Monday, August 1, 2011

Hermannshof, Germany

Of all the gardens showcasing the exciting horticultural developments now happening in Germany, Hermannshof is probably the best. It was at the top of my garden visiting list for a while before I finally made it there last summer. Hermannshof combines everything that is great in German garden design. First, it is a public park and free for anyone to stumble into. Second, everything in the garden is an experiment, and thus always changing, exploring and pushing boundaries. You can see almost everything in this garden because noses are not turned up at any plant family – there are outrageously flashy annual beds side by side with decidedly understated and un-garden like meadows.

The declared aim of Hermannshof is to study and showcase the modern use of plants. The park is a playground for garden director Cassian Schmidt and head gardener Till Hofmann along with 7 garden staff. And they are playing with a lot of different things – woodland plants, annuals, water plants. But clearly their passion, if one is to judge by what covers the most ground, are prairies and meadows in their many incarnations.

The garden itself is not very large, about 2.2 ha (5.5 acres) in total. There is a densely planted area at the entrance, where several beds are separated by paths and buildings. From there opens the main area of the park, which is roughly square with a circular path around the outside. The plantings are arranged around this circular path, while the center is simply lawn, though it was my impression that the plants were slowly encroaching. The planting style changes rapidly as you move through the garden to showcase various styles or habitats.

A much better map can be found on the garden website here.

Close to the park entrance, one first encounters the annual beds. Although I didn't necessarily like all the plants used (I'm biased against certain annuals, such as amaranthus), it was an extremely interesting experiment which proves you can create a very intricate and rewarding planting tapestry based on annuals.

These 'summary' plant labels were posted in some areas, and I thought they really great. Rather than having to crawl around the beds to try to find a tag on each plant, here was everything together! Unfortunately, there were only a few of them around the park.

Past these beds begins one of the real show pieces of the garden, the North American perennial section. This is not a prairie inspired garden as there are mainly flowering perennials and only a few grasses (I'll have to save the real prairie sections for the next blog - I think Hermannshof is just too overwhelming for a single post). The first sections here were just bursting at the seams with the colour and exuberance of helianthus, rudbeckia and annual zinnia. Again, there was a handy summary label, though only some of the plants were listed.

We visited on August 8th (this was actually an earlier trip than the one to Peter Janke's garden.. it's all starting to blend together). Already a lot of dry seedheads, such as echinops, were playing a big role.

There were also some more subtle colour combinations in places, which were certainly not any less striking. Something to learn from each creation in this place.

Next time - the prairie inspired gardens at Hermannshof! Hopefully coming sooner than one month from now.


  1. Thanks for this tour. Hermannshof is at the tip top of my list too. The planting at Hermannshof appears to be very different from, say, Piet Oudolf. More mixed planting (at least that's what I seem to see in photos) than extensive massed planting. It's very hard to find anything on this garden in the American media, a problem, it seems, with most German gardens. Apart from Noel Kingsbury, no one seems to be writing in English about this and other German gardens.

  2. Hi James. Indeed you're right - the planting was more mixed at Hermannshof than some of Oudolf's massed plantings, though there were certainly blocks and drifts of plants in the area I showed above. In the other pairie inspired sections the planting was even more mixed and very complex (I'll post pictures soon). And yes, it's a pity there isn't more information in English about German gardens. I think there is a lot of discussion going on in Germany about gardening which would be very valuable to all of us, but alas it's all in German.

  3. I love visiting these amazing gardens with you!

  4. Thank you Mrs Bok! Did you get to visit many gardens on your trip through France?