In late December, we visited Cologne to check out the famous German Christmas markets. Of course, I couldn’t let a trip to a new city go by without a visit to the local botanical gardens. So after stuffing ourselves with great food at the markets - everything from the standard bratwurst to delicious cedar plank salmon washed down with generous quantities of mulled wine - we walked along the Rhine river to the gardens. I wasn’t expecting much given the time of the year, but for a gardener from Eastern North America, there were definitely some surprises in store. Winters are only slightly milder in this part of Germany than what I’m used to in Toronto, but what a difference it makes!
The most amazing sight was a planting of camellias in a woodland section. Camellias look like tropical plants, with shiny evergreen leaves and huge peony-like flowers. Appearances can be deceiving though, as these plants were growing completely unprotected and beginning to flower in late December. I had to touch them to make sure they weren't fake.
Another impressive plant was Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn'. Not only was the entire shrub covered in light pink flowers, but the beautiful fragrance dominated a whole section of the garden, perhaps helped by the crisp winter air and lack of smell competition from other plants. Lucky are the gardeners who can enjoy this in their gardens in the middle of winter. In Ontario, the plant is hardy but doesn’t flower until spring.
We also spotted a small tree bearing flowers. It looked almost like a cherry, but I have no idea what tree would be flowering so profusely at this time of the year and it wasn't labeled.
One display reminded me that even cold climate gardeners have access to great plants for the winter – grasses. With the right lighting, the effects created by grasses are hard to beat.
Overall, the garden was enjoyable but perhaps not exceptional. It did make me a bit jealous of Cologne gardeners though, who can enjoy magnificent camellia blooms, fragrant shrubs and flowering trees in their gardens at this time of year. Oh, and I didn’t even mention the rhododendron we spotted blooming … in December!