Friday, October 29, 2010

Off to Rome

Dear readers, I'll be in Rome with my family for the coming week and won't be blogging until sometime after that.
Until then happy gardening,

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A gnome's tale of discrimination and crime in the garden

It was the worst of times in the gnome world. The little folk with the helping hands formerly so beloved of all garden owners had come to be regarded as symbolic of a petit-bourgeois mentality; their owners were increasingly seen as Philistines.

Even in the gnome heartland, the very Shire of gnomedom - Southern Germany - garden gnomes, dwarfs, and imps were in ill-repute. Many had already left for the diaspora in far away places like Illinois and Wisconsin. Gardeners that still had gnomes often hid them away in sheds or relegated them to shabby corners of their gardens out of shame. There were reports of gnomes being locked up and even mutilated!

And on the other side of the mighty Rhine River, the powerful Front pour la Libération des Nains de Jardin (FLNJ - Garden Gnome Liberation Front) was on the rampage, purporting to liberate gnomes from a life of bondage, but in reality kidnapping and then abandoning them in basements, forests, public libraries and other deserted places.

It was only a question of time before the FLNJ started foraging to the East of the border, for there were age-old resentments between the neighboring countries that ran deep.

To be sure, there were still some sheltered havens in Germany where gnomes were appreciated and nurtured as of old, one of these being a large garden colony near the traditionally open-minded metropolis of Mannheim. Here gnomes could go about their business in peace, performing their time-cherished tasks -

pushing wheelbarrows,

carrying lanterns,

tending animals,

pondering life,

painting the spots on poisonous mushrooms,

and other important things like waving and carrying buckets.

But one misty fall morning, an alarm was raised in the gnome community. The lookout gnome on the morning shift was the first to hear the terrible news,

and messenger gnomes ran to all corners of the garden colony

to spread the word that an assembly was to be held to discuss reports of sordid crimes right here in River City the garden colony.

Something unthinkable had happened. While performing her morning chores, Snow White had been accosted by an exhibitionist gnome. To make matters worse, he had dressed up in the most sacred of gnome costumes.

But much much worse than this was the discovery of Johann Wichtel, stabbed with a kitchen knife right in his own allotment.

Now while big folk had occasionally been known to commit immoral acts towards little folk, crimes within the gnome community itself were hitherto unheard of.

It was an outrage. Fathers feared for their children,

Many started taking up arms and forming vigilante committees.

Rumors were rampant as to who the perpetrators might be. Could it be one of the reclusive giant gnomes who preferred the company of big folk to those of their own race?

Could it have been one of the many immigrant gnomes now entering the country under the new labor mobility laws of the EU? Who knew what they might be capable of.

Perhaps one of the economic refugee gnomes from Greece,

or one of the strange race of Belgian gnomes seen more and more frequently?

Would these immigrants ever be able to assimilate and adopt German gnome customs as their own?

To be sure, some of the native gnome habits had their dark side, and there were increasing instances of binge drinking among gnome youth, perhaps leading to crime??

The situation is grave. At the end of this sorry report we'd like to make this appeal to all gardeners: please consider giving your gnome a place in your home, perhaps among the houseplants, where he can be safe and happy. After all, we wouldn't want yet another magical race to disappear from the face of Middle Earth Europe.

All photos taken on original location in the garden colony Kleingärtnerverein Mannheim-Süd e.V.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The aster greets us as we pass....

The aster greets us as we pass
With her faint smile.
 (Sarah Helen Whitman, American poet, from A Day of the Indian Summer), found at

I just knew someone must have written a poem about these beautiful autumn flowers, one of my very favorites. And "faint smile" is fitting, at least when compared to more flamboyant fall blossoms like dahlias or marigolds. On a recent dazzling day in the garden colony, though, I felt like they were laughing gaily rather than smiling faintly.

The most common type are the tall, light pink-purple asters seen in the photos above and below, found along fences and borders all over our garden colony:

There's also a lovely variety of reddish asters that don't get quite as high:

And just look at the riotous colors in this garden:

The owner of the allotment in the photo below invited me in so I could photograph from a more advantageous angle.

My all-time favorites, though, are the very pale, almost white asters in my title photo. These asters belong to my neighbor, and I am fortunate to have them along our mutual border, under the old gnarled apple tree. Below is the full-sized picture. What you can't see here are the hundreds of bees on the blossoms.

So of course one of the first things I planted last fall after acquiring the allotment were asters. I purchased four plants that were labeled as dwarf asters ("Kissenaster"). Here's my daughter planting the ones she picked out:

I'm sorry to say that two of the four plants were immediately devoured and killed off by slugs. The other two survived and are now blooming this fall. But they aren't dwarfs. I had intended them to form a pillow of blossoms below the roses, but instead they now intermingle with them, also fine.

My neighbor told me that once asters get to a certain size the slugs leave them alone. And indeed in the spring I watched the slugs happily eating the leaves of both his and my asters, but after a while they stopped and the plants did fine. In fact, they seem to already be proliferating.

Happy autumn gardening, everyone.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A late afternoon fall stroll in Luisenpark, Mannheim

This post is dedicated to Tina at In the Garden, who visited Luisenpark during her sojourn in Germany.

On a beautiful fall afternoon last week I visited Luisenpark, right near where we live in Mannheim. Both Luisenpark and its sister park, Herzogenriedpark, were created in their modern form on the occasion of the German National Garden Exhibition when it was held in Mannheim in 1975. The National Garden Exhibition (Bundesgartenschau) has been held every two years since 1951 in a different city.

The hosting cities usually go all out, investing a lot of money not only in the infrastructure of the exhibition itself, but also in park and gardening infrastructure for their citizens. The exhibition draws millions of visitors - over 8 million people visited during the 5-month duration of the Mannheim exhibition.

As it turns out, I've personally benefited from the infrastructure created in Mannheim for the exhibit, since the section of the garden colony where my allotment is was appropriated by the city on this occasion, leveled, divided into plots, and turned over to the gardening association. This happened in other parts of the city, as well.

The lasting legacy of the exhibition is above all the two large urban parks, especially Luisenpark. When I first learned about the parks I was somewhat taken aback that there is an admission fee, but I've come to greatly appreciate this. It helps generate adequate funding for upkeep and you get plenty for the price (including clean restrooms). There are also no dogs allowed in the fully fenced-in park, which is great when you have small children. It's a very safe space. My annual pass costs me 28 Euros.

When you enter the park from our end, the first sight you see is the "lagoon" (you are welcome to click to enlarge any photo).
It's part of the Luisenpark ritual to take the boat ride on the lagoon. The boats are propelled by underground cable and are completely silent. Here is my boat approaching as if by magic.
The boat glides by many sights, including these rushes, and flamingos on the bird sanctuary island.
The fall colors were spectacular.
But the real reason to take the ride, especially in the fall, are the giant carp that approach every boat, hoping for food. These creatures used to scare the wits out of my children when they were small, and they would dare each other to stick their fingers down their gullets.

When you get to the other end of the lagoon and disembark, the first thing you see are stork nests and the "stork TV", affording a close-up view of one of the nests. These storks spend the entire year in Mannheim, and are sometimes a bother to picnickers in the park. I've seen one snatch a bratwurst right off the table. By the way, if you want to watch stork TV, here's a link to the web-cam. Give it a try!
Proceeding on foot you pass by the main entrance to the park, which always features a large floral design using flowers appropriate for the season.
Mannheim has an important archeological and ethnological museum, the Reiss-Engelhorn Museum, which is currently featuring a large exhibition on the Staufer emperors, including Frederick Barbarossa. In honor of this, Luisenpark has created a floral portrait of Frederick and his red beard. I couldn't get a good photo of it in its entirety, so am taking the aerial photo below from the Luisenpark website.
This park truly has something for everyone. One of my favorite places is the medicinal herb garden. The park offers regular tours of the herbs conducted by a local pharmacist whose hobby is researching traditional European herbal medicine.
Each section is dedicated to a different type of illness. Here's the section on colds and coughs.
The park includes many aviaries, an indoor butterfly garden, a cactus house, a fernery, an orangery, an aquarium, a reptile house, an outdoor theater, mini golf, an animal farm, as well as cafes, restaurants, and a wine tavern. Too much for a single blog post! To me, one of the greatest features of the park are the large meadows and playgrounds.
It has a swing for wheelchairs,
and swings for adults.
One of the newest, most spectacular features is the original Chinese tea house. This was built about 10 years ago in cooperation with Mannheim's partner city in China. Each and every stone and brick was imported from China, and Chinese builders were brought over and put up for months on the edge of the park while constructing it. It was closed for the evening when I walked by, but the interior is also very beautiful, and they serve traditional Chinese tea and small snacks.
There are sculptures everywhere, many of them donated. My favorite is the nymph washing her hair, in the midst of a labyrinth of hedges.
The park is a great place for lovers,
 for people looking for peace and solitude, for example in the "sound oasis" with its subdued classical music,
for young people having a barbecue with friends (don't be shocked by the beer bottles on those kids' tables - it's legal here at 16),
for chess players,
and for lovers of majestic trees and woodland scenes right in the middle of the city.

For a bird's eye view you can also take the elevator up to the top of the television tower on the edge of the park, right on the banks of the Neckar River, and sit in the revolving restaurant. If you enlarge the photo below, you can just see the tower in the background. It's a favorite place to take visitors, since on a clear day you can see all the way to Heidelberg on one side, to the Palatinate forests on the other, and below you the industrial panorama of Mannheim and Ludwigshafen, including the huge harbor where the Neckar flows into the Rhine.
Considering the size of Mannheim (about 300,000 inhabitants), I think this park can hold its own compared to the parks of Europe's and North America's great cities.