The Land of Tall Blondes and Wiener Schnitzel
A Horticultural Exploration to the Gardens of Germany and Sweden
by Tony Avent
Plant Delights Nursery, Inc.
9241 Sauls Road
Raleigh, NC 27603
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Sunday May 25
We departed Raleigh on Sunday May 25 and touched down in Munich, Germany, early Monday morning for a week of visiting gardens in Germany and Sweden. Accompanying me on this trip was Hans Hansen, Director of Product Development at Michigan's Walters Gardens.
Monday May 26
After securing our rental car (my first experience in a Mercedes E-Class) at the Munich Airport, we were off to the Munich Botanical Garden. Thanks to our vehicle GPS, the drive was an easy one, although getting used to the high driving speeds in Germany took a while. My purpose of visiting the Munich Botanical Garden was to see and photograph their aspidistra (cast iron plant) collection. We have cooperatively worked for many years with the recently retired Dr. Hans Tillich to identify and name new aspidistra species from our own collection at Juniper Level, from which three were named as new to science in 2012. Despite moving away from the area after his retirement, Dr. Tillich had arranged for us to visit the collection with the help of the garden staff. Unable to read the signs to the public parking, we drove into the greenhouse research area where the first person we saw was one of our contact staffers. Mr. Loose led us into the research greenhouses while summoning his boss, Dr. Gunter Gerlach.
I spent the next few hours touring the research greenhouses and photographing 30 species of aspidistra that I had never seen. The only remaining flowers were faded ones on Aspidistra locii which, by their size, must be truly incredible. The research greenhouses were filled with amazing collections of various plant groups, with a strong emphasis on succulents. It was interesting to learn that when a researcher who works with a particular plant group finishes their work, their collections remain in perpetuity in the greenhouses where they are maintained by garden staff. As you can imagine, this is very expensive and something new garden directors are wrestling with as budgets shrink.
As has become the case around the world, German botanic gardens are quite averse to sharing, fearing that a plant might become commercialized which, in their mind, would somehow demean their academic integrity. This bizarre notion is perpetuated by insane international treaties like the CBD (Convention of Biodiversity), which ensures that more plants will go extinct by encouraging plant hoarding and restricting sharing. We also learned how Germany's banning of virtually all pesticides has led to the loss of nearly 40% of botanic garden greenhouse collections. Wouldn't it have made more logical sense to simply share the collections with private collectors and commercial nurseries?
After finishing our work in the research greenhouses, we toured the outdoor garden grounds along with what appeared to be a good crowd for a Monday morning. The garden layout and adjacent administrative building were magnificent, but the gardens themselves were, at best, tired. Outside of a small planting of new tall bearded iris trials, there were no new cultivars in the garden or evidence of much in the way of any new accessions. The plant collections were easily dated to the 1960's. Lawn areas were terribly weedy and unmown, making the garden appear quite uninviting in our eyes. I did enjoy the tiny rock garden planting outside a small sunken greenhouse with treasures like Astragalus angustifolius, which I must seek out.
We stopped for lunch at a unique Greek restaurant that Dr. Gerlach had recommended within walking distance of the garden. Food at The Poseidon Restaurant was delicious, although heavily breaded, which would be the case throughout the German part of our trip. Unrequested shots of alcohol were served to everyone with lunch, which was as interesting as the risqué menus and cigarette vending machines in virtually every restroom in Germany. That's certainly a good way to encourage young people to smoke. As we walked back to the gardens, we were fascinated by both the interesting graffiti and the large number of perfectly clipped hedges. Obviously, it was more important in Germany to keep the hedges clipped than the grass mowed.
After lunch, we spent additional time in the public display greenhouses which, in contrast to the outside gardens, were quite nice and well maintained. We saw Semele androgyna (a Ruscus/Danae relative) in fruit as well as ancient plants of Welwitschia. Welwitschia is one of those truly odd plants, known as a living fossil. While it looks like a crinum relative, it's actually most closely related to conifers like spruces and pines. Welwitschia is also interesting because it produces only one set of leaves which remain with the plant through its entire 2,000-year lifespan. I was also thrilled to see large specimens of Ceratozamia kuesteriana and Ceratozamia latifolia, both species which have proven winter hardy at home, although our plants are tiny compared to these magnificent specimens.
The fern greenhouses were especially nice, and I perused them looking for ferns that might not be winter hardy in Zone 6 Munich, but could indeed be grown outdoors in Raleigh...we saw a few possibilities. Due to their cool summer climate, the fuchsia houses put on a show that we would never see back home. Equally impressive was their desert house of Southwest natives, although due to the tight configuration, you weren't able to walk closely among the plants. We completed our visit by late afternoon, and after saying our goodbyes to their excellent staff, we were off to our next destination, Dresden, in East-Central Germany.
While it had been wonderfully cloudy all morning, the heavens opened as we drove, reducing visibility to short distances. The heavy rain, combined with the high driving speed and narrowed lanes due to road construction, made for a rather harrowing drive. With our minds and bodies crashing from the long flight, we opted to stop for the evening a couple hours north of Munich in Lauf, Germany. Thank goodness for cell phones, which allowed us to stop along the highway and request directions to the nearest hotel and also read reviews on-line. What a fabulous boon for travelers!
Just off the main highway, we selected the Zur Post Gasthof hotel for the evening in the delightful small town of Lauf, just outside of Nuremberg. Thanks to the hotel staff, we found a small downtown restaurant within walking distance of our hotel. The menu revealed more schneitzels than I knew existed. One of the more unique attractions near our restaurant was a giant white stork nest atop one of the homes. When I say giant, I'm talking giant. From the ground, it appeared that the platform that held the nest was on the order of 8' square. Legend has it that white storks bring good luck along with babies. I can attest that white storks bring huge piles of nasty bird poop on your roof and the nearby street. There's nothing like being an animal with a great PR agent.
Tuesday May 27
We were up early and off for the 2 hour trek toward Dresden. Our first stop was at the Arktish-Alpiner-Garden in Chemnitz, where we arrived around 9am. This former private garden was now open to the public, primarily as a fern display and research garden. We were met at the garden by plant collector Rico Kniesel, a forestry lab technician who had visited us at Plant Delights only a few months earlier. Since the director, Stefan Jessen, didn't speak English, it was invaluable to have Rico as a translator...especially since he is also a fern collector.
The gardens have two staff members, including Stefan, who live on site, maintain the entire garden, and travel the world in search of new ferns for the garden. As one who has a very large collection of ferns I found the garden amazing, photographing nearly 100 ferns that I'd never seen or heard of prior. Stefan had not only collected ferns from around the world but, in doing so, has found an amazing number of unique forms as well as natural hybrids, many of which have yet to be officially published. Much of the garden budget comes from sales of rare plants which are propagated from the gardens at their on site small nursery. The climate here is much different from what we experience back in Raleigh. In this cold Zone 6 climate, the temperatures rarely reach 90F during the day, and nights are always quite cool.
The gardens had a nice collection of small asplenium ferns, many of which we have not yet tried. Asplenium fissum from the Maritime Alps, the circumpolar Asplenium viride, Asplenium fontanum from France, and Asplenium trichomanes v. quadrivalens from Spain are all delightfully tiny rock garden-sized ferns that I look forward to trying. It was good to see a mature clump of Asplenium scolopendrium v. nipponicum from Japan since we have small sporelings growing back at home.
It was nice to meet Athyrium nipponensis...a shy cousin to the better know Athyrium nipponicum. Athyrium rupestris and Athyrium spinulosum were also both new to me as was their North Korean collection of Athyrium yokoscense. Another un-named Athryium species from North Korea stood out for its amazing silvery foliage...a sure commercial hit when it becomes available.
The Chilean Blechnum microphyllum was also delightful, but the performance of Chilean plants in our garden has been less than stellar, so I'm not sure if this stands a chance in NC. Two rock garden-sized ferns that also caught my eye were from the genus cryptogramma...Cryptogramma acrostichoides from western North America and Cryptogramma crispa from the Caucuses...I must try these. Oh, there was also the very cute Cystopteris tasmanica from, you guessed it. I've not tried many Tasmanian ferns...yet.
Dryopteris seemed to be one the largest of the fern genera represented in the garden. Dryopteris ardechensis from France and Dryopteris lunanensis from Italy were completely new to me. Come to think of it, so was Dryopteris sardoa from Sardinia, Dryopteris submontana and Dryopteris tyrrhena from Spain, and certainly Dryopteris schorapensis from Iran...I never thought about collecting ferns in Iran. Dryopteris x brathriaca is a little-known hybrid of Dryopteris filix-mas and Dryopteris carthusiana, while Dryopteris x apuana is a hybrid of Dryopteris villarii and Dryopteris submontana. Did I tell you this was fern heaven?
Osmunda gracilis was a new fern to me, although it looks strikingly like another name for our native Osmunda regalis. Growing nearby was the Asian counterpart to Osmunda regalis, Osmunda asiatica, and the Asian form of interrupted fern, Osmunda claytoniana. I also love the rock-dwelling polypody ferns and the US West coast native Polypodium hesperium was one that wasn't familiar to me prior to this trip.
The genus Polystichum was also superbly represented. One of the highlights had to be a heavily-crested form of our US native Polystichum acrostichoides which I had never seen before. Not to be outdone was a superb crested form of Polystichum aculeatum. Then, of course, there was also an amazing, but un-named hybrid between the two species.
Polystichum lonchitis from Slovakia was superb as was the Polystichum otophorum from Sichuan. We also saw the true Polystichum proliferum, which Stefan is convinced is the hybrid parent of all the proliferating plants sold in the trade as forms of Polystichum setiferum. His theory is that one original hybrid resulted in all of the Victorian era selections, many of which are still in the trade today.
There were several other Polystichum hybrids that I'd really like to try at home...an un-named small Polystichum vestitum hybrid; Polystichum x bicknelli, a new hybrid of Polystichum setiferum and Polystichum aculeatum; and Polystichum x mairei...a hybrid of Polystichum braunii and Polystichum lonchitis.
The fern genus woodsia was also well represented. Woodsia plummerae was new to me as was Woodsia subintermedia. And then, there was an un-named hybrid of Woodsia polystichoides and Woodsia subintermedia and another cross, Woodsia x gracilis (Woodsia alpina x Woodsia ilvensis). Did I mention that this garden has lots of ferns? There were also several patches of selaginella including Selaginella pallescens and Selaginella douglasiana.
I don't mean to leave the impression, however, that the garden was only ferns. We caught their patches of the North American groundcover dogwood, Cornus canadensis, in full flower and the fact that they could grow the rare Nothofagus cunninghamii and Microstrobus fitzgeraldiana outdoors was simply astounding.
Patches of Paris quadrifolia and the miniature purple-flowered Solomon's seal, Polygonatum hookeri were also quite impressive. Growing nearby on vertical rock walls were amazing clumps of the hardy gesneriad (African violet relative) Ramonda myconi. Other rock garden gems abounded like the 1” tall willow, Salix rotundifolia, and large patches of both our native Shortia galacifolia and its Asian counterpart, Shortia asiatica. Teucrium pyreniacum was also very cute. I must add this to the list of plants to try. We were able to pick up a few small gems that we think might grow back home, but we must return during spore season.
We spent the entire morning at the alpine fern garden but as lunch approached, it was time to depart and head east for the one hour drive to the Dresden Botanical Garden. Although rain and thunder threatened all morning, we didn't see a drop of moisture until we headed off toward Dresden. Breaking out the umbrellas as we arrived, we took a short but brisk walk in the light rain to a magnificent restaurant, the Carola Schlosschen at the Dresden Botanical Garden, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch of Weiner Schnitzel. From there, out we walked into the garden.
Before long, the rain intensity increased to the flash flood point and thunder worsened, so we ducked into one of the public display greenhouses until the severe weather subsided. Inside, we saw some interesting tropicals including a cool Aristolochia trilobata in full flower and a giant Dioon spinulosum cycad that, Rico explained, was moved out of the greenhouses to another town when Dresden was bombed in WWII and later returned, but still shows the transplant scars some 75 years later. What an amazing tale of the importance of plants to the people of Germany. In the next greenhouse, we ran into another species of Semele, a ruscus relative that we had seen at Munich. Wait...there is only one species of semele, S. andrygona. Here was Semele gayae...I'm not making this up. I'm sensing some humorous political correctness going on, although I looked around and never found a pot of a potential third species, Semele heteroana.
The greenhouse that houses the cacti and succulent collection was built so that during the summer the greenhouse cover is removed, turning it from an indoor to an outside display space...a fascinating idea. It didn't take long outdoors to realize that the Botanic Garden of Dresden was much more horticulturally relevant in terms of winter hardy plants than the Munich Botanic Garden. I am particularly enchanted with plants in the Apiaceae (Queen Anne's Lace) family, and there were several genera and species that I hadn't grown. Athamanta turbith v. haynoldii went to the top of my must grow list along with the Russian Cachrys alpina...such a gorgeous plant and a genus I'd never heard of before.
Achillea biserrata is a lovely yarrow that I want to try, and then there is Astragalus centralpinus since I'm in the midst of my astragalus phase. Periploca graeca is a vine unknown to me prior to the trip and Euphorbia semperifolia is a euphorbia species that I'll be seeking for the garden. I think my favorite new plant has to be Scorzonera austriaca, which looks more like a contorted hosta than a member of the aster family. I also discovered a lilac species that I didn't know with huge, open panicles, Syringa tigerstedtii...I must try this. All of the garden plants looked remarkable good despite the masses of gigantic snails that also inhabited the garden. The snails were having a field day with the rain that had many of the garden paths completely submerged.
Being lower in altitude than the morning's visit to the alpine garden, the Ramonda myconi here was in full splendor. Nearby grew Sambucus ebulus...an herbaceous elderberry with which I wasn't familiar...a US native, no less. Although the fern garden was a shadow of the morning's alpine garden, it also contained some choice gems. I especially enjoyed the rock garden section, and if daylight hadn't been waning, we would have spent more time in this area. A return trip is certainly in the cards.
With daylight fading, we said our goodbyes to Rico and departed in search of a hotel for the night on the outskirts of Dresden. As we made our first fuel stop on the trip, our cell phone check recommended the nearby Kim Hotel. With our target identified, we were off for the short 10 minute drive. The Kim Hotel had a rather kitschy look...quite unlike our hotel from the night before. The young clerk was quite friendly, but took the word ditzy to a whole new level. Thank goodness her bubbly personality helped us overlook her less than stellar competence in finding us a room. As we disembarked the elevators on the second floor, we were stunned to find paintings of naked children adorning the walls of the seating/computer area. Hmmm. As comedian Arte Johnson used to say, “Very interesting.” There weren't any dining choices within walking distance of our highway hotel, but thank goodness the hotel restaurant was more than adequate.
Wednesday May 28
Wednesday morning we departed Dresden in the pouring rain, dodging other vehicles that flew past us on the left like low-flying planes, and seemingly oversized semis on the right side...all crammed into narrowed lanes from the apparently endless road construction. Hans couldn't even bear to watch the highway as we sped along to the northwest toward the small town of Schwarmstedt to visit the world-renowned Jelitto Seed Company, with which we've done business for decades. Jelitto, which sells wholesale to other nurseries, has one of the largest and most diverse seed offerings that I've ever seen.
To calm our nerves and jettison some well-digested breakfast, we stopped at a roadside gas station/food mart. This was my first encounter with the Germany pay-to-pee program that included coin-operated turnstiles to enter the restrooms, or WCs as they are properly called in the EU. Ok, fine...I get the idea of paying to keep the restrooms nice, but I draw the line when the woman in charge of cleaning the restrooms follows you into the restroom and proceeds to sweep, mob, and swab down the urinal section while a row of men are trying to do something we normally do without women in the room. Did I mention that we had also learned a new word, the German word for exit...Ausfahrt? Every mile we traveled along the highway was another Ausfahrt sign.
After our memorable bathroom experience, we were on the road again to Jelitto Seed. We finally arrived just before lunch in the pouring rain and quickly ducked indoors where we were greeted by Jelitto Seed majority owner Georg Ublehart with his pet dog at his side. Georg is a long-time Jelitto employee who acquired controlling interest in the company a few years earlier after the elderly founder, Klaus Jelitto, retired after being incorrectly diagnosed with lung cancer. Not only is Georg the owner, but he's a world-traveled plant collector who I had the pleasure of hosting at Plant Delights last year.
After lunch at a nearby restaurant, we took the grand tour of the Jelitto facilities where the seeds are cleaned, sorted, stored, germination tested, and even hybridized. Some seeds must be cleaned by hand, while other seeds are cleaned using very expensive machinery. Seeds are then stored in refrigerators or freezers depending on the needs of each particular seed. It was amazing to look at seed packs and realize that they contain millions of seeds, like these packages of Heuchera ‘Palace Purple'.
It was truly fascinating to tour the seed viability testing lab and watch the money and level of detail spent to monitor seed viability. Two of Jelitto‘s most famous recent introductions from their own breeding program are Heliopsis ‘Summer Pink' and Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Little Goldstar'. Jelitto is unique in seed companies I've visited in both a dedication to excellence and to maintaining a unique plant-centric focus as opposed to offering only what might be the biggest sellers.
Between the rain and the dropping temperatures which were now into the low 40s F, it became increasingly difficult to keep my hands warm. We gathered up some plants we couldn't resist and jumped back in the car for the one hour drive north toward Hamburg to see Georg's home garden. We had learned a couple of things about Germany already...this wasn't North Carolina, as indicated by the numerous patches of lupines that grew all along the highways. Also, Germany has no intact native habitats, so there really wasn't an opportunity for botanizing natural areas.
The rain had slowed considerably by the time we arrived in Salzhausen, just south of Hamburg. We were greeted by Georg's family, then off we went to view the garden. I was very impressed by Georg's peat-based bog garden, filled with many treasures like US native pitcher plants including a rare albino flowered Sarracenia purpurea. Georg was very proud of his improved strain of the US native Carex plantaginea, which I hope to acquire as soon as it is released. Another shade ornamental grass that I really loved was Phaenosperma globosa...a 5' tall woodland grass that had never before graced my knowledge banks.
Georg and I both share a passion for the genus asarum, so it was great to see Georg's amazing specimens, including a couple of truly stunning forms of the US West Coast Asarum marmoratum, which I've been unsuccessful at growing. I must try again. Georg also grows the European form of the US West Coast native Blechnum spicant...another must try fern. Mitella hookeri is another miterwort species with which I am not familiar, but would like to be. Then, there was the pendulously flowering Salvia nutans, whose photo I nearly missed as the daylight was nearly gone.
Although Georg's garden isn't huge in size, it is packed with rare horticultural treasures, so as I feared, we stayed much longer than planned. As darkness approached, Georg suggested we stay at the nearby Hotel Josthof...one of the only hotels in his small town.
After a delicious meal at the hotel, which dated to the 1700s, we turned in...still trying to find the warmth which had eluded us all day. The knobs on the room radiator seemed not to work, but by early morning, the room had heated to the point that I had to stumble out of bed in the dark and navigate the giant floor to ceiling beams to open the window to let in some cool night air. Then there were the bathrooms, which had showers into which only the narrowest of people could fit...very curious, as the average size of people we saw in Germany would not be able to bathe in here.
Thursday May 29
In the morning, we were off for the short 30 minute drive to the Botanic Garden at the University of Hamburg. As with any university, parking on the street near the garden was a nightmare, so after finally finding a suitable spot on the sidewalk...yes, everyone was parking on the sidewalks...we made the several block trek back to the garden entrance where we were greeted by a unique statue of the biblical figure Adam. Evidently, there was so much public outrage after the unclad Adam was installed that the artist gave up on Eve, and Adam was left alone with his partially eaten apple. Supposedly there is some underlying symbolism about humans destroying Earth, but I found that a bit much. Near the entrance was also an amazing glossy-leaf form of the seed-grown Heuchera ‘Palace Purple'...oh my, how nice!
Although workers in Germany had the Father's Day holiday off work, Hamburg Botanic Garden graduate student Cyrille Claudel had agreed to tour us around. I had met Cyrille on-line through his amazing work as an amorphophallus breeder, so we were thrilled to see several of his winter-hardy crosses of Amorphophallus konjac x albus in flower for our visit. The research greenhouses were filled with treasures, based on what plant group was being worked on by current researchers. There were amazing benches of Disa elwesii orchids, flowering plants of Worsleya...the famed Blue Amaryllis, as well as amazing benches filled with carnivorous butterworts (Pinguicula).
Sadly, the Hamburg Botanic Garden no longer has any public display greenhouses, due to safety issues that were brought to light after the garden had installed glass coverings that turned out were not legal for exposure to the public.
In the gardens, two specimens that caught our interest were two very old bigeneric hybrid trees...a cross of Laburnum x Cytisus and one of Crataegus x Mesipilus. Across from these was a large patch of the giant Gunnera tinctoria and equally amazing beds of the incredible Geranium magnificum.
Their water garden contained huge clumps of Astilboides tabularis...I'm so jealous! Nearby we saw clumps of Laserpitium siler...a marvelous legume that we had found in the Balkans but couldn't identify to genus. I also now see why Europeans get so excited by Stachys macrantha ‘Robusta'...a plant that barely manages to survive for us, but looks fabulous in this climate. The mass plantings of salvia were also amazing, with all kinds of hybrid intergrades between Salvia nemorosa, Salvia pratensis, and Salvia officinalis. We could have spent hours here...so much breeding potential!
After touring a portion of the gardens we were ready for lunch, so we boarded the commuter train to the nearby Jim Block Restaurant where we ordered what else....a namesake Hamburger in Hamburg. All along the train station were Bulgarian accordion players. Evidently, the Germany government pays panhandling pimps to bring accordion players from the nearly destitute Bulgaria to Germany where they are stationed in public areas to play accordions and beg for money, in addition to being provided a small stipend along with their housing.
As we returned from lunch, we were joined by Frederic Gilbert, who works in the American Native section of the Hamburg Botanic Garden. Frederic had visited Plant Delights the year prior during a botanizing trip of the eastern US. Interestingly, Frederic and Cyrille were both two of the only Frenchmen working at the garden.
We were amazed as we walked through the gardens at both the specimens and their presentation. In the American garden section, we were fascinated to see US natives like trilliums growing up to ten times larger than they do in their native habitats. Did I mention the amazing clumps of the Southeast US mountain native Cymophyllus (Carex) fraseri, which I've failed after many attempts? Then there was the West Coast native Vancouveria hexandra which I knew only as a tiny clump, but here the patches were 15' wide. Next, we walked up on a created prairie filled with the US native Lilium philadelphicum...oh my! Anyone who still thinks native plants grow best where they grow naturally is sadly ignorant.
One of the most unique architectural features in the garden was a blue glass display greenhouse that was donated years earlier by a Middle Eastern sheik. As we walked past the modernistic blue structure, the adjacent garden planting was filled with an amazing yellow-flowered genista, Genista cardinalis, that I hadn't met previously. Nearby were other amazing plants...a giant specimen of the variegated tulip poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera ‘Marginata', that was right beside a lovely specimen of the variegated Acer platanoides ‘Prinz Handjery'. Did I mention the unexpected forest of monkey puzzle trees, Araucaria araucana? Even their well-manicured Japanese garden was filled with interesting plant specimens.
The use of Hydrangea anomala v. petiolaris along the garden roadsides was simply fabulous, causing me to completely rethink how this plant can be used without benefit of a wall on which to climb. Work on their interesting new rock garden had stopped because someone failed to realize that they needed to kill the native stands of equisetum before they began planting...oops. That's going to be a hard one to remedy at this point...the same issue that I recently observed at the Seattle Arboretum.
I had never seen such a good use of Chiastophyllum oppositifolium. In fact, I'd killed it in my first attempt, planting mine in the sun instead of shade, where it grew beautifully. Looks like it's going to get another try after seeing its potential. I was also thrilled see the same 18” tall form of Adiantum venustum that we'd seen earlier at the Dresden Botanic Garden...seems everyone here grows this giant form.
We finally wrapped up our visit in the late afternoon so Cyrille and Francine could get back to their families and we could get on to our hotel for the evening...the Radisson Blu Airport Hotel. Normally, the Radisson Blu would be far outside my price range, but our travel agent found us one heckuva deal. We arrived and were able to get our plants from the trip bare-rooted, washed, and labeled in time to turn in our rental car before enjoying a wonderful dinner at the hotel.
Friday May 30
We arrived at the Hamburg airport terminal early for our flight from Hamburg to Goteborg via Amsterdam. The flight was uneventful, although the weight limit for carry-on luggage at the Hamburg airport ticketing counter caught me by surprise...my first encounter with this after nearly 40 years of flying. Then, finding a lunch other than a pastry at the connecting Amsterdam airport required a hike of several miles through the expansive terminal...bless those with gluten allergies flying in and out of terminal B.
After arriving at the relatively small but nice Goteborg airport, we were off to pick up our rental car. When the rental agency found the car we reserved didn't have the proper paperwork, they tried to cram us into a vehicle that was much too small for our luggage...never a good idea for plant collectors. Seeing our dilemma, they took pity on us and upgraded us to a roomy Volvo V70.
Since it was nearly 3pm by the time we were ready to leave the airport, we opted for a quick scouting trip to the Goteborg Botanical Garden, which was only 30 minutes away. We arrived and found a parking place on the street nearby, then ventured in trying to locate some garden staff. Years earlier, I had met the phenomenal plantsman and current Goteborg Director of Horticulture Henrik Zetterlund, so I wanted to say hello. We were quickly directed to Mats Havstrom, who checked for us and found that Henrik had already left for the weekend. Mats was quite gracious with his time and showed us through the research areas and also let Henrik know that we would return for the entire day on Monday.
The research collections were incredible, with an array of new plants from their extensive plant exploration efforts from around the world. Eucomis schiffii from South Africa was the first of many plants to make us gasp. The collection of West Coast US native lewisias were also growing beautifully and in flower...all under cover to prevent them from getting any summer moisture. Unlike many of the botanic gardens on the trip, Goteborg also had a good collection of modern horticultural cultivars as well as species.
Their aging research greenhouses had given the staff nightmares trying to keep their potted collections of Dionysias alive. Many of these miniature Turkish dryland specimens are nearly 20 years old, and they require the perfect amount of light, air movement, and moisture, so recent problems with roof leaks and power outages had already spelled doom for much of the collection.
The Goteborg Botanical Gardens are a 60-acre facility that is narrow and long in its layout and is all uphill. We spent quite a bit of time around the entrance gardens before making our way up the main axis to a lovely perennial display garden, featuring truly excellently grown specimens. We were fascinated as we walked up on a lilac species that neither of us knew, Syringa komarowii with pendent flowers. I can't imagine why this gem isn't more widely available. Although we had only planned to stay at the garden briefly, it was hard to pull ourselves away, so we decided to duck into the lovely garden cafeteria for dinner.
Upon finishing, we ventured back outside and headed further along the main axis toward the famous rock garden. On the way there...who should we find, but Eve. You remember Eve, who was missing from Adam's side at the Hamburg Botanic Garden. Well, here she was in all her natural splendor, perching under a nearby laburnum.
After a good little hike up the hill, the dense vegetation of the woodland garden opened to reveal the rock garden. It's hard to put into words the horticultural splendor of this area, which is divided into a European section, American Section, Asian Section, and a new Scandinavian section...all replete with a man-made waterfall and watercourse.
Virtually every specimen we saw in the rock garden was worthy of photography and closer study. I'll admit to being fairly jaded horticulturally, so it's not many botanic gardens that grow plants I've never seen or heard of before. Several hundred photographs later and with daylight winding down, we headed back downhill via the central axis walk to the visitor center, stopping only briefly at the plant sale table near the entrance to browse the selections. The plants, many of which were quite unique, enticed Hans and me to avail ourselves of some choice gems.
Before I left home, our travel agent had recommended the Hotel Ibis Lerum near the airport as a possible choice for the evening, so off we went in search of the hotel. When we arrived, we were greeted with a run down, low end facility that just didn't look very appealing. I thought perhaps we should find hotel reviews on the cell phone before going indoors, since it couldn't be as bad as it looked from the outside. Indeed, one particular review on Trip Advisor told us exactly what we wanted to know: “I have never written any review, but this hotel has the poorest quality you can imagine! Worst hotel I ever stayed! Room was dirty, old and the bathroom was a mess! The employees were impolite! A tent would have been better!” Nothing more was needed to persuade us that this would not be our hotel for the evening, so after reading about other hotels, we were off to check out the Landvetter Airport Hotel, which had much better reviews online. Although somewhat higher in price, the difference was night and day, so we checked in for our final four nights in Sweden.
Saturday May 31
On Saturday morning we were off to the Eskilsby garden of crazed plantsman Peter Korn. I had been scheduled to present two talks at Peter's garden, but slow sign-up had forced Peter to cancel the program less than a week before my scheduled departure to Sweden. The 30 minute drive from our airport hotel was an easy one, arriving in Peter's rural garden in the early morning. We pulled through the still closed gates to find Peter preparing for one of his open nursery and garden days.
Peter's garden is similar to ours in many ways, combining a garden, nursery, and home on the same property with limited open days. Since Peter doesn't sell mail order, he opens more often for retail. I had the pleasure of hearing Peter speak in Raleigh a few years earlier, when he also visited our garden, so I was fascinated to find such a similar venture in Europe. Two years earlier, when Peter contacted me about speaking, his life had just been turned upside down by a divorce, after which he also announced plans to sell and abandon his masterpiece garden.
By the time we arrived, Peter had met a new love, Julia, had his first child, and changed his mind about selling the garden. This is despite now living every other week a couple of hours south with Julia and her other children, where he is developing his landscape design business. Peter's new goal is to make the old garden more self-supporting, so he can start another garden in his new southerly home. One of the difficulties in Sweden is being able to afford help. Because of massive government employment taxes and employee benefits, hiring a single new worker costs just shy of $100,000 each. As you can imagine, small businesses there almost always consist of the owner only.
I hadn't mentioned it before, but virtually everyone in Sweden is a rock gardener. Heck, the parts of Sweden we saw are nothing more than a series of giant rocks covered by a thin layer of topsoil. Peter had purchased a forested property, cleared the trees, and then systematically dug down to expose more of the rock face, adding back a thick layer of sand from a nearby quarry in which to plant. Peter had initially used peat blocks to build many of his beds, but found that they promoted weed growth, which Peter detested. In order to best use his time in creating new beds as opposed to weeding older ones, he had switched the entire garden to sand beds. Not only are the sand beds less susceptible to weed invasions, but many of the dryland plants that Peter grows persist longer in poorer soils.
As I expected, Peter's plant collections were amazing...many from his own collections around the world as well as those of his brother, who spent the last eleven years bicycling from Sweden to China collecting seed as he went. With a source of plants like this, pretty much every plant in the garden is unknown or at best little-known in cultivation. Unfortunately for Peter, his brother recently met a woman in his travels who enticed him to settle down and get a real job working in his dad's construction business, so that source of new plants had dried up.
The key for me when walking Peter's Zone 4b garden (no consistent snow cover) was trying to figure out what might survive in our opposite hot, humid climate. Certainly not the lupines, which graced the gardens, but many of the geophytes (bulbs, tubers, and corms) might be possible. I was quite impressed with Peter's selection of alliums, including a lovely selection of Allium oreophilium. Peter also grew a number of plants in the Apiaceae (carrot family) including several new to me like Angelica taiwanense, Seseli pontica, Meum athamanthicum, and Molopospermum peloponnesiacum...all absolute charmers.
I'd love to grow Incarvellias, but, alas, too much rain and heat. Here, however, they were beautiful, especially Incarvillea mairei var. grandiflora. It was astonishing to see that there is a Zone 4b hardy South African moraea, Moraea alticola. High elevation Himalayan Nomocharis (lily relatives), like meconopsis were plentiful, but neither have any tolerance of our hot, humid summers.
Peter also grows a great number of iris species. I was very impressed by the flowering clumps of Iris halophila and the great foliage on the already finished Iris ruthenica, whose foliage could easily pass for an ornamental grass. I didn't know Lilium pomponium. Although it wasn't in flower, I'd certainly grow it for the elegant needle-thin foliage. The billowing clumps of Japanese bluebells, Mertensia pterocarpa, were amazing...wonder if I could grow this? Phlox nivalis ‘Nivea' was quite nice in the rock garden, and we know we can grow it since it is native to our part of the country. The same cannot be said, however, for the West Coast native Phlox adsurgens ‘Wagon Wheels'...what a pity.
I was truly envious over Peter's 3' tall clumps of the Himalayan Arisaema griffithii, which I've failed with too many times to count. Another shocker was seeing the giant gunnera growing quite well in Peter's Zone 4b garden. Peter says the trick is to wait until January to mulch it. We also passed countless amazing clumps of bleeding heart (dicentra), growing beautifully in the baking sun where they truly thrive...Dicentra formosa and its hybrid Dicentra ‘Burning Hearts' were particularly nice. We were also fortunate to catch the stunning Paeonia rockii in full flower.
I've never tried Eriophorum...a lovely ornamental grass, but you can bet I'll be doing so after this trip...what a gem. The Solomon's seal family was well represented in Peter's garden with many purple-flowered specimens that resemble Polygonatum curvistylum, most which were collected by Peter's brother. The Solomon's seal that sent me over the edge was Smilacina purpurea (Maianthemum purpureum). Since this grows in the wild above 10,000' elevation, there's sadly little chance I can grow it back home. Symphytum caucasicum, on the other hand, should grow fine back in Raleigh, and Peter was willing to share a lovely purple-flowered form that I had not seen before.
We spent the entire day at Peter's garden, leaving only briefly to return to the hotel for a quick lunch. As the day wound down, we headed to Peter's work shed to begin the process of unpotting and scrubbing our new plant treasures for their return trip home. As we cleaned, I noticed several pots of pyrrosia ferns in the greenhouse...very interesting collections from Peter's brother that Peter was kind enough to share. Upon finishing our plant cleaning, Peter and Julia (pronounced Yulia) cooked us a lovely dinner in their home, which was tucked into the edge of the garden. Not only was dinner wonderful, we also enjoyed playing with Peter's incredibly friendly three cats while being serenaded by Julia's dad and Peter's garden assistant, who played music outside the house each evening.
Sunday June 1
Sunday morning was our day to head 3.5 hours south toward Denmark to the town of Morrum to visit plant collector and salmon fishing expert Ulf Sill. Ulf is well-known to Facebook plant lovers around the world for two groups he started...one for trillium collectors and another for Growers of Plants for Cold Climates. Ulf's day job is to arrange salmon expeditions for fisherman around the world who come to Sweden's prime salmon fishing area near Ulf's home. Ulf also makes some pretty amazing hand-tied salmon fishing lures. Ulf's climate is probably Zone 6, which is a good bit warmer that Peter Korn's garden to the north. I was still faced with trying to figure out what from Ulf's will survive for us since they never see the heat and humidity that we see back home.
Ulf purchased his home in 2006, complete with conventional landscaping, but shortly afterwards was bitten with the rare plant bug. Since that time, he has been feverishly working to acquire rare plants from around the world, as he rips out the more conventional plantings, replacing them with an incredible array of rare treasures. Ulf's treasures include collections of trillium, Solomon's seal, hardy orchids, and arisaemas to mention a few. And then there was the attention drawing garden sculpture of a dog's back end by the front gate...always good to evoke comments from the neighbors.
We caught Ulf's clump of Clintonia udensis in full splendor as well as Cypripedium henryi and Cypripedium thibeticum. Cypripedium margeritacum was still in bud, but the foliage was amazing. Trilliums and paris were everywhere with Paris japonica and Paris marmorata still in flower. I was thrilled to see flowering plants of the closely-related Trillidium govanianum for the first time.
Ulf has a wonderful collection of mayapples, and we were fortunate to catch Podophyllum delavayi in flower as we marveled at the foliage of a still unidentified species. The variegated foliage Epimedium ‘Creamsickle' looked the best I've ever seen it and Ulf's rapidly spreading clump of Hepatica transylvanica left us both looking in disbelief. A gesneriad we hadn't seen on our trip so far, Haberlea rhodopensis was looking great in full flower. As I mentioned, Ulf grew some amazing Solomon's seals including Polygonatum lasianthum ‘Ogon Chiri Fu', Polygonatum lasianthum ‘Setsu', and Polygonatum multiflorum ‘Austrian Gold'.
Between photographing plants under the sun-drenched skies and petting Ulf's overly friendly cat, we remained occupied until late in the afternoon, when it was time to return to our hotel. As we left, we were amazed at two things across from Ulf's home...one, the use of robotic mowers, which Ulf told us were quite prevalent in Sweden; and secondly, the shrubby nature of Aruncus, which is obviously well adapted to Sweden.
The drive back to Goteborg took much longer than the drive down...probably due to incessant traffic jams along the route. At least we got close-up views of the masses of lupines that adorned the roads.
Monday June 2
On Monday, we returned to Goteborg Botanical Garden to spend the entire day. We first spent time in the woodland garden that we had missed during our Friday visit, as we head back up the hill toward the rock garden. Hans was thrilled to see several plantings of his first hosta introduction, Hosta ‘Fire and Ice'. Another of Walters Gardens' introductions, Hosta ‘Northern Exposure' was well represented, as was Mildred Seaver's' Hosta ‘Queen of the Seas'.
While walking through the woodland, Henrik Zetterlund appeared and we began chatting plants as we made our way back up to the rock garden. As we emerged from the woodland shadows, we knew we weren't in North Carolina any longer when we saw drifts of blue meconopsis flowering throughout the garden and golden chain trees (Laburnum) in full flower.
I'm fascinated by ferns and we migrated toward three patches of Adiantum venustum. At the Dresden Botanical Garden, I first noticed that their Adiantum venustum was much different from the form grown in the US...18” tall compared to 6” tall. Goteborg also had this 18” tall form, but had two other forms growing nearby...both from Goteborg wild collections...one of which was deciduous. Looking at the back of the leaves, I noticed the spore patterns were different, indicating that indeed they were different species and not at all Adiantum venustum.
Arachniodes mutica is another fern that I must seek out and the clumps of osmunda ferns were incredible, both Osmunda lancea and Osmunda asiatica. Their clumps of the Japanese Blechnum nipponicum were incredible...much larger than they grow at home. Another simply amazing fern was a giant form of Dryopteris crassirhizoma...or at least that's what it looks like. The nearby typical Dryopteris crassirhizoma tops out at 2' tall, while their new collection tops out at 5' tall. On the dwarf side, Polypodium hesperium from the US West Coast is a gem to try.
Goteborg also has a wonderful collection of jack-in-the-pulpits, many of which we caught in full flower. Arisaema griffithii, Arisaema utile, Arisaema intermedium, an Arisaema elephas-like jack, and even a still un-named species were incredible sights. Finally, I saw the true Beesia calthifolia. I have been saying for years that all of the material in the US grown under this name is incorrectly identified and is actually the evergreen Beesia deltophylla.
With a cool climate like this, primulas performed very well as expected. There were large patches of both white and red-flowered Primula japonica as well as Primula jesoana and Primula reidii. The nearly weedy Siberian spring beauty, Claytonia sibiricum was amazing, although I'm not sure how well it would tolerate our summers. Another ground-hugging groundcover that piqued my interest is Cymbalaria pallida...very cute.
The 5' tall patches of Diphylleia cymosa in flower throughout the garden was simply overwhelming, and growing near one clump was the lovely Luzula nivea, a plant I had tried to grow once, but didn't get the seed to germinate. Corydalis is one of Henrik's specialties, and the collections at Goteborg reflected that interest. Corydalis species were everywhere including the blue Corydalis elata, the purple-flowered Corydalis anthyriscifolia, and the yellow-flowered Corydalis yunnanensis...to mention only a few.
Another plant we collect are Solomon's seals and Goteborg had a marvelous assortment, many from their own wild collections. Two I hadn't seen growing before were Polygonatum oppositifolium and Polygonatum singalense. There was also a nice purple-flowered Solomon's seal from a Ron McBeath collection that looked a bit like Polygonatum curvistylum.
Then there was an assortment of ladyslipper orchids, many of which we caught in flower including huge clumps of Cypripedium guttatum x yatabeanum and Cypripedium fauriei. Thefts in the garden of these and other choice gems had been a big problem until the culprit was apprehended and the problem seems to have abated.
It was very nice to see wild-collection Astilbe simplicifolia, which told me that nothing in the commercial trade sold as this species is correctly identified. As we wandered through the shade rock garden, new treasures awaited us at each turn, the red-flowered Meconopsis punicea, the prehistoric-looking Megacarpaea polyandra, and the Japanese woodlander, Pteridophyllum racemosum. Rhodiola macrocarpa was a fascinating sedum cousin for shade that's certainly worth trying back in the US and the amazing giant patches of the Japanese Schizacodon soldanelloides were truly mind-boggling.
The podophyllum collection was also truly outstanding. I'm pretty sure some of the large specimens are the virtually unknown Podophyllum hemsleyana, and it was also great to see the white-flowered Podophyllum aurantiocaule in person for the first time. Another plant that really blew us away was Cacilia begoniafolia...a splendid woodland plant that's amazingly winter hardy while looking like a rex begonia. Another little-known plant that looked incredible at the garden was Triosteum pinnatifidum. I've grown several triosteum, but this is one that I've yet to try.
The shade-loving Allium ovalifolium var. leuconeuron was simply off the charts...I must try this again. This was my first time to see the double white Anemonella thalictroides ‘Enannananemonella'...a cultivar with which I wasn't familiar. Another incredible plant was Henrik's discovery...a running form of Brunnera macrophylla, growing right beside the little-known but amazing red-flowered Pulmonaria filarskianum.
Equally as many treasures resided in the sunny part of the rock garden as in the shade. The dwarf Adenophora uthatae was amazing as were three Apiaceae family members: Carum multiflorum, Lomatium columbianum, and Heracleum leskovii. Reseda lutea is a Scandinavian native member of the Brassicaceae family that would also be worth trying. I was truly shocked to see a specimen of Thermopsis barbata...one of the most difficult to grow lupine relatives from the high Himalayas and a plant I've killed on more than one occasion. This was also my first opportunity to see the lovely Paeonia vietchii in flower, and not far away was a western US native that I hadn't tried, the lovely Wyethia mollis.
For lunch we returned to the Goteborg Garden café, with Henrik accompanying us. Lunch, as dinner the night before, was wonderful, despite the attack birds perched just above our table watching us like a hawk eyeing its prey. After a lovely meal, it was back to exploring the outer reaches of the garden.
It's hard to look up when you're so busy looking down, but I'm glad I glanced skyward as I strolled through the Japanese gardens or I would have missed their Davidia involucrata v. vilmoriniana in full flower. The same can be said for the floriferous tree Euonymus hamiltonianus...what a show. As the day drew to a close, it was finally time to return to the hotel, although we knew we hadn't come close to covering the entire collections housed at the Goteborg Botanical Garden. We said our thanks and departed. Just before turning into our airport hotel, we ran into a police checkpoint and I got my first ever Breathalyzer test...an interesting end to the day. Obviously, Sweden must have real problem with drunks getting on airplanes. Funny, as I would think the opposite would be a worse problem. We spent the rest of the evening getting our plants scrubbed, labeled, and packed for inspection and the subsequent shipment home.
Tuesday June 3
We were up early to mail our plants back, which required us to visit a Post Office several miles away before packing for our mid-day flight back to the US. I was very blessed to have met some amazing people and to have seen some amazing plants. I hope those of you so inclined can add some of these amazing gardens to your horticultural bucket list.