In contrast to the rather gloomy Jardin Naturel, Père Lachaise cemetery feels a paradoxically lively place. The noise of surrounding streets is muffled behind stone walls and masked by the sound of the wind in the trees. The main entrance is busy with mourners arriving for a funeral and tourists consulting their maps but away from the central driveway visitors, strolling or sitting quietly, are thinly scattered. Shady avenues lead to sunny clearings. Steps wind up the hillside between flowering shrubs. Coal tits forage in the tree tops and a blackcap sings from the undergrowth. Bees buzz in sedum flowers spilling out of a stone urn.
The steep banks of shrubs, avenues of trees and crumbling stone monuments mean that Père Lachaise must long have been a diverse wildlife habitat, but it is only in the last five years that the 45 hectare site has been specifically managed to enhance biodiversity. Now no herbicides are used and the maintenance staff are encouraged to weed selectively, leaving self sown wildflowers, garden plants and even tree seedlings where they are doing no damage. Families can still choose to maintain graves themselves or pay others to do so. Some tombs are polished marble slabs untouched by moss or bright gardens of pot plants, but through much of the cemetery a varied mix of wild and cultivated plants sprouts in the stony edges of the well swept pathways, or in the crevices of mossy tombs.