Botanical Excursion to the South-West of France


Part 3: This is a documentation of gardens, parks, and other plantings in public spaces that I encountered on the bike ride from Bordeaux to Hondarribia.


(In Part 1 I describe the landscapes of the region I traveled, types of vegetation and some typical plants, in Part 2 I focus on the coastal vegetation.)


(all photos available in a larger scale by clicking on them)


My journey on bicycle went from Bordeaux via Arcachon and Bayonne to Hondarribia in Spain, just over the border.   Bordeaux is a very beautiful city with an abundance of impressive architecture and art work. And although the streets are generally narrow and there is not a lot of green between the houses, the many charming plazas and street cafes enrich the city in their own way.
Houses in Bordeaux do not often have flower displays, such as Geraniums in window boxes that are so frequently seen in Germany, but occasionally one can find some creative plant displays, such as these 'Heavenly Blue' Morning Glories greening up a balcony (seen from below).   However, artistically designed railings, often containing botanical patterns, are very abundant and a gem of the city.



I found two parks in Bordeaux that I needed to investigate - the older 'Jardin Publique' (Public Garden) and the more recently created 'Jardin Botanique' (Botanical Garden).

The 'Jardin Publique' of Bordeaux was inspired by humanistic ideals and was supposed to serve the public of Bordeaux as "a place of recreation and to stay healthy". It was originally created in the French style by the architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel around 1750, but one hundred years later, this 25-acres park was redesigned, according to the taste of the time, as an English Garden.

 A number of greenhouses were once connected to a centrally located building, which today is the dominant architectural element of this park and reflects beautifully in a wide pond (top left). The back side is overgrown with Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) 

Located within the public garden are charming terraces with sculptures, flower beds and a cafe. The building in the background, created in 1781, is the Museum of Natural History.  

The great charm of the 'Jardin Publique' lies in its age, and as a consequence in the maturity of it's plants.

Many of the trees are hundreds of years old. The old Swamp Cypresses (Taxodium) have developed 'knees' - woody knobs protruding from the ground on the edge of the water.   This is one of the largest Stone Pines (Pinus pinea) I saw in my life time. Since older specimen often display a distinctive umbrella shape, it is also often called Umbrella pine (not to be confused with Japanese Umbrella Pine). This tree provides edible pine nuts. Unfortunately, this beautiful tree is threatened in many parts of it's native range around the Mediterranean by a bug that was accidentally introduced from North America and which destroys the seeds.

Magnolia grandiflora, the Southern Magnolia native to the south-eastern United States, is a spectacular evergreen tree. The thick, shiny foliage. large fragrant white flowers and unusual fruit caught the attention of European gardeners in the early 17-hundreds, when it was first introduced to England and France. The specimen in the 'Jardin Publique' might be around 150 years old.

Be blinded by the beautiful blue border bearing bright blue Petunias in this public park.   The 'green sculpture' is an annually changing creation near one of the entrances of the 'Jardin Publique' - this year it is a flower basket.
The other large park, the 'Jardin Botanique' of Bordeaux, is entirely a modern creation. It can be seen that there was the good intention to educate the visitor about native plants as well as garden and farm crops of all sort, which were displayed in small fields and garden plots. However, many beds were poorly maintained and in some cases the weeds had all but overgrown the farm crops.   This leaf of a sunflower has severe symptoms of nutrient deficiency (chlorosis). Many of the vegetables and farm crops grown in this botanical garden had deficiency symptoms to some degree. Why not apply some broad-range organic fertilizer and check the pH-value?
Even though the labels were rather simple, all garden plots had descriptions of the plants and their uses.   I took a photo of this label because I was convinced it had to be wrong, since foliage and bark were so perfectly typical for Eucalyptus and very little like an Acacia, of which I had known many species in the West-African Sahel. But after some internet research I had to admit that my instinct had been mislead, and the Australian species named here is indeed an Acacia. I wonder now if there is such a thing as 'mimicry' among plants!
A large pond within the Jardin Botanique contains a respectable collection of water lilies and many other water-garden plants. Seen here is waterlily 'Apache'   I was surprised to find a small rice field in this park. Most people in Europe know rice fields only from pictures.
And I was delighted to find Sesame plants, which I grew in my garden in Niger, almost 30 years ago. This plant can take the hottest climate with ease.   I was a bit critical of the state in which I found this park which has such great potential, but my high expectations were based on visits to highly funded parks serving as tourist attractions. Looking back at this visit, I have to give this garden great credit for being open to the public at no cost, and to provide a great atmosphere for relaxation that many other botanical gardens I know fail to offer. I would describe this park as a mix between a botanical garden and a city park. Due to the design which consists to a large part of many small fields and garden plots, reminiscent of backyard garden plots, and interrupted by occasional trees and benches, there is an almost homely atmosphere in this garden. It does not overwhelm, and invites as much to lie down and dream as it invites to observe and learn about a large variety of plants.
Umbrella Pines and Tamarisks are favorites in public spaces, such as here in Arcachon, a busy vacation resort on the Ocean.   The Acacia-like, charming Albizia julibrissin is quite common in public spaces as well as in home gardens.
Oleander, a poisonous evergreen shrub with beautiful flowers, is found in many ornamental plantings. It easily survives the mild coastal winters of the region.   Sycamore is one of the most common street trees. The wide open crown casts a pleasant shade of olive-green tinted light, and the mottled bark adds to the magic. Children see maps of undiscovered lands in the pattern of the bark.
Agapanthus impresses with blue flowers and bold foliage   Landscaping enterprises frequently offer specimen trees such as these mature olive trees for sale.
Palm trees belong into every upscale planting, and rightly so - what stately appearance and exotic atmosphere they radiate!   The city of Bayonne greets arriving visitors with a display in shades of yellow, which we appreciated greatly. Of course we were on bicycles - those rushing by in a car will barely see it.
Quite often we passed by beautiful vegetable gardens that must have provided fresh ingredients for the excellent French cuisine.   One section of this garden provided cut flowers and also some spiritual refreshments.
All vegetable gardens had a great variety of plants, including bush and climbing beans, kales and cabbages, cucumbers, pumpkins, melons and zucchini, as well as tomatoes, lattices of various sorts, and an occasional fruit tree.   The sandy soils are very suitable for asparagus cultivation, as seen here on the right. This field is quite large and irrigated with a sprinkler.
Passionflower (Passiflora) is frequently found growing on fences.   Probably they served the dual purpose of ornament and occasional snack.
Fruit trees, especially peaches, nectarines, plums, and apricots are quite common, and fig trees (above) are found in many gardens and sometimes growing in the wild.   Olive trees can also grow in this region, but are more often used for ornamental purposes than for fruit production.
The growing conditions must have been perfect for Bamboo, as I can tell from the size and abundance of bamboo groves, often along road sides where they obviously were escapees, if not to say invasives.   In Spain, the style of the houses was slightly more rustic and perhaps less elegant, but in turn more playful and at least as charming as in the French part of the Basque region. These romantic balconies were overlooking a narrow street in Hondarribia.
And here they are - the Geraniums on the balcony - these ones in dark red pots - which might distract a bit from the flowers!   A modern pool constructed with elements of ancient classical architecture invites passers-by to a free cooling splash. Benches under trees allow for a break in the shade. The whole city is sprinkled with small parks and public places. I was very impressed with this kind of urban planning, which seems to serve the common good much more than it appears to be the case in comparable American cities.
This beautiful shrub was quite common in ornamental plantings. It is Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia), which of course we New Englander's never get to see unless we travel into milder climates.   The Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus) is frequently planted in gardens and parks. It attracts butterflies with it's blue flowers and fine fragrance. The shoots are traditionally used for weaving baskets, and the plant also has a number of medicinal uses.
    Merci pour votre intérêt! J'aime partager mes expériences en botanique et jardinage.



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