“I wished he had shown fewer pretty pictures. He could have spent the entire lecture talking about plant layering.” After a lecture, the ride home with friends is always great. We get to rant about what we heard and what we wished we had heard, which is exactly what we did on the way home from the New York Botanical Garden lecture, The New Perennial Movement at Hermannshof Gardens. Cassian Schmidt is really smart guy. Maybe not as famous in this country as Piet Oudolf, nevertheless Schmidt has a huge reputation in Europe. He is known for his intelligent approach to plant combinations. With Piet you have the sense, that his tremendous feeling for aesthetics informs all of his decisions.
“You are free to come and you are free to go.” Schmidt
Schmidt is the Director of Hermannshof Garden in Weinheim, Germany. A nine acre garden, privately owned by Freudenberg family and open to the public. In 2016, 150,000 visitors came to Hermannshof, not only to enjoy the beauty of the gardens, but to explore and understand Schmidt’s planting style – his time saving maintenance practices and ecological plant communities.
Claudia West and Thomas Rainer in their book, Planting in a Post-Wild World have made the concept layering plants into plant communities the flavor of the month. Everybody I know has bought this book. Schmidt was making gardens based on these ideas a long time ago.
“Grasses always out compete flowering forbs in a prairie.” Schmidt
The gardens in Hermannshof are the poster child for melding the ecological with the aesthetic. The garden is made up of 12 habitats. A combination of meadows, woodlands, steppes, water gardens, and prairies. What is equally interesting is the distinction, Schmidt makes between a warm season system and a cool season system. In a great deal of North America, we have a warm season system – late blooming perennials. In Europe, the majority of countries have a cool season system – major flowering in May and June and summer turns brown.
Schmidt’s design ideas find their inspiration in the wild, but are deliberately planted. He calls this stylized or enhanced nature. Along with this philosophy goes a great deal of science. Low maintenance is part of Schmidt’s planting style. It is a strategy based on stimulating dynamic processes.
Schmidt showed an interesting diagram (I wasn’t quick enough getting out my iphone to take a photo of this slide. So imagine a triangle – one side of the triangle is competition, one side of the triangle is disturbance and one side is stress. Each one of these categories, fits all the plants at Hermannshof. The trick is to know which plant fits into which category. There is no burning at Hermannshof. They mow with a mulch mower and leave everything on the ground.
“Nothing goes out and nothing goes in.” Schmidt
“I do what I think is right.” Schmidt
I am trying to do exactly that.