The Landscape Guide

Heidelberg Castle Garden (the Hortus Palatinus)

In almost every garden, or group of gardens, we have been able to detect a new style and its influence, but in these busy times no unity of style is found in Germany, in spite of close communication and eager exchanges. We pass from one German individuality to another, always to find a new picture, and that a different one. France and Italy begin to contend for supremacy in Germany. The originators of the castle of Heidelberg near Stuttgart took a high aim in their rivalry. There is scarcely a building in the whole world which has excited admiration of so varied and so critical a kind as this castle in the pleasant valley of the Neckar—as much in the days of its greatest pride and glory as now, when, in ruins, it has acquired a new charm. The steep projecting spur of the “Königsstuhl” would add to the difficulty of making a garden in any sort of larger style, and accordingly the Counts Palatine were satisfied for a long time with keeping a garden on the flat land in front of the walls of their little town, and this was called the court or the lord’s garden.

It cannot have been without importance, for it contained beautiful fountains, and most of all its orangery enjoyed a world-wide reputation as early as the end of the sixteenth century. Olivier de Serres in his book praises the orangery at Heidelberg as a marvellous example. At that period these noble trees, and figs also, were not planted in pots, but straight into the earth, and in winter a wooden house was built over them, so that in summer people could stroll among the trees as in an orange grove in the South. For long enough this kind of protection for southern trees had been known in Germany. Here also the princes sent their specimens, and as early as 1559 Joachim II. of Brandenburg received one from Prince August of Saxony.

It is not only Olivier de Serres who speaks of the size and beauty of the Heidelberg trees with admiration, but also the curious adventurer of those parts, Michael Heberer, who was nicknamed Robinson of the Palatinate because of his sea voyages, his imprisonment in Turkey, and his wonderful escape. This great traveller says he “ never found the like in Italy or Egypt.” He continues: “His lordship has also a large, lovely garden next to the town, below the mountain [Gaisberg], which is enclosed by walls and partly by noble vines. In this garden there are often held knightly exercises by the gentle- folk, and also meetings of the rest of the rural population.” But it gradually came to be felt that the long way from the castle to this garden was inconvenient. When Frederick V. of the Palatinate married Elizabeth, the daughter of James I. of England, in 1613, and soon after became the ruler of his own country, he made a plan for a large show garden ( Fig. 382) beside his castle, such as Germany had never yet seen.

Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see


Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see


Elizabeth knew the right man to carry out this plan, and summoned her own tutor, Salomon de Caus, who since her brother’s death and her own departure from England had lost his occupation. Elizabeth had been very fond of her brother Henry Frederick, whose intention it had been to accompany his sister to Germany for the wedding festivities; and now, at Heidelberg, she was glad to keep a living memorial of her lost brother in this teacher whom they had shared; thus it came about that Salomon de Caus became architect to the Palatine court. He made a little book of a collection of drawings of fountains and grottoes, and dedicated it to Elizabeth in 1615 1fl memory of her brother, to whom he had already dedicated an earlier work in 1612. It was destined to serve him as a real support and storehouse of ideas in aid of the great work that he now began without delay and with the utmost eagerness—the construction of the gardens of Heidelberg.

At that time he found outside the walls by the castle nothing besides a little level plot made in 1508, about two hundred feet square, with a wall. This ground was called the hare garden; and the few drawings show nothing at all of real garden design, though we may assume that there were vegetables or something of the sort. Above this place the mountain rose steeply, broken by the deep dip of the Friesenberg valley. The configuration could not have been worse for a garden site with terraces, such as de Caus desired; and it is indeed wonderful what the architect accomplished by hewing away the mountain side and filling up the valley. Even at the Villa d'Este there were no greater difficulties to contend with; in many places the walling amounts to seventy or eighty feet, so that the colossal niches which are visible in the great terraces are not by any means the least important part of this earthwork. And in two years the completion of four and in some parts five terraces was accomplished, so that it could support the famous garden of Heidelberg Castle (Fig. 383).

Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see


Although de Caus proved in these foundation works that he was indeed a master of the soil, he was nevertheless unable, in spite of his Italian travel, and of his studies at Villa d’Este and Pratolino, to make his own the idea of artistic unity, of proportion, of the subordination of all the parts to the whole. He was a person of many-sided intellect, and not without considerable artistic gifts, as is proved by the number of his ideas, more plentiful in this garden than in any other of the time. He also had propounded to him here an extraordinarily difficult task, for the garden was situated outside any possible connection with the castle. It was a collection of gardens, which very different centuries had thrown together, each in its own style, each picturesque, but without any uniformity. The irregular trenches separated castle from hill, and to make anything really satisfactory the count would have had to create some quite new middle point in a summer-house on the heights; but there was no need for this. Because architectural co-ordination could not be ensured, de Caus renounced all axial order, but this was owing chiefly to the fact that making steps was not really feasible. The garden at Heidelberg is the best argument on the negative side of the immense support given to the structure of a terrace garden by well-proportioned steps of harmonious design. Here all artistic plan is wanting in the steps, and they are nothing but steep breakneck connections between the terraces.

The Italians, above all the Romans, had long learned what a good background is provided by ornamental and convenient steps for any ceremonious occasion or large party. On the steps of such delightful gardens one imagines groups of lovely smiling ladies and proud nobles, moving up and down, whereas on the steep steps of the Heidelberg garden we see at best nothing but the young Lieselotte [Princess of the Palatinate, and afterwards Duchess of Orleans] jumping and scrambling down, tired with a romp on the upper terrace at bail or ninepins. But independently of the steps difficulty, an axial arrangement was outside any possible artistic idea for de Caus. He was compelled by the Friesenthal to bend the garden in two at a right angle, and so he got two sets of terraces. In each case he equipped the upper one with a fantastic but effective top part with grottoes. But on no side was the view arranged so as to get a middle point; both groups of grottoes are set—it would appear to be intentionally—to one side, while the eye seems to be straining to look out at the end, In the same fashion the water is on several sides, but not treated systematically. The architect had too deeply engrained in his nature the mediaeval custom of treating every part separately, and never once is a terrace combined with anything else.

Salomon de Caus described the garden exactly two years later, in words and by illustrations, after the building had been rudely interrupted in i6i8 when Frederick V. was called to the throne of Bohemia, and the Thirty Years’ War broke out. Thus we have before us not only the work that was completed with amazing quickness up to the year 1618, but also the plan of the whole garden as the architect designed it. After this publication the Fouquiere picture was painted, which again served as a copy for the engraving of Merian.

On the wide main terrace, which is on the same level as the castle entrance, we walk through a building at the end, a kind of aviary, and then stroll through five different parterres, each treated separately, and often cut off by special little entrance gates (Fig. 384). 

Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see


There is a fountain or a statue in the centre, and the paths are bordered with hedges or with pergolas and pavilions. The beds are laid out in different patterns so as to hold flowers, or little orange-trees, or tiny lawns. Behind, close to the wall of the terrace at the top, is a water-garden. From the basin at the corner of the higher side-terrace the water flows: into a fountain, and a basin lower down transfers it into two receptacles adorned with statues (Fig. .385). The place ends with a pretty and effective water-parterre (Fig. 386), but oddly enough this is not arranged axially with the basins.

Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see


Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see


In the wall of the higher terraces, almost at the corner of the garden, is the entrance to the great grotto, which receives its waters from a reservoir that is again bordered with balustrades and is turned aside and adorned with a Venus fountain. The water plunges down on a step inside the grotto, and thence throws out streams to various fountains (Fig. 387). 
Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see


From the Venus fountain a peculiar convex double stairway leads to the pretty structure carved in greenery on the highest step. The long terrace at the side, to which the two steep stairways lead, has insignificant parterre beds, and above lies the long narrow tennis path, which is cut off on the mountain side by a great alcove, still to be seen, crowned with the portrait of Frederick V. A similar construction should mark the end at the other side also. The intention of the architect was to carry on this road at right angles as far as the end of the great terrace. Opposite the entrance to the castle, on an ascending terrace, more large grottoes were planned, wonderfully decorated on the façades, and with fountains and statues inside, but this part was never quite finished. The great terrace also, which stands opposite the castle on powerful arches above the Friesenthal, has only in part kept its early form.

At first the famous old orange-trees had been brought out of the garden up the mountain side with incredible pains and difficulty, and had been replanted in a long narrow garden—a thing that rightly caused universal admiration. De Caus wanted to replace the wooden winter-house with a stone one, whose roof and window could be taken out in summer, so that the supports might act as a broken wall, Above this garden, which was 280 feet in length, a labyrinth was to have been put, as a crown to the garden and also a protection, but it was never finished. Behind lay the medicinal garden, in a pretty part with pavilions at the corners, and lastly was to come a great square tower, with near it a small room cut out of the hedge; the tower also was never made, except its foundations. In the corner of this large middle terrace there was a three—sided stairway on a large scale, but very clumsy, leading to the lowest of the gardens, which, as it was so small, was treated as one whole. On both sides of the large basin adorned with figures which stood in the centre, there were beds held together in fours by a statue, while steps in sets of two, at the front dividing wall and with a slight edging of fountain-work, led to the higher terrace. All this must have made a separate garden, pretty and characteristic.

It is curious that de Caus says nothing in his description about the special piece in front of the new building which he made for his young mistress Elizabeth, and yet this garden on the level on the terrace next to the town was no doubt actually laid out. The decorative entrance-gate, which still stands, shows the same type of architecture that de Caus proposed for his stone orangery. There is an inscription which says that the Count Palatine erected this gate in honour of his wife. It was let into a wall, which had at its other end an aviary against the wall of the terrace. There is no picture giving the interior divisions of this garden, which was united by bridges with the new part of the castle. It was remade after the ravages of the Thirty Years’ War, and little alterations were made here and there, before it came utterly to grief, castle buildings and all, At last in 1805 a terrace garden was laid out in the English style in a most unfortunate attempt to accommodate the picturesque grouping of shrubs and trees to the mighty terrace skeleton. To-day one seeks with great difficulty for specimens of wrecked remains of grottoes and alcoves, to build up the old scene.

Andreas Harten, a deeply religious man and an enthusiastic Protestant, published a curious pamphlet about gardens in 1648, in which in 233 pages he compares the Bible to a pleasure-garden. The title of his book, which is full of superstition and witch-lore, is Worldly and Heavenly Gardens. In spite of everything, including his start in life as a taverner, he was himself a clever gardener, and at that time in the employ of Christian von Schönburg-Glauchau-Waldenburg, at Rochsburg in Saxony. Harten describes this garden (which he brought to great beauty), with its hedged-in paths, furnished with domes, towers, doors and windows, symmetrically laid-out parterres, again broken up into separate divisions with box edging, and each of these containing only one species of plant. He says in his book that since the Reformation (to which he attributes every good thing) “useful and necessary buildings for gardens and herbs have again reached so flourishing a state, though after great expense, that there is hardly a townsman who keeps anything in a town, but spends his all on garden building, to say nothing of potentates, lords, and nobles.”

Harten contrasts this happy time before the Thirty Years’ War with the gloomy days he was then living in. “To hinder the delightful garden-building day by day, the devil is always at work, and seeks out the right places; that is, on account of our sins, he incites the great potentates against one another, so that they lose sight of all the peaceful pleasures of eye and heart (which aforetime they took in their gardens), and he makes them go forth and spend all they have on unspeakable dissensions and wars (wherefrom they suffer not only pain, wants and danger, but all manner of adversity), though before they had spent their substance on beautiful pleasure-gardens, whence they got all that they needed and enjoyed and which they might still enjoy.” But in the midst of the storms of war which are hostile to all culture and especially to the gardener’s art, there were many exceptions. Harten himself boasts of his master “ that he felt a remarkable kindness and affection for fine garden-making.” And in the same year that Harten wrote, another prince’s gardener gives a detailed description of the garden of his patron, the Duke of Brunswick. The beautiful garden of Hessem at Wolfenbüttel surrounded by water has its different parterres richly supplied with every kind of figure cut in the hedges (Fig. 388).

Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see


 The parterres are most elaborately laid out with stars and armorial bearings. One of these contains a masterpiece, a magnificent fountain that was once bought from merchants at Augsburg for 8000 gulden.