Thursday, July 19, 2007

Karl Foerster

What a life Karl Foerster must have had! He was born in 1874; for comparison, consider that Caruso was born in 1873, Rachmaninov in 1873, Jekyll in 1843, Bowles in 1865, Wilder in 1878. His early works appeared when the works of Jekyll, Bowles and Wilder were still appearing. He outlived them all by decades and died in 1970 – and what is more remarkable, he outlived them in spite of the fact that his home and garden were in the suburbs of Berlin (Bornim bei Potsdam). What should have been an old age full of the honors due the most prominent voice of early twentieth century horticulture in Germany was instead spent behind the Iron Curtain: in the English speaking world, probably only those who remembered the old days knew of him. It wasn’t until after his death and the unification of the divided German state that those who remembered began to pick up the pieces. His numerous publications now have the wide audience they deserve – at least among those who read German. His house is still there, and so are the remains of the garden. I’ve seen recent photographs of both in German gardening magazines. With a bit of imagination and the help of a photograph such as the one above, one can make out in the pattern of depressions and rock heaps something which suggests this once famous garden. (After writing that, I Googled some more and discovered that the garden has by now been largely restored).
Generations of Americans have looked to England for gardening ideas; the time might have been better spent looking to Germany. Few locations in North America approximate the English climate. The continental climate of Germany produces gardens more like those seen in North America. Although I want an “Engliish” garden, my climate gives me a German garden instead.

The two pictures given above are taken from Foerster’s Vom Blütengarten der Zukunft . The one depicting the garden appears in both the first edition (published by Furche Verlag in 1917) and second edition (published by Foerster’s Verlag Der Gartenschönheit in 1922). His Verlag Der Gartenschönheit was to prove to be the source of so many handsome publications until the darkest days of the Second World War, including the magazine named Gartenschönheit.
The second picture first appears in the second edition. This domestic scene appeals to me greatly. I know almost nothing of Foerster the man, but it is known that he passed with honor the cruelest test of his generation. I don't know if he was a religious man, but if he was, I like to think that as the rest of those at the table bowed their heads and prayed for peace, he prayed for peace with justice.

If you Google “Karl Foerster” and confine your results to English language hits, you’ll get endless references to his grass cultivars. Confine your search results to German language hits and you’ll hit gold.

As it turns out, the older generation had the opportunity to know one aspect of Foerster's work well: Louise Beebe Wilder's The Garden in Color might better have been titled "the best of Gartenschönheit". The book is a collection of color plates with commentary by Wilder. Nowhere is it mentioned that the plates are from Gartenschönheit. The date of publication, 1937, explains that.

1 comment:

A rootdigger said...

Thanks for that post, it was most inspiring to me this morning as I woke way too early. I have been able to take your suggestion and browse german version many books through Google books which lend a glance or two into so many pages of many gardners. I would like to know more of what happend to Forster also.
the one I found had some good stuff on rock gardening. I believe that subject is where I have seen his name before.

I also have Wildes book, which was inspirational for me so many years ago. I still remember her planting under her cherry trees.