Saturday, October 16, 2010

Swissinnovation - Travels in Mittleuropa part 4

Experimental 'perennial hedge'
       Lots of good things happen at Hochschule Wädenswil. The ‘integrated planting system’ for one, which aims at making randomised mixes of perennials and bulbs, and annuals for the first two years, and some other ‘mixed planting’ systems where again the emphasis is on choosing plants compatible with the site, and each other and then randomising them. Works well in slabs rather than conventional borders. And they are trialling a ‘perennial hedge’ too, with Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ as the main element, oddly flowering component not randomised, but interesting idea – more of a summer-autumn screen planting than a hedge. I’ve always thought tallish perennials work well as shallow screen type plantings.
Doris, maestra of the urban annual mix
            They have also started working with annual mixes, using them on sites left temporarily vacant in the constant rebuilding which seems to afflict Zürich. Public love them. They work here as the country gets quite high summer rainfall (which I remember only too well from childhood holidays); stress annuals with low soil moisture, and they go into seed-production mode and an early death, a trajectory difficult to stop, but keep them moist and many will flower all summer. Annual mixes don’ t work in eastern Austria or further east as the summer is too dry and they will all be dead by the end of July.
Doris Tausendpfund who designs the annual mixes (and the very promising looking perennial mixes) describes how she sees the mixes working on two levels – one colour dominates from the distance, perhaps as you drive by in your car, but then if you stop and look more closely, like whilst waiting for the tram, you see that there are many other colours.
Climbing plants in containers in Basel (Hochbergerstr.)
On the subject of building sites, it never ceases to amaze me how much the Swiss love cement, in fact the smell of wet cement always reminds me, in a really Proustian way, of Switzerland, as I spent several months here as a child and the frenetic building with cement clearly impacted the hard-wiring of the scent bit of my brain. Perhaps all this rather unsustainable use of cement is one reason for the counter-reaction, that the country is the world leader in green architecture and engineering; green roofs are everywhere, climbers are used to dramatic effect on buildings, whilst slope stabilisation using plants is increasingly seen, or actually not seen, as it is a lot less obvious than great concrete bastions or gabions.
            Whilst I’m having a moan about my recent dear hosts, it also never ceases to amaze me how much the Swiss smoke. Like the proverbial chimneys, so unless you have an alp to yourself you can forget about the pure mountain air. Although, smoking in restaurants has finally been made Verboten. Putting two things together, perhaps the country should be symbolised note by the alpenhorn, the Emmentaler cheese or the Swiss army knife but a re-inforced concrete ashtray.

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