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Anchored by the encyclopedic holdings of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the exhibition Public Parks, Private Gardens: Paris to Provence, opening March 12, will illustrate the horticultural boom that reshaped much of the French landscape during the 19th century. As shiploads of exotic botanical specimens arrived from abroad and local nurserymen pursued hybridization, the availability and variety of plants and flowers grew exponentially, as did the interest in them. The opening up of formerly royal properties and the transformation of Paris during the Second Empire into a city of tree-lined boulevards and parks introduced public green spaces to be enjoyed as open-air salons, while suburbanites and country-house dwellers were inspired to cultivate their own flower gardens. By 1860, the French journalist Eugène Chapus could write: “One of the pronounced characteristics of our Parisian society is that . . . everyone in the middle class wants to have his little house…