If you want to escape from the buzzing city life, you can go to the lush haven of serenity that is Le Jardin des Plantes de Montpellier. This park, founded in the 16th century by the order of King Henri IV, is the oldest botanical garden in France. Nearly 5 hectares of greenery and flowers are the centuries-old heritage of Montpellier’s Faculty of Medicine and still play an important role in the university’s research. However, you can also just go there to soak up nature without being a researcher.
Most of the times when I visit Montpellier, I don’t take the time to languidly linger in the Jardin des Plantes. This time, though, the lush park was the reason for my visit. Although the garden is attached to the university and classified as a historical monument, it is open to the public. I arrived around noon, together with some ‘Montpelliérains’ who decided to have a picnic in the shades of the trees. What a great way to combine science with pleasure.
Pierre Richer de Belleval
Pierre Richer de Belleval, a french botanist and personal physician to Henri IV, created Le Jardin des Plantes in 1593. Because of its close link to the university, the garden hosted a large collection of medicinal plants. However, being a botanist as well, Richer de Belleval also set up the garden to understand more about the diversity of floral life. Over the centuries, Le Jardin des Plantes has developed into the beautiful botanical garden it is today. And it still attracts researchers from all over the world.
Nowadays, the garden is divided into several parts. Opposite the entrance, you will find the ‘Montagne de Richer’, or Richer’s mountain. I thought this was a good place to start my visit. Going up the stairs will bring you to a romantic alley surrounded by trees. Here, you will also find the ‘wishing tree’, which, with its 400 years, is the oldest tree in the park. People entrust their deepest wishes to the tree by writing on a small piece of paper and hiding it in the twists of the tree. Via the lane with immense cypresses, I went to the part with the Orangerie and La Noria, an old well.
Going back to the Montagne de Richer, I then explored the other part of the garden. As I walked through what I thought was only a forest, the sight of the ‘Lac aux Nélumbos’ with its flowering water lilies was like entering a fairyland. This part, added in the 19th century, is called the ‘Jardin Anglais’. It includes an astronomy observatory, only used for spectroscopic studies, and a greenhouse, hosting succulents and cactuses. Strolling back via the bamboo forest made me realise the importance of gardens like this. Not only for the study and conservation of plants but also for human well-being.