Landscaping in Germany: not so bad as in Bad Wiessee

By: Kurt Voigt Special to The News Messenger
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I recently was given a rare opportunity to go to Germany, in the Bavarian region, and help design, consult and landscape my cousin’s new house in Bad Wiessee. “Bad” in German means “bath” and the town is known for its spas, baths, healing and physical therapy doctors and clinics. The visitors’ brochure alone would make anyone aspire to visit the area. The town sits at the gateway to the Alps on a lake, literally the foothills of the mountain range that is at the southern portion of Germany and northern parts of Italy, Austria and Switzerland. If you’ve ever seen the “Sound of Music,” you have seen the beautiful green and towering mountains that protrude from the earth’s flat crust into the blue sky above, dotted with white clouds. Truly vivid, colorful, clean and refreshingly cooler from the California dry, hot and dusty environment. I fell in love with the area! I only had two weeks to transform a road-base driveway (due to the house construction), a sloped front yard that didn’t leave more than three yards of usable patio space, and a young couple with no landscaping experience, direction or ideas. So the day I landed, we got started right away, jet lag and all, hitting nurseries and landscape supply stores. Going over there, I must admit, I was naive and a little ignorant to think that Germany didn’t have the selection, variety, and most importantly, the quality of landscape materials and products that we have here in California. I kept sending my cousin pictures of materials and products from California, links to websites such as basalite and McNeer, and hoping we could find something remotely similar over there. I was wrong and stand corrected! I was quite pleasantly surprised and impressed with the variety and quality of materials, and was quite humbled by a couple of new products. Germany even has a home-improvement store much like Home Depot, complete with orange signs and labeling. I took a lot of pictures inside the store. We also visited a huge nursery in Munich after visiting some small “mom and pop” shops around the lake. It was awesome! I was greatly impressed with the quality and selection of plants, trees, herbs, roses and even orchids. I was also really surprised with the same California and Mediterranean plant material available in Germany as we have here: ornamental grasses, lavender, rosemary, barberry, euonymous and plenty of northwestern plants such as yew, arborvitae, white pine and other conifers. It was an interesting selection of plants and a lot of them are treated as annuals because of the cold in winter over there. My cousin wanted something different and dramatic compared to the neighborhood and I had to justify my plane ticket there with something special and “Californian.” With my cousin being a teacher and her husband a professor at the University of Munich, they wanted something low-maintenance because they didn’t want to spend their weekends as slaves to their landscape. We chose some slow-growing, dwarf conifers, a couple of dwarf ornamental grasses, sweet flag, heuchera, English boxwood and a beautiful lace-leaf Japanese maple. I know it’s like an eclectic collection of plants by California-standards but it worked. After a little convincing to her husband, we added mounds with boulders, planted the plants and got the neighbors’ attention. They didn’t quite get the concept of mounds and boulders. I asked them to just trust me. It worked; all the yards there are flat. It was a nice change they said, and it was different. We added a little nature, especially since we were 50 yards from the forest. We dug out probably five yards of earth into the hill and built a granite, ledgerstone retaining wall. Now they have about 20 to 25 feet of flat patio space. I designed the rest of their yard with a Bavarian carport, garden house and lawn area with more mounds and plants. It’s getting cooler over there so they are stopping the outside projects and finishing up the inside projects. I learned a lot about landscaping in Germany in regard to the soils, climate, materials (no irrigation because they get a lot of rain) and design. I also realized how much globalization has affected the influences of countries upon other countries. Case in point, landscape plants and materials from California to Germany, “outdoor entertainment areas,” landscape concepts and ideas, and similar ways of thinking in a different environment with different materials but with the same results. Until next time, happy landscaping! Kurt Voigt is a landscape designer/consultant. He can be reached at