns to keep predators from stealing its water, but did you know that many of them also have hair, which is much, much harder to extract yourself from? I also learned that the reason so many cacti have a star-like shape when examined in cross-section is so that it can always cast shade on itself.
Since Paris just gets larger and larger, this small botanic garden is no longer equipped to produce all the necessary plants to keep the gardens and government offices full, so production was moved elsewhere. By 1968, our botanic garden was repurposed as a repository for specimens of all types of species and varieties. Collections, if you will.
Today, the Jardin de Serres d’Auteuil showcases 6,000 plants, grouped together by region, like West Africa and New Caledonia, or by type, like azalea and orchid. The grounds and the greenhouses are free and open to the public year-round.
When the weather is warmer, there is plenty of room for outdoor picnicking, as well as two more outdoor gardens, Japanese and English. In the colder months, you can find tables inside the largest greenhouse for those who want to sit a while. You can also find birds and fish and turtles.
But here is where I must tell you the bad news.
Last month, the committee behind the French Open, the French Tennis Federation, decided to expand the Roland Garros Stadium. Their controversial decision? To expand into the Serres d’Auteuil.
The historic greenhouses will remain intact, but instead of plants, they will now house equipment. The large courtyard will be converted into a 5,000-seat tennis court. To lovers of this elegant botanic garden, this is scandalous. Petitions were signed by over 35,000 people, but the final decision has been made.
Construction will be completed by 2016, so be sure to visit while you can..
Open 7 days a week.
Winter hours: 10:00 – 5:00
Summer hours: 10:00 – 6:00
Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil
Image credits: #1 & # 3 Jennifer Fox Geraghty, #2 www.aujardin.info
3 Avenue de la Porte d’Auteuil