Meeting with Pascal Salze, head of culture at the Jardin du Lautaret

Meeting with Pascal Salze, head of culture at the Jardin du Lautaret

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The Lautaret garden is an Alpine botanical garden developed over a century ago by Professor Jean-Paul Lachmann: its location in the heart of the Alpine massif and the richness of its plants attract several thousand visitors every year! This scientifically oriented garden continues to fascinate nature lovers and researchers from all over the world, who benefit from its biological diversity and exceptional geographic configuration. Pascal Salze, head of culture in this extraordinary natural space, told us about his passion for plants and nature. Accustomed to the great outdoors, he maintains this immense site, landscaped since 2008 with the constraints that are linked to it, harsh climate and the fragility of plants in mind. Interview.

Tell us about your background…

Like most gardeners, I have always had a close or distant relationship with nature and plants. I come from the foothills of the Cévennes, near Montpellier. I spent my youth in the fields making hay, harvesting or keeping the sheep and later I studied at the agricultural high school. I was attracted very early on by botany and it was not without difficulty that I found a path that suited me ... I did my first internship at the Jardin des Plantes in Montpellier and I stayed there for around twenty years. In 2008, I left the Montpellier region for the Alps where I now share my activities between two sites, on the one hand the platform located at the Col du Lautaret (from May to October) 90 km from Grenoble including the Alpine Botanical Garden and the research areas, and on the other hand that of the campus comprising greenhouses and the Robert Ruffier-Lanche arboretum (from November to April).

How has the Lautaret garden evolved since its conception?

This garden was created in 1899, at a time when popular enthusiasm for the mountain environment and alpine plants was very strong, especially under the leadership of the English. The French then began to discover life at altitude and to overcome their apprehension of the mountains. Since its creation, the Lautaret garden has been entirely dedicated to scientific research and welcoming the public. At its inception, it housed a very beautiful collection of 500 species from the Western Alps, arranged in parallel flowerbeds and carefully classified and labeled. Over the years, plants have been brought back from the Pyrenees, the Caucasus, the Himalayas, Patagonia, New Zealand ... The garden also has a large natural wetland. In a little over a century, its configuration has evolved but it has never ceased to amaze with its exceptional wealth of plants and plant groups. Today, Lautaret has a heritage of more than 2,000 plant species from the Alps and mountains around the world, and receives nearly 20,000 visitors every summer!

What are the special features of this garden?

Lautaret is located at a climatic and geological crossroads which influences the great diversity of plants and environments. On a perimeter of 10 km, we can observe about a third of the French flora. This subalpine ecosystem evolves at an altitude of 2100 m, just before the alpine stage 200 m higher which constitutes the threshold where the trees no longer grow and turn into shrubs. The great difficulty consists in cultivating plants from all over the world which have to adapt to new living conditions. Growing plants from the alpine level on a subalpine level, where competition between species is important, requires additional work as well as active vigilance on plants that can become invasive. On the site of the alpine garden, the Joseph Fourier Alpine station shares its activities with students, PhD students and teaching researchers. Guided tours are organized every day and provided by students of Biology L3 from Grenoble, the maintenance of the garden is provided by the horticultural team which supervises each year many trainees from horticultural sectors. We try to transmit our passion, to make people aware of botany, ecology, the environment, and to share our knowledge to the maximum.