This past March we had the wonderful opportunity to go to Paris! We’ve been there many times however this time was definitely different as we went with the bébé! When you’re sans bébé navigating through the Paris Metro, wandering through the cobblestone streets and feasting your eyes on the artwork of one or ALL the museums is a synch. With bébé, everything has become more complex, and think again about taking that stroller into the metro. This is reserved for the very brave (or foolish) souls out there. We were foolish… I mean brave…. but only once. Can I get an amen from all the baby-carrying mamas!?
Number one on the list for this trip was the Grandes Serres du Jardin des Plantes. And it did not disappoint. If you caught our feature on Amsterdam’s Hortus Botanicus (you can read it HERE), you know we love exploring botanical gardens and wandering through their marvelous collections of plants.
The Grandes Serres originally started to protect and preserve a collection of orangeries. These orange trees were housed in utility buildings and were off limits to the general public. It is only later that we see the appearance of the first greenhouses made of glass and wood; built for the chief purpose of conserving the botanical collections that naturalists would bring back from their explorative voyages outside of France.
In the early 19th Century, the concept of combining metal with glass was introduced to the construction of greenhouses. This allowed for stronger structures and better insulation for the varied temperatures that the plants needed. England spearheaded this innovation and architects, most notably Charles Rohault de Fleury, were sent to bring back this innovation to France. Between 1834 and 1836, Rohault de Fleury built two greenhouses: the Eastern Pavilion and the Western Pavilion (both would later be renamed). These two structures were the prototypes of modern greenhouses and significantly are the first greenhouses in the world of such large dimensions made of glass and metal.
The tropical greenhouse constructed in typical Art Deco style was built in the 1930s by Rene Berger. It is here that we started our visit and it was absolutely incredible. Our senses were captivated by the biodiversity we found there. Every step we took seemed filled with so many different varieties of plants: cascading banana leaves, gorgeous ferns, dangling orchids and a waterfall of monstera deliciosa (my favourite) just to name a few. It was a treat for our souls. They had built a structure at one end of the greenhouse that you could climb up inside to have a panoramic view. It was gorgeous, and of course gave me a chance to get up close and personal with their breath taking monsteras.
Monstera deliciosa is a type of flowering plant common to southern Mexico and Panama, but they have been introduced worldwide. I was always taken aback by their name: why monstera (a.k.a monstrous)? It refers to the sheer size that these beauties can grow to… over 9 meters in some cases! That may be indeed monstrous! They are a member of the Arum family Araceae with very impressive aerial root systems. What fascinates me the most is the fenestrate leaves—although each leaf is similar, they are each so unique with different perforations and lines.
From the tropical rainforest greenhouse, we ventured into the deserts and arid environments greenhouse – a complete change of atmosphere and certainly temperature. Their collection had cacti and succulents from all over the world: USA, Mexico, the Andes, South Africa, the Sahara and even Madagascar! I am always so intrigued how these plants have each a different way of conserving water, reproducing and their fascinating defense mechanisms for deterring predators.
From there you enter the greenhouse of New Caledonia which contains plants from… you guessed it, New Caledonia. New Caledonia is a French territory in the southwest Pacific Ocean about 1,210 km east of Australia. Discovered by the British navigator James Cook in 1774 it came into the hands of the French in 1853. What makes this collection so special is that it contains several plants that are actually quite ancient in origin and are ancestral to the genealogical tree of the plant kingdom. New Caledonia is only 19 058 km², but it is incredibly rich in more than 3000 species of fauna and flora that do not exist anywhere else in the world. In fact, 76% of plant species and 72% of known animal species are endemic. Amazing! The greenhouse presents this flora through five environments: the humid forest, the dry forest, the maquis, the savanna and the mangrove. You can see a brochure of this collection here.
Finally, you enter into the history of plants greenhouse where the evolution of plants is traced beginning from 430 million years ago. Here you see a wide variety of gorgeous ferns (another favourite of mine) including breathtaking tree ferns, as well as cycads, a Ginkgo Biloba, lianas and the tour ends with flowering plants.
Botanical Gardens aren’t just beautiful places where one can admire and marvel at the beauty of plants or learn about their history. In a world where we are losing so much biodiversity in the name progress and economic growth, these places become safe havens for our rarest flora. Many botanical gardens including the one in Paris and the Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam contain rare and endangered plants. They are “banks of plant biodiversity.” If these plants multiply, they are spread and shared between a network and community of botanical gardens. This becomes very important as botanical gardens are most notably places of research and of course knowledge dissemination to the wider public. Thus, it’s another place where we can learn the importance of taking care of our dear home. You don’t just learn about the plants themselves, but their part in a wider ecosystem including their relationships with the flora and fauna you would find in their natural and wild environment.
If you’re ever in Paris, the plant lover in you will find great joy in visiting the Grandes Serres du Jardin des Plantes. The greenhouses are just a small part of the Jardin de Plantes. They also have an Alpine Garden, Ecological Garden, Rose Garden, Peony Garden (next time we come in June!) and an Iris Garden, just to name a few. And if you come with others who aren’t so botanically inclined they have something for everyone: the Gallery on Evolution, the Gallery of Minerals and Geology, a zoo, the Museum of Man and special exhibitions.
I brought back a treasure trove of new material that I making my way through, so keep your eyes peeled for a new release of fine art prints.
Make sure to check out our web shop for beautiful fine art botanical prints to adorn any space you call your own. Let nature in with us!
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There are so many unique and beautiful gems in the city of Amsterdam. Taking a stroll through the Jordaan with its architectural delights and small bridges, having a picnic in the Vondelpark, taking in incredible art at the Rijks or the Van Gogh Museum (I mean, come on, a whole museum dedicated to Van Gogh?! Be still my heart!), grabbing fresh produce from the Biological Noordermarkt or savoring a fresh homemade-on-the-spot stroopwafel at the Albert Cuyp (I can just feel that warm gooey syrup running down my chin as I write this).
One of the crown jewels for me is the Hortus Botanicus, Amsterdam’s botanical garden. Nestled in the Plantages area of the city, a skip and hop away from the Artis, this sweet oasis has really captured my heart. About a year and a half ago we purchased a membership and we find ourselves there weekly. I am baffled how EVER SINGLE WEEK we discover something new. How that is possible is beyond comprehension, unless of course they sneak in new plants in the dead of night while no one is watching. Sometimes it’s a new shoot on one of our favourite plants that we discover, but more often than not, it’s a new plant that we had never even noticed before!
Like last week, we noticed for the first the gympie-gympie plant, a stinging tree native to Australia. It tends to have oval or heart-shaped leaves covered with stinging hairs. "Like being burned by hot acid and electrocuted at the same time," according to botanist Marina Hurley on what it feels like to come into contact with the gympie-gympie. Even if the leaves have been dried and put in storage for a century no less, the hairs are still lethal as found out by some unlucky researchers. How can something with such a cute name be so astoundingly lethal? And as a side note, can I just say how grateful I am that this plant is behind glass. For more about the gympie-gympie click here.
The Hortus is one of the oldest botanical gardens of the world. Established in 1638 by the city municipality, it’s primary function was to be an herb garden with medicinal plants for the Amsterdam doctors and pharmacists. This came about due to a plague epidemic that occurred between 1634-1637. The Hortus was able to amalgamate a vast array of exotic plants that were completely unknown to the whole of Europe. These striking plants had been brought to the Netherlands via traders working under the Dutch East India Company.
If you visit the Hortus today you’ll find over 6,000 different plants divided between an incredible three climate greenhouse, palm greenhouse, butterfly greenhouse and three marvelous outdoor gardens. It never ceases to amaze me how in every season, the Hortus, looks wildly different as the year transitions from spring to summer, summer to fall and then to winter.
Their collection boasts the Victoria water lily, a massive water lily that blooms in the summer months, a Wollemi pine (which until 1994 was only known from prehistoric fossils until a park ranger discovered a group of these growing in the Blue Mountains in Australia), cycads (one of which is a 350-year-old Eastern Cape giant cycad), and my favourite, a beautiful gingko biloba.
I couldn’t say which part of the gardens or greenhouses I love the most, but where I spend the most time in is in the three-climate greenhouse especially in the desert and the tropics portion—two opposite sides of the spectrum. This is where my love affair began with how light affects the way we perceive things, and the contrast between light and shadow. The weather in the Netherlands is so unpredictable and at a moment’s notice it can go from cloud to sun, to hail, to rain, to mist, and back to cloud. Especially clouds…we have an infinite supply of those here. Thus, the last 3 years have really been a study on light for me. And I relish all of its nuances in this beautiful place.
If you visit our shop, you’ll see some beautiful examples of some of the flora that you can find at the Hortus. From the tiniest succulents to the giant banana leaves towering and cascading overhead. The Hortus provides a feast for the senses. And in our shop, you’ll be able to bring some of that beauty right into your own home, with no watering or plant care required!
Amidst all the excitement, noise, culture, and thrill that Amsterdam offers, the Hortus is really an oasis of calm and respite. To us, it’s become a little slice of tranquility which we heartily enjoy. And the coffee’s good too! ;)