Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Queen of England

After debating a long time about whether or not to purchase an arch and plant a climbing rose at the entrance to my herb garden, I decided against it because of too many other things to do right now, and wait till next year.

BUT today while walking by the local discount drugstore, I saw they had a table of various perennials for sale out on the sidewalk at incredibly cheap prices (€1.50 each for roses, blackberries, clematis, currants, raspberries, and several other varieties) and although I've made a point of buying all my plants and bulbs at quality nurseries up till now, just couldn't resist buying a climbing rose, figuring I had nothing to lose at that price.

So I am now the owner of a so-called "Queen of England" climbing rose. I couldn't wait to get home and research it. Upon perusing online rose forums, it turned out that this and other roses are being or have been sold in the past at many discount grocery and drugstores here, including Aldi, Schlecker, Lidl, and Plus. And there were lots of reports about people buying these cheap discount roses only to be surprised in the spring at finding they'd planted a white ground cover rose rather than the pictured pink climbing rose!

The other discovery I made was that "Queen of England" is not really a recognized name. The correct name is probably "Queen Elizabeth", a famous and well-established rose, but not usually a climbing rose. There does seem to be a climbing version, though.

The package is a little puzzling since there's no indication of country of origin. The information on the package is given in 9 languages. I wonder where thousands of this cultivar were produced for simultaneous sale at hundreds of discount outlets!

So I plan to do what one forum participant recommended: plant the rose in a container and see what comes up before deciding where to put it in the garden.

In the course of trying to find out about this rose, I discovered a truly wonderful website called which offers information on thousands of roses, peonies and clematis. It was here that I found the definitive information on what I've probably purchased.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lots of bulbs!

Now that winter is setting in, it's a good time to sit down and do some planning for the spring, but also to get some perennials and bulbs planted before it's too late.

I'm sure I've overdone it on the bulbs, but they're so hard to resist. Here are some of the ones I've bought and planted up till now: 10 pink mini waterperry daffodils, 10 pink trumpet daffodils, 6 rainbow parrot tulips, 6 white estafette crispa tulips, 6 white tulips with pink rims, 8 pale yellow erlicheer daffodils, 25 mixed freesias, 8 brown sugar tulips, 8 poet's daffodils, 3 giant alliums, and a mixed collection of 60 grape hyacinths and crocuses to plant in the lawn.

To plant them I first loosened the earth and then used a handy device my predecessors had left behind: a bulb planter. It digs the hole, retaining the earth, you put the bulb in, and then you press the handle together and the earth falls back down onto the bulb. I suppose all experienced gardeners are aware of these things, but I wasn't. Pretty nifty.

While transplanting things and clearing out the space for my planned farmer's garden, I've discovered a lot of already present bulbs, some already multiplied into large clusters of bulbs, but have no idea what they are. So I've separated and replanted many of these, too. My experienced gardener neighbor was able to easily identify which ones were narcissuses (i.e. daffodils or jonquils), and which ones were probably tulips. One sign that they are daffodils is that voles leave them alone, so the bulbs are perfectly intact.

In the spring I'll post pictures as the bulbs all bloom.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Designing a traditional herb garden (aka potager garden, kitchen garden, Bauerngarten, cottage garden, etc.)

My son Martin turning the compost (left), me planting the boxwood hedge (right) (click to enlarge)

My biggest project in the new garden is to plant a geometrical herb garden, i.e. an ornamental kitchen garden. There are many terms for this type of garden, or rather there are many types of traditional gardens in various countries which possess some of the elements of what I want to do: the traditional German Bauerngarten, the French potager garden, English cottage gardens or border gardens, French formal gardens, and on a larger scale the herb gardens still to be found in Europe's monasteries, cloisters and manor houses.

In many of these traditions, there's an emphasis on combining utilitarian vegetables and herbs with the beauty of flowering plants, and the design usually involves geometrical beds arranged symmetrically and bordered in some way, and the garden usually has a centerpiece such as an urn, a sculpture, a sundial, a fountain, or a birdbath.

Here is my design (on the right) including a list of plants that I'm planning for each sector (click to enlarge any images), and also a to-scale hand sketch (on the left) of the overall layout of the garden showing the location of the herb garden:

My herb garden is rectangular, not quite square, and measures about 30 square meters (about 322 square feet). It will have three entries, all leading to a central round area.

The following features are planned.

Border: Before winter sets in for good I want to complete planting of the entire periphery with a border of low boxwood hedging (buxus sempervirens "blauer Heinz"). This is a very traditional and widespread plant for low hedges in many countries. Slugs and snails leave it alone. Luckily, I was able to use compost earth from one of our silos to give the boxwoods a good start. Click for a closeup of that bucket of rich compost. And on the right an overview of the progress made to date on the hedge.

Centerpiece: I plan to put a birdbath on a pedestal in the center of the garden. The garden colony is full of birds, especially on the edge of the forest where my garden is. Up till now I've seen starlings, wrens, European robins, magpies, blackbirds, thrushes, sparrows, chickadees, and various birds of prey. Also, my neighbor reports there are nightingales.

Paths: Bark or gravel.

Beds: There will be four symmetrical beds with different themes. In one bed there will be mostly vegetables and herbs, two beds will have color schemes (see colored gardens), and in one bed I'm planning to grow plants which are frequented by butterflies, wild bees and wasps, and other useful insects. See plan above for lists of plants in each sector.

I've made heavy use of the book mentioned in my previous post on slugs and snails in choosing plants that these creatures don't like.

Here's a video introduction to formal herb gardening.

And now to finish a couple pictures of some beautiful roses still blooming in the garden in late October (click to enlarge):

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Rules and bureaucracy, perceptions of Germany

After starting up my blog, I of course took a look to see if other expats had published anything about German garden colonies. Sure enough, I found an article in an online British newspaper written by an English person who had leased a garden in northern Germany. The article was not without the usual gratuitous remarks one expects from the British press on the subject of anything German. In this case the author complained about the plethora of rules and bureaucracy in the garden association contract and the exaggerated orderliness of things, favorite stereotypes of course.

My observation so far at our colony is that things are very laid back and "live and let live". Sure there are gardens that look like they've been manicured with the proverbial nail scissors Click any photo to enlarge),
gardens full of kitschy dwarfs,

gardens with extremely precise geometric beds, but also many many gorgeous imaginative gardens that are a joy to behold, see some examples below in my immediate vicinity in the colony (click to enlarge):

There are wonderfully overgrown gardens (albeit with beautiful big vegetables, see below):

There are even a fair number of neglected gardens. In fact right next to mine there's a garden that has not only been obviously untended for the entire summer, it also contains two huge pine trees, something expressly forbidden in the contract. The other neighbors have told me that it's been like that for ten years. But apparently no one has ever complained, and the owner is not being kicked out or forced to chop down the trees. I'm not sure the neighbors in my parents' suburban US neighborhood would be that tolerant. My own immediate neighbors are friendly, helpful, and discrete. Apparently you can operate in your own garden however you see fit as long as you don't bother anybody.

I personally am glad of all the rules concerning quiet times, garbage disposal, environmental protection, upkeep of community grounds (they are beautiful), etc. And as I wrote in my first post, the fact that German communities generously appropriate land for cheap lease to residents enables me and thousands of others to enjoy a villa-sized garden. I appreciate that and will accept their rules.

Here are some photos of the common grounds and well-kept playground in the colony (click to enlarge):