Wild Flower of the Year – 2013

Every year the German Loki Schmidt Foundation pronounces a wild flower “Blume des Jahres” – Flower of the Year, in order to draw attention to the fact that certain plants and their habitats are endangered. I was particularly pleased to hear last week that the Hepatica nobilis (Liverwort – Leberblümchen) has been declared Flower of the Year 2013.

I love this flower, and if you saw my post in the spring, you will surely understand why. It is the first wild flower to show its pretty colours in March, sometimes even February. Where we live the conditions are perfect; chalky, well-drained soil, and shady and damp, undisturbed woodland floors.

We are fortunate to have so many in our region, since they have died out in some states of Germany already, and are endangered in many others.

When the Hepatica is flowering, no other flowers are yet in bloom – not even the violets – so I have been confused by one thing; imagine snow-covered ground, leafless trees, barely a hint of spring in the warm breeze, the first blue flowers peeping through patches of melting snow, and ….. a light and sweet perfume wafting in drifts across the footpath. Heavenly! I have never found the scent documented, so unless it’s my imagination I have perhaps just been extremely lucky to smell them! They MUST smell slightly, as ants are attracted to the seeds.

Do YOU know this wild flower?

A Bishop’s Garden (Part Four)

The final part of my series on the Bishop of Gemmingen’s botanical garden in Eichstätt – Hortus Eystettensis – is dedicated to this tree…

Melia azedarach

For those of you in warmer climes than Bavaria this may be known to you. Often called Bead Tree or Cape Lilac, it is of the Mahogany family and is native to India, South-east Asia, and Australia. It has probably been exported widely as an ornamental garden tree, but I have never seen one at a nursery in Germany. It dislikes cold, dry conditions, and only established trees can survive freezing temperatures. Wikipedia also gives the following common names: Chinaberry, Persian Lilac, White Cedar, Texas Umbrella, Ceylon cedar, and Pride of India. I’d love to hear if anyone knows it or has seen one before. (And are they invasive, as Wikipedia claims?)

The small, star-like, pale lilac flowers smell lovely and were in full bloom at the end of June. The seeds are, however, toxic…

I find the growth as well as the flower of the Melia so attractive, and the delicate fragrance similar to that of elderflower. In fact one of the German common names is “Chinese Elder”.

This was most definitely my favourite plant at the Bastion Garden (Hortus Eystettensis). The small but extensive botanical garden in Eichstätt made a great impression on me, and I will certainly be making another visit next year… if not sooner. 😉

Hope you enjoyed looking at the garden with me.

Thanks for visiting!

A Bishop’s Garden (Part Three)

The Hortus Eystettensis (Garden at Eichstätt) has been the subject of two posts recently, here and here. Today I’m presenting some of the beautiful things I saw there. This small botanical garden has a lot to offer!

(For a closer look, click on the pictures)

There were herbs…


Anthemis tinctoria (Yellow Chamomile)

Tagetes and Thyme

There were heavenly scents from plants that to the eye were not perfect, but to the nose…



(The Broom fragrance was the first thing we noticed when entering the garden, and it was at the far end!)

There were common plants I grow in my own garden…



And then the unusual, that I had heard of but never seen…

The Judas Tree (Cercis siliquastrum)

(already flowered but with amazing seed pods)

A Lentil Tree? (Linsenbaum)

There were still a few flowers on a pomegranate, and the citrus plants in enormous pots (to be taken indoors over winter) were bushy and healthier than any I’ve seen before in our climes!

Lemons with a flowering Cotinus (Smokebush) in the background



There is one more tree that caught my eye – completely new to me and so beautiful it will get a post of its own tomorrow…

That will conclude the series on this garden.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief look at the botanical garden in Eichstätt.

Thank you for visiting!

A Bishop’s Garden (Part Two)

Yesterday I showed you the grounds of the newly recreated bastion garden “Hortus Eystettensis (Garden at Eichstätt).

This is Basilius Besler, the famous German botanist who fulfilled Prince-Bishop Johann Konrad von Gemmingen’s dream of a botanical garden devoted to flowering plants in the early 17th century.

(Isn’t that a great name for a botanist? I bet his friends called him Basil…)

Bishop Konrad, an enthusiastic botanist who dearly loved the Hortus Eystettensis, sadly did not live to see its completion. However, he had requested a record of all the plants growing there, which meant that Besler was responsible for commissioning a collection of copper plate engravings of the plants, also called the Hortus Eystettensis.

The engravings were printed in 1613, and the resulting book (again called Hortus Eystettensis) contained over 1,000 plants, partly in colour, often near life-size.  (The pages are 54 x 45cm and the book weighs 14kg!) Flowers such as tulips and sunflowers – common garden flowers for us today – were at that time precious rarities. Yet the exotic was placed on pages next to the commonplace; German flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables were shown in all their glory alongside lilies, aloe, the fig or the aubergine. It must have been a fabulous collector’s item of its age!

It was a wise decision to document the garden with these engravings, since the garden was destroyed by Swedish troops in 1634. These engravings were used as the basis for planning the new site in 1998.

I recently found a paperback containing 73 of the plates from the original work, and their detail and accuracy is fabulous. Besler’s Book of Flowers and Plants is a much more affordable version of the Hortus Eystettensis! I am fascinated by botanical drawings and this book does not disappoint.

For a glance through the original herbarium, take a look at this short video here… such beautiful pictures!

The view from the garden across the town of Eichstätt is also wonderful. It has the only Catholic university in Germany and is still the seat of the Catholic bishop.

I’ll post Part Three in a couple of days; a few more pictures of the plants and flowers I saw there…

Thanks for stopping by, and have a good week!

A Bishop’s Garden (Part One)

Once upon a time there was a Bishop called PrinceBishop Johann Konrad von Gemmingen, who loved plants. And there was a botanist called Basilius Besler. The beginning of a wonderful friendship? I’m not sure, as it isn’t documented! But certainly the beginning of a wonderful garden…. A garden which has recently been recreated not far from here.

The Bastion Garden

In 1998 the Hortus Eystettensis (Garden in Eichstätt) made a comeback. With a small budget  from The Bavarian Department of State-owned Palaces, Gardens and Lakes and the help of many influential or simply kind-hearted people, the Bastion Garden was finally recreated.

A first visit in 1999 was disappointing; there was little to see except the layout and plans for the future, but I was full of hope…  Another visit a few years later was also not what I had expected. Then, at the end of June this year, I returned once again, and finally this beautiful spot has become a lovely historical record of the plants found in the original 17th century botanical garden, on the same site.

It nestles into the side of the hill where the Willibaldsburg Castle stands…

(Looking up, the garden is on the far left behind the lower wall)

… and it is surrounded by walls and buildings on all sides. It is thus extremely sheltered as well as being open to the sun and sky.

(Looking down from one of the inner walls of the castle grounds)

It is arranged in medieval style, dividing the plants according to season, i.e. when they flower.

It is a very simple garden. Its history, however, is fascinating.

More on the history in Part Two tomorrow, but here are just a few of the plants I saw there…

Veronica (longifolia?)

Aloe vera

Lychnis chalcedonica

Delphinium, Goat’s Beard and Broom

I found it refreshing to see plants simply displayed in their own right, and not as artistic combinations – even though I love those combinations we all see or create in our own gardens…

Hope you’ll drop by for Part Two tomorrow.

Have a nice Sunday!

Book Review: The Golden Age of Flowers

The Golden Age of Flowers: Botanical Illustration in the Age of Discovery 1600-1800

By Celia Fisher

Today is also World Book and Copyright Day, so I felt a book review fitting.

The introduction to this book is extremely interesting. Within a few pages the author has helped me to finally put some of these famous names into perspective: Linnaeus, Clusius, Tradescant, Banks, to name but a few.  These plant hunters, collectors, botanists and merchants played a decisive role in what we see in our gardens today. Thanks to Celia Fisher, I now know that Clusius was around in the 16th century, and Linnaeus in the 18th!  Linnaeus was the man who brought order to plant names, and thus a man I wish to learn more about. Above all, I have become hungry for further information! Now I know what I want to research and read more about.

However, the main body of this book is a collection of over a hundred botanical drawings from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Here is an example:

These beautiful works of art are accompanied by a brief outline of where the plants originated and when/how they came to Europe. I was fascinated to find out who discovered what, and where. Who first cultivated the Geranium? When was the Phlox brought to Europe from America? Where did the Daffodil come from? For me it is important to comprehend how, for example, Nerines were believed to be Japanese, but were actually African, yet were called “Guernsey Lilies”!

I could read this book again and again and learn something new each time. (I have read the introduction three times and found myself making notes!) The text is not long and not wordy. And even if the reader is not attracted by the text, the drawings are amazing. If only I could draw!

This is, on the one hand, a beautiful “coffee table” book, for browsing occasionally. Or, on the other hand, if you are interested in botanical history, you could lose yourself in it… I did.

Freeing the Mind

“Our minds should be free from traces of the past, just like the flowers of spring”

Shunryu Suzuki

Ribes sanguineum

(Flowering currant)

This flower of spring is both striking and delicate…

The shrub is stunning from a distance; the fresh green of the leaves just unfurling contrasts wonderfully with the fat red buds which open slowly and often last a good two or three weeks.

It does, however, have one major disadvantage…

… early in the year the whole shrub emits a rather unpleasant scent!

Fortunately the scent fades after it has flowered…

Traces of the past:

This shrub was first introduced to gardens for cultivation by David Douglas, an intrepid Scottish botanist, who traveled thousands of kilometres while searching for new plants. On his travels Douglas climbed snow-covered mountains, crossed rapids, survived desert-like prairies, and clashed with native Americans. But he finally met a tragic end when in Hawaii; he fell into a deep pit and was killed by a wild animal…