There are so many wonderful UNESCO world heritage palace gardens in Germany that a travel itinerary could be filled entirely with grand symmetry, manicured parterres and opulent orangeries…
Do venture further though, for this country is alive and bubbling with a diverse range of incredible landscape and garden experiences, including landscaped parks, contemporary perennial and prairie gardens, art and sculpture and community gardens.
Garden Travel Guide to Germany
by Chantelle Leenstra with Catherine Stewart
Apart from Baroque castle gardens, hauntingly beautiful parkland experiences of Germany’s industrial history have become compulsory learning for students of landscape architecture in universities around the world. Experimental contemporary prairies have completely reshaped international horticulture with grasses and hardy perennials taking centre stage. Artists play and explore meanings and experiences of landscape in vibrant subversive urban communities. And memorials to the genocide of Jews in WWII remind us of the power of landscape design to move and shape our emotions and thinking.
With its rich and complex history, Germany has become an interesting player in the international world of landscape and planting design.
Getting to Germany, and getting around
Germany has eight major international airports, in Berlin, Frankfurt, Frankfurt-Hahn, Munich, Cologne-Bonn, Hamburg, Stuttgart and Düsseldorf and dozens of smaller regional airports servicing European and internal destinations and also many of the low-cost airlines. Most long-haul international flights arrive in Frankfurt and now also Munich.
Frankfurt is 22h 40min flying time from Sydney, 7h 35min from New York, 11h from Los Angeles, 1h 35min from London; 10h 45min from Johannesburg and 25 hours from Auckland.
Germany’s rail and transport networks are some of the best in the world, making travelling around the country quick and easy and cities and larger towns also have excellent public transport systems often combining rail, bus, light rail and tram fares on a single pass or ticket. Although most local public transport operates without turnstiles on a honour system, don’t try and get away without buying and validating your ticket as there are many transport officers who check fares and fines are steep (around €60).
Cycling is another efficient way to get around and many cities will have separate bicycle lanes. And unlike many countries, bike helmets are recommended but not essential.
River cruising is becoming increasingly popular in Germany. Unlike large sea-going cruise ships, it’s quick and easy to get on and off but, like ocean cruises, you are limited to seeing what’s within a short distance of the port.
Germany’s topography and climate
Most of northern Germany is on the North European Plain with elevations of less than 100m above sea level. Further south the central section becomes more hilly, merging into the more mountainous areas of southern and south-eastern Germany.
The Rhine River (Rhein) rises in Switzerland and then flows northwards for 865km (537 miles) through the western part of Germany, passing through Worms, Koblenz, Cologne (Koln) and Dusseldorf and finally reaching The Netherlands and then the North Sea. The Danube (Donau) rises in the south west and then runs for 687km (427 miles) north-east to Regensburg and then south east to Passau on the Austrian border, going on to eventually drain into to the Black Sea in Romania.
Stretching from the Alps in the south-east northwards to the Baltic sea, Germany has a wide range of gardening climates, from cold to maritime, although overall the climate is described as temperate. The weather is also very changeable (more so than most other European countries) due to the combination of moist maritime air and dry continental air mass.
Yearly rainfall in Germany averages 790mm with a slight peak in summer when it can also be quite humid.
The south and east of Germany have very cold winters, with daytime temperatures frequently well below freezing and deep snow that can begin as early as October and last until March.
Northern Germany has the maritime influence of the Baltic Sea so differences between winter and summer temperatures are not as extreme. A typical winter day in Berlin will hover just above freezing and there is rarely more than light snowfalls through the winter months. In summer, days will usually be around 20-25ºC degrees.
South-west Germany around the Rhine River is the warmest part of the country. In this wine region, the climate is almost Mediterranean and summer days are often into the low 30s.
Germany’s native vegetation and wildflowers
Over 30% of Germany is covered by woodlands, both coniferous and broadleaf deciduous with oak, maple, beech, pine and firs as the dominant species, however only a few areas have untouched forest, such as the deciduous forest in Hainich National Park in Thuringia.
Two trees that have played an important part in Germany’s culture are the chestnut tree, which provided the traditional shady, cool spot to store and drink beer in summer – giving rise to Germany’s famous beer gardens, and also the Christmas tree, known in Germany as Tannenbaum.
Germany is also home to many wildflowers, some native but many introduced such as poppies, buttercups and violets. Well-known flowering plants native to Germany include species of woodruff (Galium), gentian, allium, iris, rowan tree/mountain ash (Sorbus) and primula.
German Garden History
The earliest records of German gardening date from the time of Charlemagne in 800, with his Capitulare de Villis containing a list of suitable garden plants. In 1260 Albertus Magnus describes the beginning of pleasure gardening and during the Middle Ages, many of the tapestries and paintings show gardens, with romantic rose arbours and decorative features.
By the Renaissance, plant and gardening knowledge was becoming a fashion among the wealthy and nobility, who made large and ornate gardens filled with complex water features, grottoes, fountains and clipped parterres. The influence of André le Notre and his garden at Vaux le Vicomte spread throughout Europe from the middle of the 17th century but this high baroque period was reinterpreted in individual and unique German style, using different types of geometric patterns like stars, radial lines and circular designs. Several of these gardens were designed by influential garden designer Dominique Girard, one of Le Notré’s star pupils.
Like the rest of Europe, these immense formal gardens gave way to a more naturalistic ‘English’ style of landscape gardening towards the end of the 18th century, with landscape designers such as Prince Hermann Pückler Muskau, Lenné and Ludwig von Sckell leaving their mark on some of Germany’s most famous gardens.
During the early 19th century, public landscapes in Germany began to take a different design approach to the formal layouts more common in Europe. Ecological design based on native plant communities was championed by the great plantsman and garden designer Karl Foerster, a nurseryman and plant breeder whose name is commemorated in many popular garden plants. Rather than looking only at trees and shrubs, Foerster began breeding and using grasses, small perennials and wildflowers in his planting designs. Gradually this approach began a new way of landscaping other types of public space rather than just parks, including roadsides, roundabouts, roofs and disused rail lines.
Although many of Germany’s fine gardens were destroyed during WW2, a rebuilding program since Germany’s reunification in 1990 has seen many of them rebuilt and restored to their former glory. The influence of designers like Foerster and also Hermann Mattern have also encouraged the development of a uniquely German garden – the Sichtungsgarten, or trial and teaching garden which encourages experimentation in landscape and planting design using a wide range of plants, including new varieties.
German Garden Style
The UK”s Noel Kingsbury has said:
“In Britain, the exciting stuff in gardening happens in private; in Germany it happens in public spaces, like parks and botanical gardens.”
Nowhere is this more pronounced than in two of Germany’s greatest 20th century gardens, Hermannshof and Sichtungsgarten Weihenstephan, horticultural trial gardens that experiment with perennial plants, grasses and new planting ideas. These gardens use the science and philosophy of Pflanzensoziologie, teaching both home gardeners and garden designers about plant communities and ecologically sensible planting combinations. And the gardens soar, to wonderful and dizzyingly beautiful heights. Plus that renown German diligence for careful record keeping means there is documentation of maintenance hours and plant successes and failures which gives valuable feedback to the nursery industry.
Many popular plant cultivars have come into our gardens from German plant breeders, including Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ and Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ and cultivars of Echinacea, Erica, Calluna, poinsettia and roses. Some, like Penstemon ‘Garnet’ (originally Penstemon ‘Andenken an Friedrich Hahn’) had their names changed to make them more English-friendly.
Kleingärten – ‘small garden’ or allotment gardens developed through the 19th century and are now defined and supported through Federal law, as places for individual, family or community non-commercial horticultural use. They are very popular for growing fruit and vegetables and are seen as an essential way of providing green open space for multi-storey apartment dwellers. There are over 1 million allotment gardens covering 46,000 hectares in Germany, mostly in land surrounding cities and they are either owner-occupied or leased. Berlin has nearly 68,000 allotment gardens and most cities have a waitlist for gardens. Most allotment gardens operate under the umbrella organisation of Bundesverband Deutsch Gartenfreunde (Federal Association of Garden Friends).
Contemporary German garden design is innovative and exciting. Look out for practitioners such as Christine Orel of Orel + Heidrich, scape in Düsseldorf, Latz + Partner in Kranzberg, and the wonderful landform gardens of Rainer Schmidt.
Garden tours to Germany
Although Germany offers easy international access, a mild spring-autumn climate, political stability, excellent transport infrastructure, a professional hospitality industry and a large number of English speakers, it rarely features as a garden tour destination. This is perplexing as well as disappointing as it has some of Europe’s finest public gardens, whether you’re looking for high baroque, landscape style or prairie meadows and exciting perennial displays. If you search for a Germany tour that involves ‘gardens’, it’s more likely you will be seeing beer gardens than plant gardens!
Garden tours which do visit Germany are often associated with river cruises, notably along the Rhine and Moselle Rivers in the west, or the Danube in the south. However many spend most of their time either visiting castles, looking at tulips in The Netherlands or taking in the grand gardens of Austria. A closer look at these cruise itineraries shows that, strangely, most don’t even include the renown perennial paradise of Sichtungsgarten Hermannshof, at Weinheim, even though it’s only a 15km bus drive from Mannheim on the Rhine River.
So it seems that if you’re keen to see German gardens you will have to sort out an itinerary of your own. There are a few garden-focussed German tours, such as Ambitour’s 10 day ‘Castles and Gardens of East Germany’ (ex Berlin). Lake Constance (Bodensee) also has local tours of the surrounding gardens, with different tours for various historical periods, such as Middle Ages, Renaissance, baroque and contemporary.
A few garden tour companies occasionally include Germany on a European or river cruise itinerary, such as Australia’s Travelrite and Botanica. USA perennial garden specialist and landscape designer Carolyn Mullet (Carex Tours) has taken garden tours to Germany and, in the UK, Gardens Illustrated has also toured there, guided by plantsman Noel Kingsbury.
Best time to visit parks, gardens and landscapes in Germany
From May to September you will see German gardens at their best although many of the more formal gardens can still look impressive under a light dusting of snow.
The perennial gardens of Hermannshof, Westpark, Gartenanlage and Ernst Pagels Garten are at their peak in late summer (August), although the many grasses will provide interesting form and decorative seed heads well into the autumn/fall.
(One word of advice when visiting public landscapes in Germany is to be aware that in some districts, picking up after one’s dog is not as common as you might prefer.)
Best gardens, landscapes and parks to visit in Germany
Public and community landscapes in Germany are some of the best in the world, from rehabilitation of disused railway lines, reinterpretations of historical gardens and exciting public art and sculpture.
Its many historical gardens, often dating from the baroque period, highlight the immense wealth of the German royalty and nobility during the 18th and 19th centuries, with vast and elaborate patterned lawns, clipped parterres, and elegant fountains, water gardens and statuary.
Germany’s many botanical gardens are historical but also experimental, featuring ecosystem planting and extensive arboreta.
Highlight gardens in Germany for lovers of garden design and perennial gardens include the work of Karl Foerster and also Peter Janke, the botanical garden at Hermannshof which continues to be a major source of inspiration for brilliant Dutch perennial designer Piet Oudolf. Oudolf himself has also contributed to Germany’s store of inspirational perennial gardens at Maximilianpark in Hamm. There is also the famous Westpark in Munich, which tops plantsman Noel Kingsbury’s list of German gardens to visit and the Ernst Pagels Garten in Leer should also be on your bucket list of German gardens to visit.
Parks, landscapes and gardens to see in Berlin and surrounds
• Arthouse Tacheles, Berlin – an old department store turned Nazi prison converted into an artist commune. Includes some interesting courtyards with changing art installations.
• Botanischer Garten und Botanisches Museum Berlin-Dahlem, Berlin – the Berlin Botanic Gardens were created in 1679 and is the second largest Botanical garden in the world, stretching across a whopping 43 hectares. It includes sixteen greenhouses, rock cliff waterfalls, ferns, giant water lilies, carnivorous plants, orchids, bromeliads and many plants endangered in their native habitats, a cemetery, a sweltering Victoria house for tropical plants and The Great Pavilion (the largest glass house in the world). Allow two days to really appreciate this site.
• Dahlem-Dorf U-Bahn Station Benches, Berlin – in the context of the traditional architecture of this train station, artist Wolf van Roy’s row of suggestive and sexy benches make quite the juxtaposition.
• East Side Gallery, Berlin – a remaining 1km stretch of the former Berlin wall converted into 105 permanent mural spaces to which artists from all over the world contribute.
• Fliegeberg, Berlin – a conical 15m artificial hill originally built as a testing ground for flight pioneer Otto Lilienthal. His designs inspired the Wright Brothers.
• Gartenanlage – Gedenkstätte Karl Foerster, Potsdam-Bornim, Brandenburg – the home garden of plantsman, writer and garden designer Karl Foerster. Foerster championed the use of American prairie perennials, designed his own market garden in Berlin, initiated the first public show-garden in Germany for perennial flower plants, ferns and grasses, and developed multiple cultivars of plants which are still hugely popular in nurseries today. Piet Oudolf and the Dutch wave may have made grasses enormously popular today, but it was Foerster who inspired him and others. Foerster’s old nursery is still operational onsite.
• Gärten der Welt, Berlin (12km east of the city centre) – 21 hectare internationally themed park, Gardens of the World includes 9 large gardens representing Asia, Europe, and the Middle East sited among Soviet-style buildings. Maze, Renaissance garden, spiritual garden and Charles Foerster perennial garden. A 10th garden representing Britain will open in 2017. The Gardens are currently closed until the opening of the huge International Garden Festival ‘IGA Berlin’ from April 13 to October 15, 2016.
• Königliche Gartenakademie – Berlin’s Royal Garden Academy was founded by Gabriella Pape and Isabelle Van Groeningen, who is a multi award winner at the Chelsea Flower Show. The academy includes a nursery, design studio, café and garden.
• Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Holocaust-Mahnmal), Berlin – thousands of rectilinear concrete pillars creating a unique, powerful and controversial work of landscape architecture.
• Natur-Park Schöneberger Südgelände, Berlin – railway tracks abandoned after WW2 and recolonised by plants, now converted into a beautiful park. The more famous of the several railway parks in Berlin, it includes a water tower which is illuminated during an annual festival of lights, and a 370sqm (4,000-square foot) former locomotive hall which is popular with experimental artists as a venue for multiple dance and performance events. The main entrance is at Priesterweg city railway station.
• Park am Gleisdreieck, Berlin – 17 hectare park also built on abandoned railway tracks. Awarded a German Landscape Architecture Prize in 2015. Community scented rose garden (Rosenduftgarten), nature discovery area (great mud play!), skating paths, picnic lawns, abandoned railway track walks through mature ‘forest’.
• Pfaueninsel, Berlin-Zehlendorf – Picturesque Peacock Island contains an intimate white palace built in 1794, a former dairy farm built to resemble a gothic ruin, a landscape garden with old oak trees designed by landscape architect Lenné, the façade of a fairytale castle built by a Prussian king, and plenty of peacocks. Accessible only by ferry.
• Sanssouci, Potsdam, Brandenburg – a pleasure palace built overlooking a vineyard in 1745. Sanssouci is a tourist hotspot but happily one that’s large enough to get away from the hordes, with parks, lakes, and several smaller palatial buildings including the Orangerie.
• Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin – a beautiful baroque park around a highly decorative palace built between 1695 and 1699 as a summer residence for Queen Sophie Charlotte. Includes a tea house, Orangerie and carp pond.
• Spandauer Zitadelle, Berlin – Spandau Citadel is a borough of Berlin that used to be the separate town of Spandau since 1197. The site is a very picturesque landscape comprised of moats/cobbled streets/oldest building in Germany and the like. Also features 10,000 bats swinging from the vaults in the fortress in winter, so maybe wear a hat.
• Spreepark, Berlin – an abandoned dinosaur amusement park outside Berlin with a hodgepodge of bizarre entertainment, children’s rides, and collapsed life-size dinosaur statues constructed by the communist government in East Germany in 1969. Norbert Witte bought the park in 1991, and smuggled cocaine between Peru and Germany in pieces of ride equipment. Oddly beautiful in its state of disrepair, but be warned that access into the site is now not possible due to a recently constructed fence, and the site is in the process of being demolished. However a promenade around the park makes for a really nice stroll and allows sneak peeks in to the installations.
• The Return of the Cows, Dietrich-Bonhoeffer Straße Berlin – a public art installation of larger than life cows scaling a vertical field of green. Another similar installation can be found just west at Kollwitzstraße 18 in Prenzlauerberg.
• Unter den Linden, Berlin – ‘Under the Linden Trees’ is a famous boulevard framed by Linden Trees, also known as Lime in Britain or Basswood in America. During the 19th century it was the grandest street in Berlin. Most trees were cut down during WWII for firewood, but replanted in the 1950s. Many notable sights, statues and works of architecture are located along this street.
• Volkspark Glienicke, Berlin-Zehlendorf, Berlin – an English landscape garden and pleasure ground around a palace, and a UNESCO world heritage site. Includes two striking golden lion statues at the entry, a cloister, orangerie, greenhouses, fountains, sculptures, flower beds, mosaics, and an arbor of Linden trees.
• Schlosspark Rheinsberg, Brandenburg – surrounds the Renaissance castle that was home to Frederick the Great in the early 18th century. Large areas of formal lawn, garden theatre, grotto, colourful flower beds and walks through more naturalistic areas to the obelisk for a picturesque view back across the lake to the castle.
• Branitzer Park, Cottbus, Brandenburg – landscaped in 1845 by Prince Fürst von Pückler-Muskau, with many informal lakes, sweeping lawns and majestic conifers creating a romantic garden. The Prince’s 12m high grass-covered pyramid tomb is a lake centrepiece.
• Spreewald, Lubben Brandenburg – Spree Forest is a UNESCO world heritage site and official Biosphere Reserve. Known as the Venice of Brandenburg, its multiple island farmsteads are linked together by navigable waterways, with varied topography between woodland, meadows, arid areas and wetlands. More than 18,000 species of plant and animal life have been recorded within these complex ecologies. Take a trip through this watery labyrinth in a traditional wooden punt, and spend time in one of the villages where traditional handicrafts and culture are kept alive.
• Ferropolis, Gräfenhainichen – The City of Iron is an open air museum full of giant obsolete industrial machinery. There is an indoor museum onsite which tells the stories of each structure, and some machines can be climbed for panoramic views of the surrounding peninsula.
• Tropical Island Resort, Krausnick – a former airship hangar designed to hold zeppelins, now converted into rainforest and beaches with artificial sunlight and year-round heating, fitting up to 6000 guests. Sunsets are played on video screens, and guests can spend the night in cottages or in tents on the fake beach with machine-controlled lapping waters. Balloon rides can also be taken above the tropical forest amongst free-flying birds
• Wörlitzer Anlagen (aka the Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz) , Wörlitz, Saxony-Anhalt – David Jacques has described this as ‘the finest English landscape garden there is’. Wörlitzer Park covers an astonishing 142 square km and features six palaces and seven historic gardens laid out in the naturalistic English style. A day visit will barely scratch the surface!
Originally created in the late 18th century by Prince Leopold III, Frederich Franz of Anhault-Dessau and designed by Johann Friedrich Eyserbeck, the park has several later gardens surrounding newer palaces, which is why it is called a ‘Garden Kingdom’. Gardens include the Dutch-style layout of the Oranienbaum garden with its orangerie and oriental inclusions and the Georgium, an English-style garden. The Mosigkau rococo period garden is in similar style to ‘Sanssouci’ in Potsdam and includes an orangerie. The Luisium was built for Luise of Anhault-Dessau.
The Garden Kingdom park is protected from flooding by a dyke which also provides a beautiful walkway from which to view many of the Garden’s main features, including large lakes, follies, an artificial volcano (which is still fired up today with spectacular effect) and neo-gothic buildings.
Parks landscapes and gardens to see in the north of Germany, including Hanover and Hamburg
• Herrenhausen Gardens, Hanover, Niedersachsen – four separate gardens. The Great Garden (Großer Garten) is a huge 50 hectare baroque garden of geometrical lawns, hedges and clipped parterres as well as statues, bell tower and orangerie. Designed for Sophie of Hanover in the early 18th century. The original Herrenhausen Castle was destroyed in WW2 but has now been rebuilt. The Berggarten (Mountain Garden) was the original vegetable garden, it is now a garden of exotic plants with palm house, mausoleum for Ernest Augustus 1 (1848), greenhouses and a newer tropical rainforest house. The Georgengarten is an English-style landscape garden developed by George III in the early 19th century with ponds, fountains, the romantic Leibniz Temple and a spectacular lime tree allée. The Welfengarten is part of the University of Hanover grounds and was rebuilt of WW2.
• Botanischen Gardens, Göttingen, Niedersachsen – three botanical gardens in the grounds of the University of Göttingen. The Old Botanical Garden, or System Garden was established in 1736. Both a beautiful green area for the city centre and a biology and botany teaching resource, the garden has tropical greenhouses,, alpine plants, historical garden, pond, arboretum and significant collections of endangered plants. Opened in 1967, the New or Experimental Botanical Garden studies plant ecology and ecosystems in a variety of gardens including an alpine garden, bog and water garden, rock garden and heritage fruit orchard. The Forest Botanical Garden is a 40 hectare arboretum of over 2,000 trees.
• Miniatur Wunderland, Hamburg – the largest model train installation in the world over 1,100 square metres with incredibly intricate models of trains, container ships, cable cars as well as entire towns and villages replicating landscapes of Scandinavia, Germany, Austria and the USA. Lines can be long, but tickets can be bought in advance on their website which includes waiting time forecasts to help avoid queues; how very German – considerate and efficient. Children under 1m are free, but adults over 120kg are not allowed due to ‘space restrictions’.
• Wälderhaus, Hamburg – a wooden hotel promoting German advances in sustainability and forest conservation. Includes a restaurant and a permanent exhibition on the relationship between forest and city, a science centre and an event hall used mostly for forums on ecological conservation and green energy initiatives. In fact, this was actually the site of the International Garden Show Hamburg in 2013. A walk around the immediate area will demonstrate many other sustainable housing projects in Wilhelmsburg.
• Ernst Pagels Garten, Leer (20km from the northern coast, near the border with The Netherlands) – Pagels worked with Foerster and bred many of our favourite Miscanthus cultivars. He created this garden around his plant breeding nursery over 5 decades as well as designing over 300 private and public gardens. Large perennial beds, pond and water garden, wildflower meadow and children’s play area. Open all year, at its best late summer through to early winter.
• Gräflicher Park, Bad Driburg (50km SE of Hanover) – large country home dating from the late 17th century, now a high-end hotel, spa and business centre with restaurants, bars and café. The 64 hectare park has both classical English-style landscaped gardens featuring tree-lined walks, vistas, rose garden, pond and water garden, hedge garden, sculpture, lily meadow designed by Gilles Clément, and spring bulb and tulip garden designed by Jacqueline van der Kloet plus a perennial and wildflower meadow garden created by Piet Oudolf in 2009.
• Ivenacker Eichen, Ivenack – the Oaks of Ivenack are the oldest trees in Northern Germany, now over 1100 years old. Getting there can make one feel a little lost – take a cobblestone road, pass an old castle and then drive through the old village.
• Naturerbe Zentrum on Rügen – this beautiful island off Germany’s north-east coast on the Baltic Sea has a timber treetop walk that culminates in a spectacular ‘Eagle’s Nest’ spiral.
Best parks, landscapes and gardens to see in the south-west of Germany (Baden-Württemberg)
• Sichtungsgarten Hermannshof, Weinheim – a 2 hectare botanical garden that’s a mecca for garden plantspeople and designers and considered by many to be one of the finest and most exciting modern gardens in Europe. Renowned for its experimental approach seeking beauty as well as using plants from similar climates in different parts of the world to create unique matrix plant communities of perennials. The gardens include a famous North American prairie garden, and Dutch designer Piet Oudolf says this is the only garden he visits for inspiration. You’d better not tell your horticultural friends if you miss this one on a trip to Germany, or you’ll be left out of the cool club.
• Freiburg Botanical Garden – now run by the University of Freiburg, the garden houses about 6,000 species of plants in pretty landscaped grounds with large ornamental ponds (including a warm-water pond), willow pavilion, and special sections for conifers, alpine plants, grapevine varieties and native plants.
• Landhaus Ettenbühl (10km south of Müllheim) – 5 hectare English-style landscaped garden plus 20 theme gardens and over 1000 varieties of plants. Hornbeam labyrinth, rose garden, spring garden, herb garden, water garden, prairie garden, potager, woodland walk and sunken garden
• Insel Mainau, Lake Constance, Baden-Württemberg – a 45 hectare island with an 18th century palace, and parks and gardens hat are among Germany’s most popualr gardens. A plant collector’s paradise, planted with spectacular displays of colourful semitropical and tropical vegetation. Arboretum, Italian gardens, orangery, spring bulbs, herb and butterfly gardens. Access to the island is by boat or a pedestrian bridge to the mainland, and leave at least two or more hours to explore this magical garden island.
• Karlsruhe Schlossgarten, Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg – the early 18th century garden surrounding the castle was developed in a fan-shape, with its radial avenues then dictating the shape of the town’s development and creating many splendid viewing axes.
• Killesberg Park, Stuttgart – once a quarry, the park was built in the late 1930s for a horticultural show. Miniature gauge railway and wonderful lantern festival (Lichterfest Stuttgart) each July.
• Pfahlbaumuseum Unteruhldingen, Uhldingen-Mühlhofen – the Lake Dwelling Museum is on stilts in a lake, and tells the story of lake dwellers who lived here from 4000 to 850BCE. There is a free swimming area next to the museum which is pretty nice in summer.
• Rosengarten Gönneranlage, Baden-Baden, Baden-Württemberg – large rose garden established in the early 20th century with over 10,000 rose bushes of 400 varieties, sculptures and central fountain.
• Schlossgarten Schwetzingen, Baden-Württemberg – one of the best maintained examples of a historic garden in Germany, with a combination of a 17th century French formal garden and an 18th century English landscape park. Mozart gave regular concerts at the theatre which is still used for concerts today. Another Noel Kingsbury favourite.
• Schlossgarten Weikersheim, Weikersheim, Baden-Württemberg. Pretty baroque early 18th century garden, designed by its owner Count Carl Ludwig of Hohenlohe. Features an elaborate orangery and many statues, from the classical Appolo and Diana to grotesque creatures.
• Stadtgarten Freiburg im Breisgau, Freiburg – Freiburg’s city garden with pond with memorial to the drake that warned of a 1944 air raid, a bridge, flower beds and sculpture.
• WALA Garten, Eckwälden, Baden-Württemberg – 4.5 hectare medicinal plant biodynamic garden developed on a former marsh by the WALA company. Guided tours by appointment.
Landscapes, parks and gardens to visit in eastern Germany (Saxony/Sachsen)
• Bagger 258, Schipkau – an industrial bucket wheel excavator or schaufelradbagger left in a German field. 171.5m long and 50m high, this machinery was designed in 1964 for mining coal and its blades were able to dig 15m deep.
• Barockgarten Großsedlitz, Heidenau, Saxony – a masterpiece of baroque landscape architecture extending across multiple levels, with French and Italian influences. Fountains, flower beds, sculptures and orangeries arranged in an unusual and original style.
• Fürst Pückler Gardens/Muskau Park, Bad Muskau – designed in the early 19th century by a German nobleman and landscape architect who was obsessed by the idea of designing the perfect landscape garden. The two park and castle estates he created in Bad Muskau (which straddles the Polish border) and Branitz (Cottbus) are considered amongst the most beautiful English-style gardens in Germany.
• Kunsthofpassage Singing Drain Pipes/Courtyard of Elements, Dresden – when the rain falls, this drain system urns into a musical instrument. An experience of ephemeral landscape elements created by sculptor Annette Paul and designers Christoph Rossner and Andre Tempel.
• Lichtenhainer Wasserfall, Kirnitzschtal – a small man-made waterfall powering an Art Nouveau elevator. Access is via a narrow, solar-powered tramway.
• Rakotzbrücke, Gablenz – a 19th century bridge that uses its reflection to form a perfect circle; when the waters are still and the light is right! The bridge can be viewed from within the surrounding parkland, but crossing this ‘Devils bridge’ (a name given to such bridges for the ‘unnatural’ way the parabola enables the stone bridge to span the underlying water) is prohibited.
• Schloss & Park Moritzburg, Moritzburg – a small baroque palace and park with one of the most lovely moats in Europe, positioned amidst a natural landscape of lakes and ponds.
• Schloss & Park Pillnitz, Dresden – former summer residence of the Kings of Saxony on the River Elbe, this park has a combination of Baroque and English landscape garden styles and many rare trees and Camellias which are over 200 years old.
• The Bastei, Rathen – an elegantly constructed stone bridge through spectacular sandstone rock formations, affording exceptional views across forest, the Elbe River Valley and the ruins of a German castle. This area is so picturesque that it was the setting of Germany’s first landscape photography. Plenty of hiking and rock climbing options for the more active traveller. The town of Rathen can be reached by paddle steamer from Dresden.
• Zwinger, Dresden – large and elaborate baroque garden sourrounding a complex of palaces, many rebuilt after destruction by Allied bombing in WW2. Features the Crown Gate decorated with Greek gods, and nymphaeum with fountain.
Best Landscapes and Gardens to See in Western Germany (Rhineland, Westphalia, Palatinate, Saarland)
• Arends Maubach Nursery, Wuppertal – a renowned nursery in operation since 1888 and owned by landscape architect Anja Maubach. This nursery has introduced more than 350 perennials into the horticultural world, many bearing the name ‘x arendsii’.
• BernePark, Bottrop – the site of an old sewage treatment plant is now a picturesque perennial garden featuring planting design by Piet Oudolf, large circular pool and industrial architecture.
• Botanischer Garten der Ruhr – Universität Bochum – opened in 1971, the 14 hectare garden has over 15,000 plant species, displayed in ecological or geographical rather than scientific groupings.
• Brennender Berg, Sulzbach – a canyon created by removing burnt shale at Brennender Mountain, and described in 1770 by literary giant Johann Wolfgang Goethe: ‘We entered a gorge and found ourselves in the vicinity of the burning mountain. We were enveloped by a strong sulphur smell; one side of the cave was almost glowing, and covered with reddish, white-roasted rock. Dense steam arose from the crevices and we could feel the hot ground even through the thick soles of our shoes.’ Modern visitors will find themselves walking through a forest, to find strange topographical mounds, and 20m high rock face that ripples along for 535m.
• Bruder Klaus Kapelle, Mechernich – Brother Klaus Field Chapel is a monolithic piece of architecture sited in a remote field to great effect. The original structure was created by leaning 112 tree trunks together like a tepee, erecting a rectilinear formwork or mould around this, and then pouring concrete in to create the smooth modern exterior of the building. The tree trunks were then set alight to leave timber impressions on the the interior of the chapel. The floor was formed from a solid block of poured molten lead and a sharp triangular door installed at the entrance. The chapel is accessible only on foot after a 10-15min walk from a signposted carpark on the outskirts of the village of Wachendorf, on Iversheimer Straße. There may be a shorter walk for people of reduced mobility from a closer parking area on Rißdorfer Weg.
• Burg Frankenstein, Mühltal – the ruins of a castle which was the home of an eccentric alchemist and possibly the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Panoramic views and a restaurant.
• Existernsteine, Horn-Bad Meinberg – limestone rock formations jutting up from surrounding forest which is reputed to be an ancient palaeolithic worshipping ground. Once a home for Christian monks, it is now a mecca for Neo-pagans and Neo-Nazis. Includes carved staircases, windows which align with the sun on the summer solstice and relief carvings. A Woodstock-like festival is also held onsite yearly on the summer solstice.
• Hortvs, Hilden – the private garden of Peter Janke, a rising star in German landscape design. A lovely idiosyncratic garden with personality, featuring clipped hedges, grasses and loose perennials. Janke was inspired by Beth Chatto, with whom he studied in England. Open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
• Jüdischer Friedhof Heiliger Sand, Worms – the oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe which remarkably survived Hitler’s Third Reich. The oldest graves have inscriptions from 1076.
• Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord, Duisburg – a former steel and coal plant transformed into a world famous piece of steam-punk landscape architecture by Peter Latz + Partner. What were separate industrial zones each maintains its own character, and are now connected by walkways and waterways. includes small gardens, fern gardens, old tanks for scuba divers, rock walls for climbers and the Piazza Metallica meeting area. Lit with neon lights at night.
• Maximilianpark, Hamm – a former coal mine converted into a 22 hectare park with a butterfly house, stunning perennial garden designed by Piet Oudolf, forest and grasslands, play park and a walk-in glass elephant sculpture affording panoramic views across the park. One of the best perennial gardens in Germany.
• Museums Insel Hombroich, Neuss – a beautifully designed modern art museum scattered across eleven permanent exhibition spaces within a nature park founded in 1982 on 25 acres of meadowland.
• Nibelungenhalle, Königswinter – a stone temple and fantasy garden created in dedication to Richard Wagner’s opera The Ring. Includes a mossy dragon’s grotto with a huge 13m stone dragon, and a reptile zoo full of living dragons.
• Friedrich Ebert Park, Frankfurt – colourful perennial meadow gardens designed by Christine Orel, surrounds Frankfurt’s exhibition centre.
• Veitshöchheim Rococo Garden, near Würzburg – elaborate garden surrounding an 18th century bishop’s palace, with 300 sandstone statues, strong axes and symmetrical layout, heritage variety orchards, kitchen garden, hedge-divided gardens. Local tours with Valerie Kistenberger.
• Schloss Augustusburg & Falkenlust, Brühl – a UNESCO world heritage site with palace gardens originally designed by Dominique Girard and redeveloped by Lenné in the 19th century into a landscape park with orangeries, pools and fountains and elaborately patterned parterres.
• Thingstätte, Heidelberg – an outdoor Nazi amphitheatre built on a sacred mountain site littered with ancient burial grounds, now part of a a public park.
• Tiger & Turtle Magic Mountain, Duisburg – a walkable rollercoaster affording impressive views to some especially gorgeous German countryside around it. Although a little disappointingly artists Heike Mutter and Ulrich Genth didn’t enable viewers to traverse the loop, the structure is lit up at night with LED lights enabling a night time stroll on high.
• Völklinger Hütte, Völklingen – the staggeringly huge Völklingen Ironworks was the first industrial site in the world to be declared a UNESCO world heritage site. The rusting machines which stopped work in 1986 are beautiful; this is a really unique landscape. There’s also a science centre called the Ferrodrom.
• Waldspirale, Darmstadt – The Wooded Spiral is a very unique residential complex designed to avoid straight lines and have as many trees as people. Completed in 2000, it includes a sloping roof garden with a huge variety of tree species including Beeches, Limes (Lindens) and Maples.
• Wunderland Kalkar, Kalkar – an amusement park on the grounds of an unused nuclear power plant, with a swing inside the cooling tower. The site was never actually used for its originally intended use.
Gardens, parks and landscapes to visit in Central Germany (Hesse and Thuringia)
• Auerworldpalast, Bad Sulza – at Auerworld Palace, live Willow saplings are woven together to form a kind of domed outdoor cathedral designed by architect Marcel Kalber. This is also the venue for many full moon parties at the Auerworld Festival.
• Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, Kassel – baroque park with 300 year old hydro-pneumatic massive cascade waterworks. Europe’s largest hillside park, it is also a UNESCO world heritage site.
• Gräflicher Park, Bad Driburg – a Piet Oudolf garden in the midst of a large German park located in a spa town at the foot of the Teuroburg Forest, all taken care of by Count Caspar Heinrich von Sierstorpff. Say no more.
• Mühlenplatz, Oberweser – a garden gallery founded in 1969 which is full of miniature buildings which are like a history of German architecture.
• Palmengarten, Frankfurt am Main, Hessen – botanical garden surrounds an impressive 1870 palm house, one of the largest in Europe. Also a rose garden, great pond, rock garden and grotto, blossom house, bamboo grove, steppe and prairie garden, succulent garden, subantarctic house, and tropicarium.
• Park an der Ilm, Weimar, Thüringen – on the banks of the River Ilm, and laid out by the writer Goethe around his garden house in the English landscape style he had so admired at Wörlitz Park. Mature native and exotic trees, grotto, statues and ponds.
• Rose of Hildesheim/Thousand Year Rose, Hildesheim – the world’s oldest rose, it survived being bombed in World War II, when all above ground parts of the plant were blown away. The rose reaches up a section of Hildesheim Cathedral, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. The rose is thought to have been planted in the early 800’s when the church was founded and displays pale pink flowers around May.
• Schloss Belvedere, Weimar, Thüringen – the gardens were laid out by Dominique Girard, who had been a pupil of Le Nôtre. Some remnants survive, such as the water garden, cascades and parterres. The patterned bedding is currently under restoration.
• Teufelskanzel & Hexenaltar, Sankt Andreasberg – two granite rock formations the ’Devil’s Pulpit’ and ’Witches’ Altar’ atop Brocken mountain long associated with devilry in German myth and lore. A Brocken Spectre also occurs here, which is an optical illusion created when low sun shines behind someone looking down into fog from a ridge.
• Unicorn Cave, Herzberg am Harz – a prehistoric burial site discovered in medieval times and thought for a long time to be a collection of unicorn bones. 610 metre cave filled with bones shown to be that of prehistoric animals taking shelter in the cave. Includes mammoths, bears and lion remains, as well as prehistoric tools created by humans.
• Walter De Maria’s Vertical Earth Kilometer, Kassel – a 5cm solid brass rod extending 1km straight into the earth, created by renowned land artist Walter de Maria. What could be mistaken for a large blank coin is one of de Maria’s most subtle pieces.
• Wilhelmsbad Hanau, Wilhelmsbad, Hessen – naturalistic English style gardens with lake, bridge, temples and forest. Large garden fair each June.
Best garden, landscapes and parks to see in Bavaria, including Munich
(Note: Bavaria and Munich are Bayern and München respectively in German)
• Bayreuth Court Garden and Hermitage Court Garden – 18th century gardens with a unique style of rococo decoration which evolved in the town palace and through the complex of gardens, palaces, fountains, boskets (tree groves), grottoes and pavilions. The Bayreuth Hermitage has a wonderful ‘tunnel of green gloom’ to walk along. Wagner’s Festspielhaus and garden was also built to the composer’s specifications on a hill outside the town.
• Burgruine Werdenfels, Garmisch-Partenkirchen – ruins of the Werdenfels Castle, once the site of the incarceration and torture of women accused of being witches in the 16th century, after which time, the dismantled stones were used to build a Christian church. The original castle on the site was built sometime around the 13th century. Visitors can wander the arches and courtyards.
• Dachau Court Garden – garden surrounding Dachau Castle with colourful flower beds, roses and a bee garden.
• Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, Dachau – a landscape that bore witness to the very best and most appalling of human behaviour.
• Bärbels Garden, Dixenhausen – 8,500 sqm private garden of Barbara Krasemann, which features in the German TV gardening show ‘Querbeet’. Two hour tours on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month, May to October. Water garden, shade garden, swimming pond, alpinium, topiary, orchard and conservatory.
• German History of Medicine Museum and garden, Ingolstadt – beautifully presented 2,000sqm herb and medicinal garden outside the baroque Museum building.
• Dehner Blumenpark, Rain – ‘Gardens of the World’ Floral Park, garden centre and 1.2 hectare teaching garden. Display beds, Japanese garden, lavender garden, flower clock, waterfalls, alpine hills.
• Dichtergarten, Munich – Poets Garden – a 2 hectare naturalistic garden on a steep slope dedicated in 1984 to Munich poets and artists, and featuring many statues.
• Englischer Garten, Munich – larger than New Yorks central park, this huge 370 hectare park is the green lungs of Munich. Laid out in informal English landscape style. Features mature trees, a Japanese teahouse, Chinese pagoda, surfing stream and Greek temple (The Monopteros).
• Ehekarussell, Nuremberg – a particularly lurid, grim and controversial fountain traversing artist’s perspective on the sad course of marriage from dating to death.
• Kalbus Rose Gardens, near Nuremberg – half hectare rose garden with many rare roses and combined with herb under-plantings.
• Garmisch/Mittenwald – a walking and hiking region famed for its beautiful scenery. June is peak wildflower season.
• Mussärol Herb Nursery and Show Garden, Bamberg – 1,500sqm of over 200 types of herbs and medicinal plants. Highly aromatic!
• Leyk’s Lotus Garden, Rothenberg – 3,000sqm Asian-style garden with ponds, cherry trees, ornamental bridge, waterfalls and Japanese teahouse
• Max Buchhauser Garden, Regensburg – sculpture garden full of bizarre and whimsical pieces.
• Nördlingen – a town whose extremities are bounded by the edge of a crater 24 km wide. Residents have incorporated many parts of the meteor into the structures of the town. The church for example, is encrusted in meteorites. Climbing the Nördlingen church will afford a nice view of the crater edges, or airplane tours are also run by a local operator.
• Park Schönbusch, Aschaffenburg – 160 hectare park designed in the English landscape style for the Archbishop of Mainz in the late 18th century. Large lakes, observation tower, follies, vistas, orangery, maze.
• Rockgarden Sanspareil, Bayeuth-Wonsees – centred around odd natural rock formations and caves among a beech grove
• Sichtungsgarten Weihenstephan, Freising – gardens which support teaching at the Weihenstephan-Triesdorf University of Applied Sciences, designed by Karl Foerster. Constantly evolving garden at the cutting edge of high level of garden design. Perennial trial garden for both individual species and also planting combinations, woodland garden, courtyard garden, parterre garden, water gardens, allotment garden for vegetables and herbs, oberdieck garden and apothecary garden. Don’t miss this!
• Schloss Linderhof, Ettal – the Linderhof Palace is a small but opulent palace inspired by composer Richard Wagner, with large gardens borrowing styles from various eras and countries, grottos and oriental adornments – all amid mountainous forested terrain.
• Schlossgarden Nymphenburg, Munich-Nymphrnburg – summer palace of the Wittelsbachs which includes its own botanic garden. The original baroque gardens were designed by Dominique Girard with naturalistic elements of lakes, tree groves and winding paths added by Friedrich Ludwig von Sckell in the early 1800s.
• Schloss Fantasie, Bayreuth-Eckersdorf – Fantaisie Palace Park – designed in the late 19th century, the gardens mix rococo and naturalistic styles. The Fantaisie Palace Garden Museum opened in 2000, exploring the history of gardens from 17th-19th centuries as part of the history of art and culture, particularly in Bavaria.
• Schlossgarten Schleissheim, Oberschlesischem – one of the few German baroque gardens to be still largely intact. Designed in the mid 17th century by Henrico Zuccalli and added to by Dominique Girard. Impressive central axis and cascade.
• Schloss Neuschwanstein – the famous castle which was the model for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle. Large formal water garden with fountains and classical statuary, clipped hedges.
• Schloss Thurn and Taxis (St Emmeram Palace), Regensburg – romantic palace park around an abbey which was converted into a palace. Lived in today by Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, home to an annual summer garden festival.
• Sanspareil Rock Garden, Bayreuth-Wonsees – an 18th century literary garden designed around an 17th century story of the son of Odysseus. Makes use of the forests natural rock formations and includes grottoes, ruins, an amphitheatre and a central temple.
• King Ludwig I Palace Gardens, Bad Brückenau – created for the King’s summer residence, the 5 hectare gardens have a strong central vista, kitchen gardens, medicinal garden, terracing with distinctive landform sculpting, chestnut avenue, rose garden, topiary, garden pavilions and water.
• The Eagle’s Nest, Berchtesgaden – a beer garden at 1800m elevation atop the Obersalzberg mountains in one of the most beautiful parts of Bavaria, this was once Hitler’s famous Eagle’s Nest and an impressive feat of engineering even today.
• Westpark, Munich, Bayern – a public park designed by Peter Kluska, now containing perennial gardens designed by Rosemary Weisse making it more like a garden than a public park, with informal compositions of perennials and stretches of meadow. Weisse describes it as a “plant sociological system”. Originally designed for the International Garden Expo of 1983 – four of those gardens have been preserved, including the Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Nepalese gardens. Two large lakes, rose garden. Top on Noel Kingsbury’s list of German gardens to visit.
• Weiße Rose (White Rose) Pavement Memorial, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich – inscribed bronze ‘pamphlets’ inlaid into cobblestones remember the remarkably courageous student rebel Germans who opposed the Nazis within this city which was a Nazi stronghold and were later executed by Nazi authorities.
German Garden Shows and Festivals
Each year several German cities host a large landscape and garden festival or landesgartenschau. These are often a major city beautification or urban renewal project where a design competition concept is built by the City, often with an investment of €10 million or more. The ‘show’, often with extra temporary seasonal gardens, is open for six months April to September and the site then becomes a city park for future generations.
• Bundesgartenschau/BUGA23 – The International Garden Show (IGS) occurs every 10 years, the next being 2023 in Mannheim and a major part of the development of a green belt for the city once the event is over. In 2013 the theme was ‘Around the world in 80 gardens’ and it was based in Hamburg. Cultural, sports and education programs are incorporated into this big event.
• Gartenschau – in Bad Herrenalb in 2017 – a brilliant concept, the Gartenschau is a summer-long event that moves to a new site in Germany each year, leaving a high-quality public park behind, and in this way, Germany is rejuvenating a lot of its old industrial and military sites. At the actual event, one can see show gardens, buy new plants, see art exhibits and learn gardening tips (fyi green roofs were invented here).
• IGA Berlin International Garden Exhibition, 13 April-October 15 2017 – this is the first international garden exhibition in Berlin and it has been conceived at an incredible scale, over 100 hectares and with over 8000 events planned. The exhibition features self contained garden cabinets from Australia, Brazil, Chile, China, South Africa and Thailand…British landscape architect Tom Stuart-Smith sowed the grasses and shrubs for his design back in May 2015. Municipalities within the region of eastern Berlin are also participating with a diverse range of projects, and there is an extensive education program with 3000 events across 180 days educating 30,000 children from Berlin and around the world. Ten artists have also been invited to develop site-specific installations throughout the exhibition grounds. Prepare to be impressed and hopefully not overwhelmed.
• Das Gartenfest Hanau – 4 days mid June, plants and garden products from 130 exhibitors
• Garden Trade Fair Cologne – September 3-5, 2017 – as the name suggests, an event showcasing products for gardening, floristry, equestrian, sports, outdoor furniture, water technology, outdoor lighting and the like.
• Garden Festival Harkotten Castle Warendorf – September 8-10, 2017 – another garden product-based festival.
IPM Essen – promoted as the world’s leading trade fair for horticulture and ‘the only specialist trade fair of its kind to cover the entire value chain of plants, including production, technology, floristry, garden features an the point of sale’. Affiliated events in Dubai, Moscow and Beijing.
• spoga+gafa – huge trade-only plant and garden products fair in Cologne in early September
• Thurn & Taxis Gartenschau, Regensburg – June 22-25, 2017 – plant stalls, floral design, garden sculptures, music and food.
• Landesgartenschau in Bad Lippspringe (North Rhine-Westphalia) – set in a Kurwald forest and designed by Berlin landscape architecture firm Sinai. Covers 33 hectares, open from April 12 to October 15, 2017
• Thuringian Landesgartenschau – ‘Flowering Apolda’ – April 29 to September 24, 2017. Covering 18 hectares over the Herressen promenade and Paulinenpark in Apolda, Thuringia.
The handful of varieties on a supermarket shelf is a fraction of those grown around the world, as you can see with the hundreds of different pumpkins displayed at the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival.
Garden travel starts with desire…you want ALL the beautiful gardens, exotic locations and intriguing local cultures. But I know that this desire is best satisfied when its balanced by restraint, as that’s what will give you the most holiday pleasure.