Paris Community Gardens Cultivate Biodiversity and Social Connection

October 4, 2009 by

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The Jardin Nomade, in the 11th arrondissement, opens its gates to neighborhood children.

The blister that has formed on the bottom of my left foot is a souvenir of my recent two days walking around Paris visiting some of the more than forty jardins partagés, or community gardens. These gardens belong to a network governed by a program developed for and by the city of Paris on city-owned land.

Main Verte (loosly translates to Green Hand, but we would say Green Thumb), the municipal association that coordinates these collective gardens, exists to support and encourage community gardening and education while fostering neighborhood social connection. I am visiting the gardens during the citywide Fête des Jardins. One Saturday per month, the group offers the opportunity to socialize, exchange ideas, and hear a presentation at one of the Cafés Jardins of the Maison du Jardinage in the Bercy neighborhood.

Under the the Main Verte charter, those who benefit from their participation in the garden network, must contribute back to the community by opening the gardens two half days per week to local students, retirees, and visitors from social centers and area businesses; exchange ideas and information with each other; and provide at least one public gardening event per season.

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A young girl sorts through seeds in the Jardin Nomade.

While I’m at the Jardin Nomade on the rue Trousseau, neighborhood children are engaged in small garden projects while others just skip around eying the various plantings. The garden’s representatives, Roselyne and Martine, welcome me explaining there is a waiting list of 21 for one of the approximately 40-50 (1×1) meter plots at the site. In these parcels, gardeners are free to grow whatever they please, the only caveat being that they may not sell what they produce. Gardeners must adhere to specific environmental guidelines which include composting, harvesting rainwater for irrigation, and the use of only natural, non-chemical, pesticides and fertilizers.

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Prior to becoming a community garden, the lot had been empty for ten years. The city took it over and demolished the building on it when the owner was unable to maintain and support it.

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Neighbors look out their window to the garden below

Among the nearly 50 network gardens completed or currently under construction, some are designated as educational gardens at the disposal of local students for the duration of the school year. Others function as therapeutic gardens, and some, like the Jardin Nomade, are community gardens with individually gardened plots. Different from these urban  jardins partagés, the suburban  jardins familiaux, are gardens cultivated communally as one unified garden tended by a collective group.

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A scarecrow watches over the tucked away Jardin de Soupirs.

In the adjacent 20th arrondissement, I visit two other gardens, Papilles et Papillons (“taste buds and butterflies”–doesn’t have the same ring in English) and the Jardin de Soupirs (Garden of Sighs.) Le Jardin de Soupirs, the smaller of the two, is tucked away in a narrow alley up a steep flight of stairs off the rue des Pyrenées. Although much of its plantings are gone, it didn’t matter as I delight in simply finding the hidden little treasure.

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Ornamental grasses of various types grow tall this 20th arrondissement public garden

School had just let out when I stroll through a neighborhood public garden on the rues Sorbier and de la Bidassoa (above.) Its ornamental grasses are swaying in the breeze and children run around letting go of pent-up energy. I cross the street and head up the hilly rue Gasnier-Guy to Papilles et Papillons, not far from famed cemetery Père Lachaise where Jim Morrison and Edith Piaf, among other famous names, are buried. In this communal garden, created under the auspices of the Fondation Roi Baudouin, one finds a place to sit, a place to learn, a spot of land to cultivate healthy vegetables and herbs for the table, and flowers for the pleasure of all and the vases of a few.

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Flower and vegetable parcels in the Papilles et Papillons garden.

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The colors of autumn in bloom at Papilles et Papillons.

Jardin Nomade (11e)
48, rue Trousseau at the corner of rue Delescluze
Metro: Ledru Rollin or Faidherbe Chaligny

Jardin de Soupirs (20e)
18 Passage de Soupirs, between rue de Pyrenées and rue de la Chine
Metro: Gambetta

Papilles et Papillons (20e)
3-5, rue Gasnier-Guy
Metro: Gambetta or Père Lachaise

Maison du Jardinage (12e)
41 rue Paul-Belmondo
Métro: Bercy, Cour Saint-Emilion

All photos copyright Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens.

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