Sunday, August 12, 2018

Jardin des Plantes and Boulevard Saint Germain

August 12, 2018 -- The Jardin des Plantes is a wonderland.  Small white butterflies and round, fuzzy bees went about their work as we walked and watched, bedazzled as if we were in a Walt Disney movie.  Flowers of a thousand varieties were happily packed tightly in their formal beds, exuding color and enthusiasm for the beauty of the day. 

The Jardin des Plantes.

I have come to adore traditional French gardens, and that is what predominates the long, wide central swath of the Jardin des Plantes.   The appropriately imposing Museum of Natural History anchors the southern terminus of these formal gardens.

Off to one side are other, more English style gardens, with mature trees and meandering paths.  There is also a maze, a folly, the old zoo, and a couple of grand greenhouses.  Off to the other side is more museum.

The giants of botany and natural history are celebrated here:  Buffon, Lamarck, Linneus, Cuvier, Jussieu, and more.

This wondrous park began as the king's medicinal garden, in the 1600s.  After the Revolution, it was no longer the Royal Garden; it was renamed the Jardin des Plantes, and to this day, it is the main national botanical garden for France.

The walk through the formal gardens is the highlight of the summer for me.  That's how much I love that place.

Hôtel de Charme for Wild Bees and other Insects

After we'd soaked it in, we turned off to the right and were entertained by more insect promotion.  The Jardin here has a "hôtel de charme" (charming hotel) for insects; much more elaborate than the "gites" (bed-and-breakfasts) for bugs that we saw the day before, across the river in the 12th arrondissement. The gardeners of the 12th and the 5th must be in some sort of friendly competition when it comes to bug accommodations.

Along with plaques explaining the purpose of the bug hotel were several plaques about bees, all in French.  Some of the information is translated below:

In France, there are 900 species of wild bees.  These play an important role in the pollinization  of wild and cultivated plants, and that's why it is important to let them have places for reproduction.

The pollinating insects are the source of a real ecological service that is threatened today by urbanization, the intensification of agriculture, and climate change that disturbs their populations.

If the sign of this threat is the decline of the honey bee, what about the more common wild species that provide a large part of this service?

This hotel is for wild bees and other pollinating insects.  The compartments have been constructed to reproduce different habitats that are becoming more rare in urban areas and, as well, favor the installation of foraging species that are looking for a place to make their nests.

All the wild bees are welcome in the hotel!

  • The rubicultural bees [bumble bees?] look for stems of plants filled with marrow sufficiently tender so that they can easily dig their nests to the dimensions that suit them.
  • The carpenter bees that use dead wood and dig into it (branches, dead sticks)
  • The "tapissiere" bees that nest in cavities such as in wood perforated by other insects like beetles, or in rock fissures.  The females of some species cover their nests with plant fibres or cut small rounds in leaves.

Do wild bees sting?

Contrary to wasps and bees raised in hives for collecting honey, the solitary bees never attack.  They only sting if we grab them, and then only the females sting because the males don't have a stinger.  Observe them in serenity.

Many bees were flying around in the Jardin des Plantes, and so they were often in our faces.  Nice to know that there is no need to worry.

When it was lunchtime, I reserved a table with the TheFork (lafourchette) app at Les Trois Carafes (3 rue Linné), a place just across from the southwestern entrance to the botanical garden.  We discovered this place years ago when it was new, and I gave the restaurant one of its first positive reviews. 

Roasted duckling filet with potatoes salardaise.

Yesterday, we .discovered that it is still just as good as it was then.  I ordered the daily special: a roasted duckling filet in a honey-based sauce with potatoes sautéed in duck fat.  A separate little pot of green beans and snow peas completed the course.  Tom had a beef filet on a "nest" of shredded potatoes and some julienned raw veggies.  For dessert, we shared a pistachio-infused creme brulée.  We sat outside, across from a large fountain featuring alligators and the massive gate to the gardens.  It is hard to imagine a more delightful lunch. 

After lunch, we walked up to the environs of the Arab Institute to begin our planned walk down the boulevard Saint Germain.  Even on a Saturday, the boulevard was a busy place.  We made it as far as Mabillon, and then opted to take the metro home. 

After a light dinner in the evening, we walked up to see the Eiffel Tower twinkle at 10PM -- a magical way to end a lovely day.

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