Karl Foerster’s gardens in Potsdam
During our trip to Berlin, we managed to pay a visit to Karl Foerster’s gardens and nursery in Potsdam, a very nice historical place, just out of Berlin, where you can also visit the Sanssouci Palace and gardens, once house for Frederik the Great, King of Prussia (unless you find some posh concert scheduled, like I did, and there’s the Palace completely shut down and guarded, with all people in some Armani dress looking at your shorts and trainers, lifting their upper lip and showing a little of their rabbit-like incisors in dislike, but this is another story).
But let’s get back to Mr. Foerster, he was a nurseryman and a garden designer and a breeder, born towards the end of 1800, he’s been the forefather of the so-called ‘Dutch Wave’ or ‘New Perennial Wave’, now led by designers like Piet Oudolf, Tom Stuart Smith and so on. In fact Karl Foerster, totally ‘out of time’, started planting and selecting tough perennials that looked sturdy planted in masses, he wanted something with a more natural feeling to the planting so he soon started using and selecting grasses too. If you consider that all this was happening more than a century ago I’d rather say he’s been a pioneer for modern gardening.
The place could be divided in 4 sectors: the nursery, still up and running, the back garden, the sunken garden (front garden) and the house with a part of private garden. The house is actually owned and inhabited by Karl Foerster’s daughter, if I got it right, although I did the math and I guess she ain’t a kid anymore. We found the garden very easily, you can find directions clicking here if needed, we parked the car and started our visit from the back garden. All the venue is surrounded by a thick hedge of large, botanic roses and scattered with rather old trees such as Cedars and other conifers as much as bushy evergreens. Although there are also a disappointing rock garden, the best part of the back garden is made of two large, rectangular beds planted with perennials and grasses and a bunch of lollipop shaped acer pseudoplatanus.
All is framed by a clipped hedge and another linear border that runs all along. I gladly found various kinds of asters, miscanthus, heleniums, anemone japonica, sedum and some clumps of the tall rudbeckia laciniata ‘Herbstsonne’.
Every plant had its tin label carved with the name of the variety, all was very tidy and well tended. I liked this cloud of calamintha nepetoides under anemone ‘Bressingham Glow’, I shall try some calamintha in my garden too, although this garden was planted in sandy soil, while I work with heavy clay here.
Some things let me kind of disappointed, like a bunch of badly pruned rosa ‘Maigold’ planted in a row, like soldiers deployed in front of the house but the garden is very nice. Then you can reach the sunken garden through some steps and a narrow passage behind the house. The sunken garden was a real revelation.
Here too everything’s very well tended, healthy, exuberant but not at all floppy. At the centre of the garden, at a lowered level there are a geometrical, almost rectangular pool with waterlilies and loads of frogs and gold fishes.
There are paths forming concentrical shapes all around the garden, starting from the pond but the thing I liked was that from most points of view you have the idea of a united big planting. Tall perennials and grasses such as eupatorium and molinia hide and show different perspectives, screen partially something that otherwise could seem obvious and create a sense of embrace.
What really impressed me was a sense that anybody could make a garden like that. I don’t say this as an offense to Mr. Foerster, he did all this a hundred years ago and I admire him for this but nowadays I can see a very accessible ‘design’ to this garden, something that inspires you and makes you believe you can do it too.
At the end we visited the nursery: all was tidy and clearly labelled and priced despite the sale season was in low peak. You could find a good selection of perennials and grasses at very reasonable rates but unfortunately we didn’t buy anything because I was afraid of loosing the poor plants during our trip back home and at the end of the day I have so neglected the garden in these past months that buying new plants before tidying up a little would be a shame.