This place should be beautiful. The Jardin Naturel is intended to be a quiet oasis of biodiversity in the harsh urban world. The flowery meadow is left uncut, trees are left to grow in their natural form and to self-seed freely, frogs, toads and newts are undisturbed in the pond. Three guidebooks and half a dozen different websites told me about the peace and tranquility of this garden. It sounds the perfect place for a stroll on a sunny day.
The Jardin Naturel was created in 1995 on a waste ground site, just next to Père Lachaise cemetery in the 20th arrondissement. It was planted with species native to the Île de France region that might have arrived there spontaneously. Illustrated information boards were installed to describe the different habitats – meadow, woodland, pond and undergrowth. Then the garden was left to its own devices.
There are good things about this place – a colourful mix of wildflowers among the meadow grasses, dunnocks in the undergrowth, blackbirds in the trees – but the pond is overshadowed by the trees growing densely around it, the paths are unswept and the information notices are getting tatty. I guess this garden was at its best about ten years after it was created, when the introduced wild flowers had settled in but the dominant plants had not yet started to take over. Now the place feels uncared for and the shadier dead ends are distinctly unwelcoming, at least to this human visitor.
In a way the Jardin Naturel has become outdated. In 1995 the idea of making space for wildlife in the city was imaginative and innovative. Twenty years on, promoting biodiversity is an integral part of the management of most Paris green space. In a densely populated city, parks and gardens need good management as habitats for human beings but places that are good for humans can be good for wildlife too. Nature doesn’t have to be relegated to its own garden any more.