Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hermannshof, Germany - Part II

Hermannshof is a fantastic, public experimental garden hidden in the small town of Weinheim in south-west Germany. The aim of Hermannshof is to showcase “successful examples of new directions in planting design, especially in the naturalistic planting style”. There is too much interesting stuff happening in this garden for just one blog, so this is part two. Last time I tried to give a little tour of the North American perennial garden, which uses many of the very striking flowering perennials we've come to know and love through the New Perennial movement. Although the North American perennial garden is open and uses a mix of both perennials and grasses, it’s a perennial flower garden rather than a prairie inspired garden. The separate prairie inspired gardens are the topic of this post.

The prairie gardens are found at the entrance section to Hermannshof, and are based on the tall and mixed grass prairies of North America. But signs are quick to point out that the gardens are not meant as a re-creation of a prairie, but rather an artistic interpretation of the prairie idea, which seems to so captivate European gardeners.

I found it very interesting to contrast these gardens with the previous North American perennial sections. Grasses make up the bulk of the planting, with flowering plants mixed in but at a pretty low percentage. The colour is predominantly green in early August, though it would be very interesting to see it later in the year as grass seed heads and fall colours become more apparent.

The planting seemed extremely informal and relaxed, but I think that belies its complexity. Flowering perennials were mixed in with layers of grasses in intricate ways. In some instances, there were large colonies of certain flowers, such as Echinacea angustifolia below. In other cases, many different single plants could be found in a small area. I wonder how much of this is controlled and how much is self-seeded, and what they do for maintenance in this garden.

In early August, the height of the plants was already impressive. Walking down some paths, you felt completely swallowed by the vegetation. The best 'garden' experience in my mind.

Although the North American prairie garden did get top billing, there were also two sections devoted to its European cousin, the Mediterranean steppe. I particularly liked one of them, which was used as a lead-in to the woodland sections. Shorter grasses dominated the scenery, and I especially admired the fluffy, soft seedheads of the grass below. Anyone know what it might be? Autumn moor grass (Sesleria autumnalis) also looked great, with very clean, bright green foliage. It was the perfect partner to lime green Peucedanum verticellare, which I didn't know before but it was used to great effect throughout this area.

Autumn moor grass (Sesleria autumnalis) in the foreground and the umbellifer Peucedanum verticellare (or Angelica verticillaris)

The prairie and steppe sections at Hermanshof are some of the most complex and interesting gardens I have seen so far, and I think it’s especially impressive to find them in a public park. It’s quite bold to use so few flowering plants in a public garden in a very non-traditional design. But there were a lot of people walking around who really seemed to enjoy themselves and pay close attention. Perhaps a small example that people will respond to many kinds of gardens.

I'm afraid there will have to be a part three for Hermannshof – it's getting late and I just haven't had the time to go through all the woodland pictures yet. And I have to pack for a trip home to Canada! Hurray!


  1. Great post. I think of this garden as sort of the "mother ship" of the naturalistic prairie style. In saying that I know I'm ignoring the contributions of many others. I know Hermannshof only through Kingsbury's books, and it's taken on almost a mythic status for me. Thanks for the continuing series. Have a safe trip to Canada.

  2. Thanks James! It's always very nice to hear from you.

  3. Hello by way of introduction I am an expat living in Belgium too..a New Zealander ..I am involved in the Floral world here which motivates keeps me occupied as one has to being away from home ..see I read your wanderings and keep them for your point of view...I am writing to you because this weekend my colleague Gudrun Cottenier is taking Group on a a bus trip from Gent to Piet Oudolfs garden I dont see it here on your list and thought you might like to join the trip too ? Email me if you are interested and I can tell you more .Best , Isabel Gilbert Palmer.

  4. Hi Isabel. Thanks for contacting me - it's always nice to hear from other expats in Belgium. I've actually already been to Piet's (see here), but was hoping for a repeat visit this fall. Unfortunately I'm off to Germany this weekend, but I'll get in touch in case you're planning any future garden visiting trips.

  5. Thanks for a great post -- this garden looks amazing. I'm planning a garden-visiting trip to Germany and Holland specifically to focus on naturalistic gardens (in Sept), so have enjoyed reading through your posts.

  6. Hi, just came across this post by chance. I thought I might let you know, that the grass with the fluffy seed heads is Melica ciliata, I think.

    Regards, Mandy

    1. Thank you Mandy! I had given up hope of finding out what the grass was, so thanks very much for your help.