Beaux Arts Magazine recently devoted an entire issue to “Seeing Art Differently”. Alerted to the headline, I snatched it off the shelf only to discover that by differently they meant in places other than a museum. The glossy pages highlighted works of art out in the open from classical and modern sculptures to contemporary installations and provocative street art. Differently in this case was a faux amie: words that we believe to mean one thing when they actually mean another. In Frog & Ted it means not the same way as everyone else, more specifically, with one’s unique abilities and yes, challenges too. Nonetheless, the article was a welcome reminder that the outdoors provide an ideal opportunity to approach art and culture without the formal structure of a museum. The informal setting on the streets of Paris, the bridges across the Seine, the numerous parks and gardens make art accessible in every sense of the word. Le Jardin des Plantes, the first botanical garden in Paris, is a lovely example of this any time of the year. Even moreso during F.I.A.C., the International Contemporary Art Fair, when it becomes a setting for temporary installations by emerging and renowned artists.
Like many parents, we took our children to parks long before we started taking them to museums. A typical aspect of French culture is the multiple course Sunday meal en famille followed by the afternoon stroll outdoors as depicted in Georges Seurat’s famous painting. Again, the formal in contrast to the informal : the promenade permits the children to run and play while everyone takes in fresh air and sunshine, providing relief from the strict rules of table manners. In my son’s case, the structured meal is reassuring because it is predictable. After the main dish comes the cheese platter then dessert, finishing with le promenade as a soothing transition before going home. Similarly, since most museums in France have adjacent gardens, the relaxed atmosphere of the latter provides a natural transition to the stricter rules of the former.
Jardin des Plantes and Muséum National D’Histoire Naturelle
Originally created by Louis the Thirteenth’s doctor to cultivate medicinal herbs for the royal court, the Jardin des Plantes became the first Parisian garden open to the public in 1640. After the revolution, in 1793, it became the National Museum of Natural History. Over the last four centuries it has grown considerably to its present situation shown in the plan (click to enlarge) on the left. There are four galleries, the subject of another article, in separate buildings lining the garden, a botanical school, greenhouses, a small zoo called the Menagerie, and the Hotel de Magny where one can learn the history of the Muséum National D’Histoire Naturelle. The botanical school’s garden, rose garden, alpine garden, and the labyrinth are just a few of the smaller gardens that make up the vast Jardin des Plantes which always feels like an oasis of calm in the bustling capital.The long allés create a magnificant perspective while benches provide frequent possibilities to stop for a rest and literally smell the roses! During the season: scenery and smells are continually evolving while familiar surroundings remain constant.The ground is not gravel, so its easier for wheelchairs to circulate. All amenities in the Jardin des Plantes are free for people with disabilities and one companion. The National Museum of Natural History strives to make the first garden open to the public inclusive and accessible to all. It seems Dr. Buffon planted the seeds only not to concoct cures for the ailing aristocracy but to grow to a haven that has a therapeutic effect on so many beyond it gates.
Practical information and images of the Jardin des Plantes
The Jardin des Plantes is located in the 5th arrondissment of Paris. The main entrance is Place Valhubert where you will also find an information kiosk. There are three other entrances at 57 rue Cuvier, 2 rue Buffon and 36 rue Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire. It is open all year but the winter hours are shorter and inclement weather could cause unexpected closing so always check the website (in French) or call 01 40 79 56 01. While the website is not in English, I highly recommend it to visually prepare your visit. There are videos to music (no words) and the photographs are beautiful. Click on the logo. General information for people with various disabilities can be obtained by email to email@example.com and on the page GlobetrotTED
Restrooms: There is an accessible public toilet in the garden near the zoo entrance. It is also possible to use the restrooms in the Grand Gallery of Evolution and the Botanical Gallery without having to purchase a ticket.
Food and Beverage: Several kiosks throughout the garden sell sandwiches, snacks, drinks and there are ample picnic tables and chairs available even if you bring your own food. This is a plus for those on a special diet. Only one area, next to the greenhouse, allows picnicking on the grass. The café inside the Grand Gallery, with a scenic view from the upper level, and another near the Cuvier entrance, with indoor and outdoor seating, are the two restaurants on the grounds. There are many places nearby, my personal favorite being the courtyard of the Grand Mosque for a refreshing mint tea or couscous.
Bus : Lines 24, 57, 61, 63, 67, 89 et 91
Batobus : Jardin des Plantes stop on the Seine River
Metro : Austerlitz (line 5,10,or RER C), Censier Daubenton (line 7), Jussieu (line 10)
SNCF train station: Gare d’Austerlitz and Gare de Lyon
Which option is best suited to your needs? Checkout GlobetrotTED under infomobi!
Car : There is no parking on the grounds but the website lists 3 parking garages nearby. Groups in an accessible van may request special permission to park within the complex by writing at least 48 hours in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org