Sunday, 1 May 2011

German gardens - unexpected delights

We were in Munich and Nuremberg a few weeks back and encountered some unexpected delights - both historical and contemporary approaches to gardening and garden style. First and foremost has to be the wonderful 'Hesperidengaerten' in St Johannis, a vibrant and historically interesting district just outside the Nuremberg city walls. These small baroque gardens are tucked behind various buildings in the street and are a recreation and restoration of gardens associated with Johann Christoph Volkamer (1644-1720). First - behind a block of flats with a modest baroque-style exterior - was this atmospheric garden with statues of Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Apollo, Diana, Mars, and Saturn, as well as box hedging, a fountain, and a pavillion (unfortunately closed).

Looking down the garden towards the pavilion (photo copyright Juju)

Looking from the pavillion towards the flats (photo copyright John Hackston)

It was amazing to find something like this in a suburban neighbourhood - the residents of the building were out in the yard in front of the garden making the most of the sunshine and a little lad was playing football.

(As an aside and a non-garden history cultural reference - I certainly didn't think this at the time but the photo above puts me in mind of the 'weeping angels', the scary statues from Dr Who...)

The second and more impressive garden was behind an old pub/restaurant - it was spread across several plots and with access at the back to the river. There were statues representing the seasons, continents, Hercules, dancing girls and some strange gnome-like characters, fountains, box hedging, arches with climbing roses, and even an old 'Fachwerkhaus'.

Looking down the first section of garden behind the pub towards the Fachwerkhaus (photo copyright Juju)

The arches were covered with roses and must look spectacular when in flower:

Copyright Juju
One outstanding feature was a sundial made from box plants with a pillar, globe and gnomon to cast the shadow:

Copyright John Hackston

Copyright John Hackston

Apart from appreciating the gardens and their historical significance in German garden history, I was struck by the setting: when we visited it was a quiet Sunday morning and there were just one or two tourists around and a few locals sitting on the benches reading books or newspapers and relaxing in the sun. Because of its position, there are numerous flats overlooking the garden: imagine having this as your surrogate back garden! On one side the garden is flanked by a reasonably ugly wall and old factory but somehow that adds to the charm of the space. I need to finish translating the leaflets on the gardens that I was lucky enough to find in a secondhand rummage bin in a local bookshop - I need to understand the full story of these remarkable gardens.

In contrast to these formal historic gardens, we also chanced upon a collection of informal gardens lying underneath the city walls and adjacent to the ancient castle. A plaque described this area as 'Schneppergraben' - which we think relates to the medieval archers who practised and possibly lived in this area. The gardens were individual plots obviously rented or owned by local people - probably those without their own gardens - and it was wonderful to see how they had personalised their space with seating, sheds, planting, glass globes (these seem very popular in Germany), children's play equipment and so on.

Looking down on the plots from the city walls (photo copyright Juju)

Looking through the fences (photo copyright Juju)

And I'll just finish with a mention of the castle gardens. I've visited Nuremberg castle many times over the last 30 years but I couldn't recall much about the gardens so this was another unexpected delight even if it was a more formal touristy experience. They looked spectacular in the early Spring sunshine: