A belated update: first visit to the Jardin d’agronomie tropicale, home of the Historic Library of the CIRAD (Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement), made some months ago now, when the trees still had leaves… A fortuitous meeting with Serge Volper, the librarian – agronome documentaliste – charged with looking after this strange and wonderful collection of atlases, pamphlets, reports, photographs, maps, objects, catalogues, and the odd seed.
In an early edition of Henri Mager’s Atlas Colonial Français, he showed me the finely traced contours of a phantom mountain range (the Mountains of Kong) lurking in the north of Africa’s Ivory Coast; or rather in the colonial imaginary of that place, as it never existed on the real, loamy ground.
Serge spent many years as an agronomist in Réunion, and is also a fellow maker of Wardian cases (you can spot one I made a long time ago here, helped by Jeremy Prentice of the Tropical Glasshouse at the Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens), as shown in this fine example of his that cleverly combines features of the two most common styles.
Out in the sprawling garden, perhaps the most atypically unkempt and unpopulated corner of Paris, the remains of the Exposition Coloniale of 1907 are quietly being subsumed by vegetation and decay. Poking around the undergrowth turns up the pavilions of Tunisia, Martinique, Réunion…