The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 3: European Gardens (500AD-1850)

Erfurt Gardens

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391. Erfurth has been celebrated for its horticulture from the earliest ages. It was selected by Charlemagne as a staple town for one of the great roads of Germany, and, in succeeding centuries, ranked among the first trading cities of the interior. The excellence of the soil and the favourableness of the situation seem to have induced the inhabitants to betake themselves to horticulture; and they soon supplied so extensive a portion of Germany, as to acquire the title of Gardeners of the Holy Roman Empire. At the commencement of the sixteenth century, the district of Dreienbrunnen, which is well watered, began to assume a superiority in culture. The water was conducted in channels over the surface, as practised in Italy, and was found not only to produce larger but earlier crops. About the middle of the seventeenth century the artificial cultivation of the water-cress commenced in this district, where it may be said to have been first invented by Nicolas Meissner. It was grown in broad ditches of running water, and used extensively both as a salad and for culinary purposes, especially during winter. The great demand for this vegetable at Dreienbrunnen rendered certain marshy parts of the district, till then of little or no value, more productive than the best sound land. The horticulture of Erfurth was greatly improved by Reichart, an extensive cultivator of culinary vegetables and garden seeds, and the author of Reichart's Land und Gartens Schatzes, 8vo, Erfurth, 1763. This work treats of all the vegetables cultivated in the neighbourhood of Erfurth, and on the manner of cultivation. Scarcely any improvement has been made since his time, except in the culture of asparagus. This had formerly thick beds of dung buried under it at some depth; but now, as we are informed by Professor Volker, in the Prussian Gardening Transactions, vol. iv., the manure is chiefly placed on and near the surface, to be washed in by the rains. The culture of the potato was, and still is, very imperfect. The culture of garden seeds, both horticultural and floricultural, forms at present by far the most important part of the commercial gardening of Erfurth. Every kind in general use is raised, and the sale extends to every part of Germany, to France, and to foreign countries. The details of the mode of raising these seeds will be found in Volker's edition of Reichart's book; and though it offers little that is new to the British gardener, acquainted with the practices of the seed-growers of Kent and Essex, it possesses considerable historical interest. The culture of fruit trees and vines dates as early as that of culinary vegetables and seeds; and as the history of this part of Erfurth horticulture is somewhat curious, we shall give it chiefly in Volker's own words, copied or abridged from the volume of the Prussian Transactions before mentioned. The cultivation of fruit trees around Erfurth 'was not so sedulously prosecuted as the other branches of gardening, in the more early period of our history, and it appears, indeed, to have been neglected, when compared with the attention paid to vines. This may be accounted for from the unsettled state of the times; for, the people of Erfurth being almost constantly in a state of hostility with the neighbour-ing principalities and sovereignties, the nearest vineyards and gardens of their enemies were frequently ravaged and laid waste. But under such circumstances vineyards are more easily restored to a produc-tive state than orchards; and it was natural that the cultivators should make the vine the chief object of their care. Fruit cultivation on a large scale, is, therefore, of more recent date, and much of its success must be attributed to the encouragement and protection afforded by the electoral government of Mentz. In 1705 a proclamation was published, recommending to every subject the planting of fruit and other useful trees; and the rigid observance of a previous ordinance, by which every landed proprietor was required to plant at least twelve trees on his grounds. However, this ordinance had not all the good effect which was expected from it, as the regulation subsequently ceased to be strictly observed. Even in Reichart's time the orchards in these districts were by no means very extensive; and it was only in the city gardens, and in some detached villages, that fruit cultivation was carried to a great height. This branch of gardening does not appear to have obtained a great superiority until towards the end of the last century, and its rapid improvement followed the establishment of a premium-fund, out of which rewards were granted to the planters of fruit and other useful trees. So completely did this institution attain its object, that fruit cultivation made a most extraordinary progress throughout the whole of the Erfurth territory; and during many years from 30,000 to 40,000 fruit trees were regularly planted. After this extension of cultivation, the robbing of orchards became a frequent offence. To repress such depredations, ordinances were issued in the years 1795 and 1799, which not only inflicted severe punish-ment, but provided that, in case of the robber not being discovered, the district in which the offence might be committed should be obliged to make compensation for the damage sustained. This made every individual interested in preventing depredations on his neighbour's property; and the consequence has been, such an improvement in orchard-gardening, that the state of cultivation in Reichart's time can by no means be compared with the present. Our fruit cultivation would have risen to a still higher point of prosperity, had not its progress been checked by some unfortunate circumstances. Among the most disastrous were those connected with the measures taken for fortifying the town, and its siege in 1813. Many thousands of fruit trees were then cut down, and our cherry plantations which lay near the city sustained an extent of damage which was not easily repaired. Much mischief has also been done by caterpillars, and in particular by the caterpillar of the frost moth; which is in Erfurth usually called the spaniol. Through a long series of years, from the beginning of this century to 1818, the ravages of this caterpillar were so great, that many proprietors of gardens began to lose all hope of future success. But the very wet year, which occasioned a very great rise in the price of corn, had also the effect of nearly banishing this ravenous caterpillar, and we have since had several highly favourable fruit harvests. Unfortunately, however, this moth reappeared in several places in the spring of 1828. Cherry plantations at Erfurth. 'Four of the neighbouring villages have very extensive cherry plan-tations. It is there common, in the fruit season, for the people to assemble, and have a holiday, which they call 'The Cherry Festival,' and which they celebrate with rural sports. The village of Kirschheim is noted for a particular kind of cherry, which is valued on account of its size, delicacy, flavour, and abundance; and which is well known under the name 'the Kirschheimer cherry. ' It is, however, far inferior to the much esteemed Augustus cherry of Erfurth. Other fruits. 'In the environs of Erfurth, cherries and plums, particularly damsons, are rather more abundant than apples and pears. Nut trees are scarce: and peaches and apricots are only to be found in gardens in favourable situations. It is a fault in our cultivation that the more productive kinds of trees are preferred, particularly in the villages, to the superior sorts. This may be owing to there being at Erfurth no good nurseries, so that we are obliged to draw our supplies of the nobler species of fruit trees chiefly from other states. They are frequently obtained from Tottlestadt, a village in the Gotha territory, where there is a considerable nursery. Another disadvantage is, that the various useful applications of fruits are as yet made to only a small extent. In very abundant years there is want of a demand for the surplus, and much fruit is given to the hogs. The progress of the cultivation of the vine, 'which was probably introduced into Erfurth by the monks, seems to have been very rapid; for it appears from authentic documents, that as early as the twelfth century the vineyards were in a flourishing state. We find it remarked, in reference to the year 1186, that the commencement of the vintage then took place in the beginning of August. The planting of the vine became more and more extensive in proportion as the population and prosperity of Erfurth in-creased. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and even in the seventeenth, almost all the heights round Erfurth were covered with vines, and the vineyards extended to the distance of several leagues below the town; so that more than a thousand Magdeburgh acres must then have been occupied by vine-yards. Hence we perceive the possibility of those great quantities of wine, of which particular accounts are given in old chronicles and other documents, being obtained in favourable years. The decline of vine-planting 'appears, in a certain measure, to have corresponded with the decrease of the population of Erfurth, which was occasioned by various circumstances, and more particularly by the great pestilence of 1683, by which 9437 of the inhabitants were swept away. The numbers of lobouring hands left after this calamity were not sufficient to maintain the extensive vineyards in a proper state of cultivation. Accordingly it appears that in many places the vines were rooted up, and the grounds employed for productions which required a less laborious cultivation. In the succeeding century, other circumstances occurred to impede the progress of vine cultivation; such as the introduc-tion or coffee and tea, the use of punch and brandy, &c. Various foreign liquors and wines were imported, which must have operated against the consumption of our home-made wine. It must also be considered that, on the potato and other new vegetables being introduced, their cultivation, promising a more certain profit, supplanted that of the vine on inferior grounds. These circumstances induced the Mentz government, which wished to encourage the wine trade, to issue an ordinance, in 1760, by which persons who extirpated their vines were, notwithstanding, required to pay their share of the expense of maintaining the watch for the protection of the vineyards. This ordinance checked, but did not prevent the decay of vineyards; for, during the succeeding years, many unfavourable circumstances occurred, and in particular the great scarcity and high price of grain in 1771-2, which induced many proprietors to convert their vineyards into cornfields. During the period of nearly thirty years from the commence-ment of the French revolution, prices became, from well-known causes, almost constantly favourable to the agriculturist, and discouraging to the vine-grower. The proprietors of vineyards experienced in all that time few good years; and it very often happened that the returns did not pay the expense of culti-vation. This confirmed many in the opinion, which had for some time been current, that our climate was entirely changed and deteriorated; and they were, of course, little disposed to continue a cultivation which afforded so doubtful a prospect of advantage. It is not surprising, therefore, that many were anxious to get rid of vineyards of which they were formerly proud, more especially as, during the retreat of the French, and the siege of Erfurth, the vine-props were burnt, and the plantations in other respects greatly damaged. At that period vine culture was in a very low state. Vines are no longer extirpated; 'and in latter years, since the fall in the price of corn, circumstances have become more fuvourable to their culture. Now plantations, of small extent, began in 1828 to be made, and many proprietors regretted the too hasty conversion of their vineyards into cornfields. Those who held out had the satisfaction of obtaining last autumn a fortunate vintage, in which the grapes were chiefly distinguished for their superior quality, and in some instances for the quantity which they yielded. However, in consequence of unlucky events and unfavourable circumstances, our vine cultivation is so reduced, that our vineyards now scarcely occupy a surface of 200 Magdeburgh acres, including the grounds both of the town and the neighbouring villages. In Reichart's time the extent of the vineyards must have been three or four times greater. Cultivation of the water-cress at Dreienbrunnen. 'The gardens here are formed out of what was formerly a marsh, and they consist of large beds appropriated to the rearing of vegetables, and of water-trenches of different breadth, which are formed between the beds, and which generally run in a parallel direction. Between the beds and the trenches borders of turf are raised. These borders, which are about two feet broad, and in height above the level of the water, from three-fourths of a foot to a foot and a half, serve as banks to the trenches, and afford the footpaths necessary for carrying on the ordinary garden-work, whether it consist in the cultivation of water-cresses in the trenches, or the rearing and irrigating of the plants in the beds. The owner of a bed or a cress-trench may, according to a right established by usage, walk upon his neighbour's contiguous turf border, and there perform the opera-tions necessary for cultivation; for the different gardens are in reality only separated from each other by the trenches or ditches already described, and rarely by hedges, which are almost exclusively confined to the roads running through Dreienbrunnen. The water trenches between the beds have a twofold destination. They serve either for the irrigation of the culinary plants in the adjoining beds, or for the production of water-cresses. The former are called irrigating trenches, and the latter water-cress trenches. The irrigating trenches are in general only about two feet broad, and from one and a half to two feet deep; and contain about from six to eight inches of water. The water-cress trenches are from six to ten or twelve feet broad, and from one and a half to two feet deep; and besides containing from six to twelve inches' depth of water, must have in a hundred feet of watercourse a descent of four or more inches, which is not necessary for the irrigating trenches. As the water-cresses thrive well with a fowing and often-changing water, the water-cress trenches must be so formed as to admit of a sufficiently strong afflux and reflux. '