Monday, October 11, 2010

What do you do when the Schau is over? Travels in Mitteleuropa part 3.

     What happens when the last Stein has been drunk, the last leaflet on bio-dynamic slug control handed out and the last Tagetes wilts in autumn's first frost?        
     Gardenshows are a big part of the German garden scene, lasting all summer and (key thing this) leaving behind the legacy of a regenerated urban space. Many of the best parks are former Gartenschau sites. We tried it in Britain during the Thatcherreich but no attempt was ever made to keep them as public spaces, and in the sad case of Liverpool, the show site is now quite well-known for its grafitti daubed ruined Chinese garden.
Playground - durability all right! Had to stop myself running up it.

            How you turn a one-summer event into something permanent is a challenge, one which has apparently been met pretty well here. Of course I tend to visit the successful ones, but I have seen places with  artworks that look like beached whales, avenues which go nowhere, and perennial borders run amok. A couple of days ago I dropped in on a 2004 Bavaria State show at Burghausen. On the whole a successful transformation, 8 out of 10, I think Herr  (or Frau) Burgermeister. One series of perennial borders pretty well abandoned – why not just replace with ground cover? and some strange objects which could only be artworks, but a fantastic children’s playground – the kind of really inventive place which can be one of the best features of these events, overall a good urban green space, and a whole series of little gardens between beech hedges – nice intimate spaces (assuming the good folk of Burghausen don’t go in for too much spliff-rolling or needle-based activities, which is always a problem if you create too much quiet space in urban parks). These were all designed by design practices, a bit like Chelsea Flower Show gardens, but permanent. Some looked really good, the others … well, I am sure the designers would be horrified if they could see their names attached. There is always a real problem with these individual gardens in places where they become permanent and get maintained by the same staff – they all sink to a common level. On the whole though they make for garden vignettes you would never get normally in a public park.
Panicum virgatum grass with Aster dumosus at Weihenstephan
            Quick visit to Weihenstephan, home to the world’s leading collection of perennials, meet the new prof. of planting design, Swantje Duthweiler, whose interest in early 20th century planting styles heralds the prospect of some interesting new takes on plant use (watch this space?).
            Now in Switzerland where I have spent a fascinating day at Hochschule Wädenswil, a teaching and research centre in canton Zürich. They have done a lot of work on perennial mixtures – randomized combinations of plants for particular visual effects or management techniques, sometimes just perennials, but sometimes including bulbs and annuals too. Some very high tech means of teaching plant ID too – you use an iPhone app. to zap a code on a pillar and your phone downloads a plant list, plant information and other stuff about the planting; meanwhile some nicely designed little leaflets give you plants lists too.
Most stunning of all though are the vertical gardens they are working on for indoor environments, including some wonderful ‘plant pictures’, exploiting the fact that a lot of tropicals perform well when growing vertically.
            A lot of fruit growing happens at Wädenswil too – it has a mild climate, being on Lake Zürich; some fascinating unusual fruit here too. Actinidia arguta makes tiny sweet little Kiwi fruit – much nicer than the normal kind, and I never realised you can eat Schisandra chinensis berries – although to be honest the flavour made me think of what it would be like if you bit into a chunk of incense – a challenge for the truly innovative cook perhaps.
            Odd how in the German- speaking world, it is public horticulture  which is where innovation happens, and private gardens are relatively unsophisticated - mirror image of back home. Our nearly all having private gardens (in the UK) has meant, sadly, a lack of political pressure for quality public space. But given the very different agendas of private and public gardening, there is so much scope for cross-fertilisation of ideas.

1 comment:

Ruth Hope said...

love the vertical garden photo! Stirs a memory of something but perhaps you have mentioned this before. Love the photo of you and Jo on your exercise bikes, and living my travel-bug vicariously through your blog. Keep up the good work!