An Exotic Garden in Frankfurt
Follow Rainer's progress in creating an exotic
garden in central Germany.
Reiner Gesell-Schulte, Mercatorstr. 34, D-60316 Frankfurt
Chamaerops No. 18, published online 23-07-2002
on this article:
Click here to read them or to add your own.
Bird's exe view of the exotic garden.
Since 1977, I have been living in a flat in central
Frankfurt, Germany, which has a courtyard-garden. Soon after moving
in I realized that this garden must have a special microclimate.
A peach tree regularly flowered ten days earlier here than in a
garden of mine on the outskirts of town and in years with extremely
late spring frosts it always carried fruits even when they had been
frosted elsewhere. When snow fell in other places, it tended not
to remain in my garden and it happened quite often that snow covered
the ground in front of the house on the street but not in the back
in the garden. With frost, my experiences were similar. Today, after
nine years of watching and measuring the weather here, I believe
that my garden is one of the mildest places in Germany as it combines
several important climatic advantages: Frankfurt am Main is already
one of the mildest regions in Germany but additionally, the inner
city 'heat island' can generate a temperature increase over the
surrounding regions by 45 to 65C on clear nights and also, the garden
is completely encircled by houses except for the southern side,
which protect it against cold winds while trapping the heat of the
sun. Frost never seems to come before November 20th, and after March
15th, the garden is frost-free, so, by German standards, the frost
free period is quite long, over 300 days in some years. This, combined
with our warm summers, gives my plants plenty of time to thoroughly
harden off before the onset of winter. Temperatures have rarely
fallen below -55C (235F) during the last few years. The absolute
minimum since 1987, when I started measuring, was -105C (14F5) in
In 1986, I decided to plan this climatic advantage
into the new design of the garden. My love for palms, then only
recently discovered, on a trip to the Italian Riviera, was going
to be the basis of the new plan. A nice Chamaerops humilis, carried
along as hand luggage, was the first one in the collection. Along
with a large Phoenix and a Washingtonia, it was planted in a big
container and placed on the patio. Somewhere I had read about a
palm that would survive -165C (35F). This, Trachycarpus, was one
I had to have to plant out in front of my window. In summer 1987,
I found a good specimen and planted it immediately. Of course I
had to have some background-plantings for my little palm collection.
It had to be evergreen and able to flower even in the partial shade
cast by the surrounding houses. By studying the literature and through
visits to the famous Palmengarten in Frankfurt, where many subtropical
plants are successfully tried outside, my knowledge and courage
increased as did my plant collection. In the meantime, the sun exposed
southern wall is completely covered with Passiflora caerulea and
Campsis tagliabluma. Apart from Trachycarpus, my garden now is the
home to many more exotic shrubs, amongst them Pittosporum tobira,
Arbutus unedo, Olea europaea, Laurus nobilis, Eriobotrya, Choisya
ternata, Albizia julibrissin and Musa basjoo. Last year, I have
also tried a small Washingtonia which went through its first winter
very well with some protection. Completing the picture are various
evergreen shrubs which are absolutely hardy and a number of frost
tender plants such as Bougainvillea, Citrus and small palms in containers
which spend the coldest months inside the house. Unfortunately,
I do not have enough room to realize all my ideas. Because of the
garden's enclosed nature and all the evergreen plants, one feels
immediately transferred to another part of the world when entering
the garden. Especially in winter, and early spring when some of
the plants are already in flower. I invest a lot of time in winter
protection to keep everything in its best possible shape and to
minimize the risk of cold damage. All subtropicals are nicely mulched,
Laurus and Olea are wrapped in rush-mats in January and February,
and Musa basjoo and Pass flora disappear under big piles of old
leaves. Trachycarpus receives rain protection only and rewards my
efforts every year with fabulous flowers, male unfortunately, so
no seeds. Some of the winter protection is necessary as I mainly
had to plant small specimens. This spring, I have planted other
frost tolerant palms such as Chamaerops, which I had seen outside
in Paris and Manaheim, and also Sabal minor, Nannorrhops ritchiana,
Rhapidophyllum hystrix and Serenoa repens, all of which I did not
know about previously. Of course these will all receive good winter
protection in the first few years. Unfortunately I do not have enough
room or money to try Jubaea chilensis outside but maybe it's an
interesting project for later years. Meanwhile not only my family
and I enjoy the luxuriant splendour in my little garden but the
whole neighbourhood now appreciates this special setting, and the
view out of my window, or breakfast under the palm trees compensates
for all the work that makes my 'Frankfurt Riviera' a reality.
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15-09-19 - 19:58GMT
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