Maïté Delmas

Professor at the Museum of Natural History and representative of the French and French-speaking botanical gardens

1. What is your relationship with nature?

I was very lucky to spend the first years of my life in a garden and to be able to explore the nearby countryside, thus developing an intimate relationship with nature. These adventurous experiences helped me to develop a sensitive relationship with the plant world around me and naturally led me to botanical gardens for further education.

Aware of the need to preserve biodiversity, I joined the professional association Jardins botaniques de France et des pays francophones which encourages gardens to participate in the implementation of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. I am now contributing to the ongoing negotiations on the future global strategic frameworks for biodiversity in order to ensure that the plant strategy is taken into account and updated at the COP 15 to be held this autumn in China.

On a personal level, I am also one of the founding members of Jardins et Santé, an association that supports the development of therapeutic gardens in places where people in fragile situations live, promoting well-being through gardening or simple access to a garden.

2. What do botanical gardens say about the relationship between human and nature? Do you think they it is the ultimate sensory experience to reconnect with nature in cities?

There are currently 3,700 botanical gardens in the world, 800 in Europe and nearly a hundred in France. Between them, they hold a significant part of the plant diversity. One fifth of the world's known species are now threatened with extinction due to increasing human population pressure, habitat modification, deforestation, over-exploitation, the spread of invasive alien species, pollution and the growing impact of climate change.

Botanical gardens are often located in the heart of cities and are true sanctuaries where plant diversity is catalogued, deciphered and conserved. The interactions between the plant and animal worlds are highlighted, as is the contribution of plants to the functioning of ecosystems.

For city dwellers, botanical gardens are also windows on local or distant biodiversity. Attracting more than 100 million visitors per year worldwide, they are the main vector of information on plant biodiversity and the importance of its preservation. They enable citizens to understand their place in nature and its fragility in order to become responsible actors.

3. Transmission has a crucial role in the level of citizens’ nature knowledge. As such, what role can botanical gardens have in the transmission and knowledge of nature?

We can only preserve what we know and are able to name.
The knowledge of plants is one of the fundamental missions of botanical gardens. Today, they are one of the few places where traditional botany is taught and can offer nature outings, heroizations and botanical drawing courses. These courses are diversifying to address other themes such as knowledge of environments, biodiversity conservation, initiation to ecology, sustainable development and environmentally friendly practices.

At a time when the benefits of outdoor education are being advocated, the botanical gardens offer educational programs to schools, combining multiple disciplines (artistic, mathematical, biological, botanical, etc.)

The transmission of knowledge also involves the training of staff responsible for managing the collections and scientific mediation. Training combining horticultural, botanical, systematic, ecological and phytosociological knowledge enables the acquisition of the nationally recognized title of botanical gardener. The scientific mediators develop innovative, sensory and technological educational practices.
Finally, as part of the Sud Expert Plantes sustainable development program, training in botanical garden management is being developed and will be offered to 22 French-speaking countries in the French government's priority solidarity zone.

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Maïté Delmas

Kew-trained professional horticulturist, currently in charge of public relations for the Jardins des Plantes in Paris. Thirty years’ experience in managing plant collections gained at Kew, Bordeaux and Paris Botanic Gardens.