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German gardens with tales to tell

Gardens that owe their existence to women.

By Phyllis MerasContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / September 8, 2008

ELEGANT GARDEN: The favorite sister of Frederick the Great, Wilhelmine, is responsible for the Neues Schloss garden at the Eremitage in Bayreuth, Germany.

Photos by Phyllis Meras

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It is to four women that Germany owes some of its finest gardens.

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In the 17th century, the Electress Sophie of Hanover turned the pleasure grounds of her husband’s estate in that city into the patterned baroque garden of Herrenhausen.

A century later, Wilhelmine, the sister of Prussia’s Frederick the Great, had the Hofgarten and the Eremitage Palace Gardens fashioned in Bayreuth. Then she, herself, designed the Felsengarten Sanspareil in neighboring Wonsees.

A fourth Bayreuth garden, Park Fantasie, was the work of her daughter Elisabeth Friederike Sophie.

Finally, in the 19th century, the dowry of the Countess Lucie von Pappenheim went to her husband, Prince Hermann Ludwig Heinrich Puckler-Muskau, so he could plant a million trees on their Muskau estate.

I recently visited these elegant German gardens.

Sophie’s gardens
Sophie of Hanover, the mother of the future King George I of England, was born and reared in The Hague, Netherlands, surrounded by the formal baroque gardens there. When she moved to Hanover and became the wife of Duke Ernst August of Brunswick-Luneberg, she was in a position to surround herself with gardens that would remind her of her Dutch childhood.

Work on the famous Grosser Garten (Great Garden) at Herrenhausen, the family summer palace, began in 1679 and continued for 30 years. Sophie moved her palace rooms so that she could better see the work being done in it.

Although more than 90 percent of Hanover – including the elector’s palace – was destroyed in World War II, the 125-acre Great Garden was untouched. Today, in summer, some 30,000 flowers bloom there.

The garden was originally laid out by Marc Charbonnier, whom Sophie had sent to the Netherlands to study Dutch landscape design. Because of the lay of the landscape (it is a flood plain), he surrounded his long rectangular garden with canals on three sides and an avenue of trees on the fourth.

Inside the rectangle are smaller gardens hedged in boxwood and hornbeam. Each of these is in a different shape. Some contain fountains. Some are like checkerboards with potted plants in place of the checkers. One holds an outdoor theater formed by clipped beech trees.

Other special sites in the Great Garden are the Great Cascade of 1676, which bubbles over a bed of shells and stones, and the Great Fountain, which shoots water into the air.

Gardens in the Herrenhausen complex that postdate Sophie are the Georgengarten (George’s Garden) and the Berggarten (Botanical Garden).

The 150-year-old Georgengarten was created in English rather than baroque style. Noteworthy in the garden is an obelisk honoring the Hanover baker Johann Gebhard Helmcke who, in 1805, paid Napoleon’s army a sizable sum if they would not cut down the trees.

The Berggarten, which began as a kitchen garden for the palace, was turned by Sophie into a garden where she grew rare plants. After 1750, it became a botanical garden where many rare plants are still nurtured.

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