Two weeks ago, we were in Berlin, experiencing winter style temperatures on the Wednesday, and by Saturday, in the Berlin Botanical Garden in Dahlem, we were able to see the first signs of Spring really breaking through on a beautiful, warm, sunny day. I was surprised to know that it is the second largest botanical garden in the world, after Kew Gardens. This botanical garden has had a rough history. Although the oldest in Germany, having been founded as a royal kitchen garden in the 17th century, it fell into almost total neglect only a century later, was revived in the 19th century, only to be nearly completed destroyed by allied bombing during World War Two. Perhaps it was deliberately targeted as the SS built a series of tunnels, which still exist but are not open to visit, leading to a bunker where personnel and files were stored. Nowadays, the tunnels are a home for roosting bats in the winter.
So, given the weather, what was there to see? Some really lovely things come to mind. The gardens themselves made for a very enjoyable and relaxing ramble through carefully planted, but not overly tended and primped, ecosystems from around the world, and it really was a serene afternoon, far from the crowds and buzz of the city streets.
I loved the nodding groups of long. blue bell-shaped flowers that Mertensia virginica offered in the North American woodland area. A quite substantial plant, maybe 0.6m high and spreading habit, with flowers lifting their heavy heads well above the foliage. Serendipitydoes occur! Yesterday, as I got my photographs organised, up popped a blog from Davis Landscape Architecture, which I follow, with really useful information about the plant. Their blog is a very handy profile of a particular plant each time, so really worth it for such serendipitous moments. The upshot is that I will be trying to source some seed for Mertensia virginica and giving it a go in my slightly damp woodland area. I think it will be a good contender as it dies back in the hotter summer months.
In a different vein, sitting in isolated clumps in the hot, dry rockgarden was the tiny, but gorgeous, Tulipa batalinii. I was wobbling on one leg to get close to it, so it has a slight fuzziness in the focus, but I am sure you get the idea.
The nearest label suggested Tulipa biflora, but having looked it up, I would lay money that it is Tulipa batalinii. There were also lots of the creamy yellow variety, doing more vigorously than the orange on a sunbaked spot. Tiny and delicate, not more than 12cm high I think, but superb. The very good website of the Pacific Bulb Society also has loads more detail about species tulips which cope well in hot, dry conditions. Given my tulip performance this year, (not good), I may well abandon ship and try these out more than I have hitherto.
Again, in the woodland area, where spring had got started, there was a curious novelty.
The bald cypress is a water-lover, and apparently, these curious root ‘knees’ are more often seen when Taxodium distichum is partly submerged at root level. If the ‘knees’ weren’t attached to a massive tree, they would make a stunning Stumpery subject on their own, never mind the tree.
So, if in Berlin and needing some green and peace, this is the place to come. And if you take the bus from the centre, it’s a great route that shows you more of ordinary, working Berlin than you might see otherwise.