I recently spent several days in Hanover, Germany. I didn’t do any planning before my arrival and didn’t have an agenda or itinerary, instead hoping for a serendipitous convergence of parks and gardens of interest open during my visit. As is often the case when one has limited expectations, I was completely charmed by a city with one of the largest urban forests in Europe, a comprehensive network of greenways and public spaces, an amazing zoo and a beautiful city park celebrating its 100th anniversary, which fortuitously happened to be contiguous to the hotel in which I was staying.
However, none of this prepared me for my visit to the Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen, described as among the finest ensembles of gardens and parks in Europe and which, embarrassingly, despite my forays into the study of garden history, I was unaware of.
Containing one of the few Baroque gardens to survive in its essential form (despite the fact that 90% of Hanover was destroyed in World War ll) the gardens reflect the vision of a creative and powerful woman, Electress Sophie of Hanover. A keen intellectual, she was heiress to the British crown to which she nearly ascended.
“The garden is my life,” professed Sophie and indeed she was an equal partner with her gardener, Martin Charbonnier, in its creation and design evolution. Raised in the Netherlands, Electress Sophie found inspiration in the Baroque gardens of her childhood and wished to replicate their qualities at Herrenhausen.
Fittingly, it was on a walk in her beloved gardens that the electress succumbed to heart failure in 1714. The sculpture below, a memorial to Electress Sophie, stands on the southern edge of the garden.
At Herrenhausen three distinct gardens form an ensemble where art and culture coexist. The Baroque Great (Grosser) Garden, the Berggarten, with its botanical collections and the Georgengarten, a picturesque landscape in the English style that is the site of the Wilhelm Busch Museum for Caricature and Drawing Art.
“Everyone is allowed to seek diversion in the royal gardens …..” was inscribed in 1777 on the Prince’s Gate (although clear distinctions were made between the “common” people and those of rank). Today the gardens host an extensive calendar of festivals and events that are at the center of Hanover’s cultural offerings.
The Great Garden:
While work on the 50 hectare Great Garden began in 1666 it was laid out in its present form under Electress Sophie’s supervision between 1696 and 1714. To fool the eye the garden’s layout is skewed by 2.8 degrees underscoring its artificiality as a work of art in which nature is shaped by man.
A masterpiece of Baroque design, the Great Garden contains the Great Parterre, planted between 1674 and 1678, as well as eight rectangular beds and water features, including four swan ponds. Originally dug in 1697 as fish ponds the swan ponds were modified during the garden’s restoration in 1937.
The Great Parterre is connected to the larger landscape by a central axis (designed to represent eternity) and embellished with a series of water features including the Bell Fountain containing 164 water jets and the Grand Fountain whose 82 metre jet of water is purported to be the tallest in Europe.
Thirty-two pieces of sandstone sculpture are sited throughout the Great Garden including those representing the four continents, the four seasons, the four elements and the gods of the ancient world.
The design of the planting beds follows an idealistic program with ornamental box trees and more than 30,000 summer flowers. A series of eight themed gardens date from 1936/1937 when portions of the garden were reconstructed and four of them trace the development of garden art from the Renaissance to the Rococo.
Germany’s first garden theater, created between 1689 and 1682, is framed by gilded lead statues enclosed in hedging. The first “hedge theatre” in Europe, it is the only one of its kind to survive to the present day.
One of the garden’s oldest surviving structures is the grand cascade dating from around 1670. Sited at the entrance to the Grand Parterre, the cascade balances the garden’s other oldest feature, a grotto originally designed in 1676 by grotto-maker (yes, it was a specialty) Michael Riggus.
The view of the grand cascade below is included in Twelve Principal Views of Herrenhausen by Johann Sebastian Müller & publisher Robert Sayer; London; 1751-52 available at the British Museum.
Inaccessible for almost 250 years, the grotto was reimagined by the contemporary artist Niki de Saint Phalle who has a special connection with the city of Hanover. In her final declaration of affection for Hanover she transformed the three grotto rooms into a unique artistic experience. Begun in 1996, the grotto was formally opened in March 2003 and is her last major work.
The Great Garden is surrounded by a canal accented by tree-lined walkways. At each southern corner garden pavilions in the French classical style are sited. Designed by court architect Louis Remy de la Fosse at the beginning of the 18th century they appear identical yet one is built of wood and one, having been rebuilt after a fire in 1752, is of stone.
A pedestrian bridge, which was not open during my visit, connects the Great Garden to the Georgengarten, the 50 hectare English landscape style park designed to contrast with the strict formality of the Great Garden. Laid out between 1835-1841 and 1859-1860 by Royal master gardener Christian Schaumburg it is named after the Hanoverian King George IV.
Although I did not have an opportunity to visit the Georgengarten (which is fully public while the Great Garden and the Berggarten share an entrance fee) the map below details the relationship of the two landscapes.
Located across from the Great Garden, the Berggarten (Mountain Garden) originally provided “useful plants for the sovereign’s table and pocket.” Here everything from rice to tobacco was experimented with until 1790 when the cultivation of fruits and vegetables was moved off site and it became solely devoted to “higher purposes” as a botanic garden.
The Berggarten includes a series of greenhouses, both historic and modern, the library pavilion and a collection of themed gardens that include American and African desert plants; the iris, rock and pergola gardens; ornamental and herbaceous shrubs and perennials; moor and heath plantings; flowering meadows; cacti, tropics and orchid exhibition houses; a paradise garden and an ornamental and subtropical courtyard.
The glasshouses include a collection of more than 800 flowering orchids and exotic plants from around the world.
Seriously damaged during World War ll when more than 111 bombs fell on the garden destroying all but one greenhouse, much of the garden has been rebuilt. In 2000 a Rain Forest House (Regenwaldhaus) opened on the site of the Great Palm House and in 2007 the Sea Life Aquarium was built.
Erected for Queen Friederike and King Ernst August in 1842-1847, the royal Mausoleum is also the final resting place of George I, the only English king to be buried outside the British Isles since the Middle Ages. In the off-chance you are wondering, George I’s great-great-great-granddaughter was Queen Victoria, whose great-great-granddaughter is the current Queen Elizabeth whose great-granddaughter is Princess Charlotte.
Framed by majestic oaks transported from a forest north of Hanover, the royal mausoleum is on axis with the palace and terminates an allee of Dutch lindens (which are currently being replaced) dating from 1727.
The Berggarten and Great Garden have been owned and operated by the city of Hanover since 1936 and were fully restored in 1937. During World War II the palace and much of the gardens, with the exception of the Gallery and Orangery, were destroyed. The restoration has been phased with the gardens restored for their tercentenary in 1966. The palace, reconstructed with financial support from the Volkswagen Corporation reopened in 2013 as an international center for academic science, conference center and museum. The entrance to the Great Garden is through the wooden doors seen below.
The Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen are, and always have been, a meeting place for the arts and sciences – an “open-air ballroom” where the high aristocracy of Europe were entertained with spectacular festivals, carnivals and artistic productions. Today that legacy continues and the gardens host a renowned series of events including the International Fireworks Competition. From May to September, the Great Garden is illuminated on selected evenings. To see an illumination visit: http://www.panorama-cities.net/hannover/illumination.html.
The Great (Grosser) Garden/Berggarten are open daily from 9am to 8 pm May to August otherwise until dusk. During the winter season and for special events the opening times are restricted. As open parkland the Georgengarten is open at all times.
Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved