A visit to le Jardin d’Eden, a botanical garden on Reunion Island
Photo by Melody

A visit to le Jardin d’Eden, a botanical garden on Reunion Island

By Jean-Jacques Segalen (jjacques)April 24, 2012
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Now that we've strolled through the pristine jungle of Guiana, let us venture to a different overseas area where I live and stroll through a nice botanical garden.

Gardening picture

Devoted readers now know where Reunion Island is located.  For the newcomers and short-memory readers, you can refer to here for directions. We have a nice tropical climate and of course gardens can soon become fantastic provided they are meticulously cared for. Our island harbors several delicious gardens, public and private which we will discover one after another. As for today we will go to Saint-Gilles Les Bains, a famous seaside resort where Reunionese go on weekends to enjoy the lagoon, warm water, nap under the she-oaks (Casuarina equisetifolia) and soak up the general atmosphere. This is also the place where you will find the Jardin d'Eden (Garden of Eden) which is one of the most visited gardens on the island and the one we are about to enjoy.
 

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                                  The rum cask at the entrance

  Le Jardin d'Eden is a botanical landscaped garden set on 2.5 hectares (25000 square meters) which land is rented on the basis of an emphyteutic lease. The location is on the Western coast of Reunion, at sea-level, hence with a sunny tropical climate as the West is protected from heavy rains by the high mountains, temperatures range from 20°C to 30°C with a sea breeze to keep you refreshed. The garden was created by the late Philippe Kaufmant, an agronomist engineer with a high aesthetic taste. With the help of his wife and friends they started by accumulating potted plants until they had enough to begin planting, the whole job was done within one year and plants started to grow! The various species were kindly offered by friends, collectors, enthusiasts and a large part was given by the nursery De La Mare. Official unveiling was in May 1991 and the garden has been growing ever since, both in size, species number and reputation with 35000 to 40000 people touring the garden each year. Five gardeners take care of the garden and two people make sure all the administrative work is done in time. There is also within the premises a roofed wall-less studio where drawing and painting courses are offered, artists can take ample inspiration from the surrounding setting!


So let us now proceed to the visit as I can feel the impatience growing within the troops.  The entrance of the garden is very original as the office has been set inside a giant rum cask (a hogshead if I am right) dating from 1747 and which was able to contain 51000 liters of the local booze (13,464 gallons - enough to keep you happy for a great many years!) We enter the barrel and meet Marie-Thérèse Kaufmant who is the head of the garden and welcomes us.  She will give a short explanation on how to visit the garden and hand out booklets to help us through the plants collection. You can sit on one of those delicately painted blue benches to get your cameras ready, sip a little rum from your pocket flask and get ready. We will stop right after the barrel and look at those strange pendulous things which look like a bouquet of old threads, this is a plant within the Bromeliaceae family (like the pineapple), Tillandsia usneoides also named Spanish moss that can be found in the southeastern U.S.  It grows as an epiphyte which means it will develop on a tree branch, a bush, a fence, using them as sole support. It does not produce roots hence feeds only from what brings rain water and elements blown by the wind, a rather frugal plant! Although it does produce very small flowers followed by tiny fruits carrying seeds it usually is propagated by breaking a fragment and hanging it wherever one wants, it will soon develop and grow provided weather is warm and humid enough.

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                                    Strolling throught palm trees

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                Small bridge with Megaskepasma erythrochlamys
 We now follow a little path winding through various palm trees, some are endemic to the area like the bottle and the spindle palms (Hyophorbe lagenicaulis and H. verschaffeltii) or originate from India like the strange talipot (Corypha umbraculifera). The talipot is a very large palm which needs lot of room, leaves can be 5m (15 feet) across, carried by petioles 4m (12 feet) long, aggressively armed with spines all along the edges, the tree will need sixty to eighty years to reach maturity, it will then culminate some 15 to 25m (45 to 75 feet) high when it will flower and then die, a rare feature called monocarpy. Other palms to be found within the garden are the famous coconut tree (Cocos nucifera), the golden cane palm (formerly Chrysalidocarpus lutescens but nowadays Dypsis lutescens) which grows in large clusters and comes from nearby Madagascar. Just after the palm trees section we walk over a small colorful bridge bordered by the highly decorative Megaskepasma erythrochlamys in full bloom, the white flowers are set within bright scarlet bracts held in upright clusters about one foot long. On the right the eye is attracted by a bright yellow
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                                     Hibiscus calyphylus...                                           ...and its label
flower, Hibiscus calyphyllus from tropical Africa, it will only grow to 1 or 2m (3 to 6 feet) but flowers can reach 10cm across with a stunning lemon yellow corolla. A small label stuck in the ground gives the botanical name as well as family for most plants of the garden; the attentive reader will of course spot the mistake in the name spelling! But let us go just a little further, look how this groundcover provides a great color patch, Hemigraphis colorata (Acanthaceae family) which comes from Java in Indonesia is very effective to ornate the foot of large
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                        Hemigraphis colorata, a nice ground-cover

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                                  Adansonia digitata

trees, it does well in sunny as well as shaded places, leaves are grayish on top and burgundy underneath, flowers happen to show but are rather inconspicuous little white things. We now reach the semi-arid part of the garden with cacti, spurges, and species from Southern Madagascar and Africa such as this nice baobab, Adansonia digitata. A proud member of the Bombacaeae family this one is still young but may become a venerable one within a couple of centuries! It is common in many parts of Africa where it has a special status, often respected as a place where spirits will meet, provider of edible leaves in time of food shortage, producing numerous fruits containing a high level of Vitamin C, it also freely offers its bark for making ropes. We of course will not take any part of this one and wish him a long life while carrying on the visit. The vine on your left also comes from Africa, many of you may have grown it as indoor plant, Gloriosa rothschildiana belongs to the lily family and originates from Zimbabwe (former Rhodesia). It has been much enjoyed since a very long time and the bulbs can often be purchased in nurseries, flowers are very characteristic with curled petals bright red with a yellow strip at the edges, they remind some exotic insects.

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                                           Gloriosa rothschildiana

  
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               Giant papyrus and aquatic plants
We now stroll under giant bamboos and hop onto a wooden trail which introduces us to a complete different biotope, the area where the Jardin d'Eden has been built benefits from a rather outcropping ground water. The good point is that plants will not suffer from drought times but the bad side is that heavy rains may raise water level too much and inundate the garden. Anyhow this has been cleverly put to use by designing a wet area where papyrus and various water-loving plants will thrive, small river fishes (guppies mostly) have been introduced and feed on mosquitoes larvae so you do not have to spray. Sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) provide colorful flowers and the strange ‘via' (Typhonodorum lindleyanum)

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                                  A view towards the Zen garden

give a mysterious look. Once we arrive at the other end of the wooden footbridge we discover a mineral garden, the Zen section. White coral sand and stones from the volcano have been used to create a calm and relaxing place which one can enjoy by sitting in the shade surrounding this little part of Japan in the Indian Ocean. Well, after walking around the pond and under large royal palm trees (Roystonea regia) we are back at the entrance. Look at this small lizard on the barrel, this is Phelsuma ornata, a gecko, it looks like he was waiting to wave us goodbye!

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                                          Au revoir, little gecko!


  I hope you have enjoyed the tour and taken all the photos you wished; if not just call me, I am always ready for another garden tour!


  About Jean-Jacques Segalen  
Jean-Jacques SegalenI am a Parisian born professional horticulturist specialized in tropical seeds producing, living on Reunion island (just between Mauritius and Madagascar) for 22 years . I spend a lot of time gathering seeds in the wild, the ones I do not grow that is. Also a dedicated Tai-Chi practitioner and fully certified arborist-tree surgeon Just released my first book on tropical plants and fruits, check it out at barbardine.com

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