Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques Genève CC

Geneva's botanic garden turns 200 this year! A year younger than Sydney's Royal Botanic Garden, it was conceived in 1816, the year 'without a summer' in the Northern Hemisphere (due to the recent eruption of Tambora in Indonesia). In Geneva's case the garden started near the university in Bastions in 1817, moving to its current location in the north of the city in 1904.

To ease my way back into proper blogging here is a image heavy, text light, reflection on the Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques Genève. At 30 hectares with 8,000 plant species it is a little smaller than Melbourne and Sydney's city botanic gardens, but with a similar number of species represented.

The first Director is one my botanical heroes, Augustin-Pyramus de Candolle (1778-1841). Not only did he create and head up a major botanic garden, he was an enthusiastic scientist with an interest in algae (describing in 1801, when he was 23 years old, the genus Vaucheria on which I did my PhD, and the species Batrachospermum gelatinosum, the representative - Type - species of the red algal genus I've worked on for most of the rest of my research life).

Today the botanic garden is part beautiful landscape and part explication of botany. Generally it all holds together and there are some lovely interpretation ideas and creative plantings.

This use of a retaining wall beside the adjacent railway line works very well.

The interpretation is a little busy at times but grabs your attention and makes you realise how important plants are our lives. And that's point right?

Sometimes it gets serious. This display on the wall of the glasshouse devoted to the plant family Gesneriaceae (e.g. African Violets) is bold and clear. The plants themselves were a little tired on my visit but that might be due to the heat - it was in the mid-30s today.

There is plenty of art. Here is an artist, Sylvain Meyer, doing what artists do (I think checking emails), followed by what he does at other times - a very nice installation beneath an Oak Tree.

And then there is some more colourful children's art, on the underpass between the main garden and its isthmus beside the lake.

With Conservatoire in its name, you'd expect a few glasshouses. This is the temperate house, flagging the 200th anniversary on it's top...

Inside some interesting collections. The cacti from the Americas, the lime-green Euphorbia from Africa or nearby islands.

At first I thought I'd found the world's first outdoor herbarium (the library of preserved plants we usually keep well away from light, heat and moisture) but it turns out this is an artistic wrap around the botanic gardens' shop.

The real herbarium is a little more difficult to find. I think it's partly in the building on the right of this next picture and partly underground. When you peer through the glass covering that concrete bunker structure what you see is in the second picture... Something like we plan to replace our existing herbarium in Melbourne - an underground bunker. We have 1.5 million specimens, arguably the most in an Australian herbarium, Geneva has around 6 million (although some of these - the 'cryptogams' are stored in another building, coming up soon).

Every now and then the plants are interrupted by animals, in zoo-like exhibits. I love flamingos, and not just because their pink colours come from algae and the various bugs that eat algae.

I promised you a Cryptogam Herbarium, and here it is. It's called the Console, and it sits on strangulated piece of land between the highway and the lake. It contains preserved specimens of algae, fungi (and lichens), bryophytes and ferns. More than a million of them. The size, importance and heart of this herbarium are due to my old friend Augustin-Pyramus (the last of these next three mages is the one being used to promote a horticultural tribute to the 200 years 'A.-P. de Candolle: une passion, un Jardin').

Note: I was visiting the botanic garden in Geneva while attending the Sixth Global Botanic Gardens Congress. This meeting of all the world's botanic gardens is held every three to four years, and the next is to be held in ... [drum roll] ... Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria! More on that, you can be sure.


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