The Landscape Guide

Town gardens in Germany

Germany succeeded earlier than any country of the North in winning a place for the town garden. As a fact, the flourishing towns of Upper Germany, and Augsburg ahead of all, felt the influence of the new art sooner than princes at their homes, because of the trade carried on with Italy. The gardens of the Fugger family play a great part in the history of the town, and when Charles V. visited them in 1539 he was astonished at their splendour. A year later Beatus Rhenanus writes enthusiastically about them, and sets them above the French gardens at Blois.  Towards the end of the century these gardens have become so extensive that townspeople complain in 1584 that they are encroaching on their living space. When Montaigne sees them on his journey to Italy, he has much to say about their water-tricks and devices. Drawings of a somewhat later date (Fig. 356) show a great number of notable town gardens at Augsburg, founded in the sixteenth century, as many inside as outside the city walls. 

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There is as a rule an oblong strip, with leafy paths all round, and beautiful flower-beds. But the botanical interest always reigned supreme. In the year 1500 1560 the famous botanist Clusius went on a travelling expedition with the heir of Count Anton Fugger to collect new plants for his gardens, . because everyone showed the utmost eagerness to be the first in introducing a new plant into his own garden. It was a wonderful claim to honour and glory when Councillor Johann Heinrich Herward of Augsburg flowered the first tulip in i its bulbs having been sent to Augsburg by the hand of Busbecq the imperial messenger. Thither Went Conrad Gesner, and had a woodcut made for his book De Hortis Germaniæ. These flowers were destined to develop to such effect as to influence greatly the history of Dutch trade.

Other towns were not much behind Augsburg, for travelling scholars carried the fashion to all parts. As early as 1489 a garden belonging to the Canon Mariensüss on the cathedral island at Breslau was talked about; and this one, as well as the garden of the physician Woysel (which was flourishing between the years 1540 and 1560), belongs naturally to the class of private botanical gardens, though the descriptions of Erasmus have taught us that such places were not wanting in style and artistic skill. In the last third of that century there was another doctor at Breslau, Laurentius Scholz, and a picture of his garden reminds us strongly of what Erasmus says. Scholz had studied in Padua, leaving there in 1579. Six years later he returned to his native town, and as his means increased so also did his delight in the garden: he felt that the care of it was a patriotic duty, and its reputation soon spread outside Breslau. Like the garden of Erasmus, that of  Scholz was a formal square, and was divided into four sections by crossing paths. A Latin inscription was chiselled on the chief gate: “ To the praise and honour of Almighty God, to the glory of my native town, for the use of friends and students of botany, also for my own delight, I have established this garden, long neglected heretofore, at my own expense, and have furnished it with indigenous and foreign plants.”

The first section, reached from the main gate, was the flower-garden, which was laid out in beds, perhaps enclosed with a palisade, and planted with flowers which were used for wreaths and nosegays. Doctor Scholz took great pains that we should know what the plants were; not only was he a useful medical writer who was always pleased to go beyond his own garden, but after the fashion of his day he had his plants faithfully drawn by a nature artist of Breslau, The chief constituents of his garden were still the old native plants: in spring, snowdrops, violets, crocuses, primulas, auriculas, and crown imperials; in summer, columbines, snapdragons, cornflowers, poppies, and lilies, but during the last thirty years tulips had come from the East, and were shown with great pride in this garden. To the doctor and botanist, however, the second section, the real medicinal-garden, was more important. Here there were 385 kinds, and among them many foreign plants, which the doctor had procured through his connection with Spain, Italy, and Austria. They were planted in beds, and here also for each kind there was a separate bed. By the side of the medicinal herbs (just as we know them by the Capitulare and the cloister plan of St. Gall) there are found the aromatic plants of Italian gardens, such as basil, marjoram, balm, hyssop, rosemary, and dittany. But certain novelties also flowered here, which Portuguese seafarers had brought from India, such as canna and balsam, and best of all the hitherto unknown potato.

Next to the flower-garden was the tree-plantation, and then the orchard; and there grew flowering shrubs, such as laburnum, snowball, and Turkish elder. In the shade of covered walks there were many kinds of amusements. In the last section was the labyrinth, its winding ways overgrown with espaliers and all kinds of climbing plants, and farther on the rose-garden with its nine sorts of roses brought from the East, and various vineyards. The middle of the sections is adorned with fountains, and one is overshadowed by a tree of life, the largest, finest, and also the oldest that Silesia can boast of. The Arbor Vitæ was brought by Francis I. from Canada to Paris, and thence spread very rapidly over Europe. On the west the garden was bounded by a winter-house for bays, pomegranates, oleanders and myrtles, and its walls were presumably painted with Italian scenes. There were two aviaries, and a decorated ice chamber, and in a grotto among other pieces there was a Polyphemus hurling his rock, who was much admired. In the middle of the garden was a summer-house which was open on four sides, and contained pictures, works of art, and musical instruments. It was reserved for merry parties.

This famous travelled physician, who also owned a room full of  “excellent rarities” of art, held festivals inspired by the true antique spirit. His friends, men and women, were assembled here to a cheerful feast, for song, for recitations, or for conversation, and here they crowned themselves and their goblets, just as people had done on the shores of the Mediterranean. And the people of Silesia, always fond of poetry, were grateful to their fellow-townsman for the joys of garden and feast: Scholz collected no fewer than seventy poems praising his work. What a ray of sunshine we have here in a country whose flowers are so soon to be crushed under the iron heel of the Thirty Years’ War!

After Breslau, Nuremberg and Frankfurt could boast of fine gardens at an early date, Eoban Hesse sang the praises of Nuremberg gardens as early as 1532 in a Latin poem, and Hans Sachs speaks of them in his smooth words. Towards the end of the century the garden of Camerarius, the doctor and botanist, won widespread fame. A picture by Sandrart shows the garden of a gentleman of Nuremberg, the wealthy Christopher Peller, in the state it was in about the middle of the seventeenth century, when it was still almost unaltered. The main fabric stands round a court, which is enclosed with a very fine balustrade ending in two gates flanked with obelisks. In the court people amuse themselves with all manner of ball-games and ninepins. 

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The garden, of which only half appears in the drawing (Fig. 357), is in four rows of beds edged with stone, each bed made in the old way to contain only one kind of plant. Round the beds, which are joined together in groups of three, there are lower stone borders with ornamental pots set on them: these contain plants of many kinds, with orange-trees and other costly foreign plants that have to pass the winter in a hothouse. To right and left one sees into the tree-gardens, which are separated off by pretty wooden palisades. Finer than this, which is really a simple garden, is one of the same date belonging to Johannes Schwindt (Fig. 358), a burgomaster of Frankfurt who loved display.

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 In this case the enclosure is made of green lattice-work with pillars, windows, and gates. In the windows are pots of flowers; the pillars have little obelisks on them, and busts. One walks into a fine parterre with geometrical patterns marked out in box, and little trees at the corners; round the encompassing hedges there are again benches with flower-pots.

The wide middle path leads into the flower-garden behind, introduced by two huge statues, a Hercules and a Hermes, and flanked by two obelisks at the end, where there is another parterre. Round the second and third sections alleys covered with green lattice and foliage follow the line, with entrance gates and windows. At the sides there are fountains and statues, and the eye passes over the scene into other gardens.

A very charming picture is shown of the garden at Ulm made by the architect and private gentleman Joseph Furttenbach at the side of his pretty house (Fig. 359) after his return from Italy. 

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The garden is certainly small, “ but so arranged that an ordinary private person can get all the pleasures he desires.” Because of its situation, which looking to the south enjoys “ the blessed sun,” it was able to produce an abundance of flowers. The order of the beds as described in 1638 recalls, with their simple walled divisions, the same idea as the garden of Erasmus at the beginning of the sixteenth century, and also is like the garden of Scholz at Breslau. But the flowering bulbs give a greater diversity of colour. The little garden is enclosed by arboured walks on the side of the house, and between these stands the chief pride of the architect educated in Italy—the grotto, a small erection in rustica with pretty ingenious devices. Also behind this grotto, quite cutting off the garden from the house, there is a summer-house, thought of as a dining-room, “where the master, if ever he is tired and weary from his daily work, can enjoy his slice of bread with his companions in bona caritate, and has a good opportunity of there thanking God for it."