The other side of the fence is always greener, even if it is the old ‘iron curtain’

– Posted in: Miscellaneous

Rockeries are notoriously difficult to keep weed free in damp climates but in dry ones its amazing what can be done.


Its funny travelling around looking at other people’s gardens in different climate zones, as I so often end up wishing for something I haven’t got. A trip to Cornwall and I think how marvellous it would be to live somewhere where you could grow all those decadently juicy big rhododendrons , use brilliantly colourful Mexican Salvias in borders and be reasonably confident that they survive the winter, and dot the landscape with tree ferns. Such is the fantasy of many gardeners.

There are always downsides. Living in a relatively maritime climate myself, I rarely have to worry about water, or about it getting too cold or too hot, but there are real disadvantages to living somewhere where things just grow so well. Weeds. Unwanted weedy species grow huge and lush. As a result my gardening efforts are dominated by weed control, and to some extent also by curtailing all that lush growth – cutting back geraniums and astrantias before they have had too much of a chance to self-seed for example, or dealing with the vast mountains of debris at the end of the gardening year.

So, interesting a few weeks ago to visit Professor Wolfram Kircher in Saxony, in what was the old East Germany (aka. the GDR). Long cold winters, often quite hot, dry summers, and only 400mm of rain (we get 1500mm minimum). Wolfram and his wife Angela describe themselves as plant nerds. They have no idea how many thousand species inhabit their half acre garden. Everywhere you look there are micro-communities of plants. A rockery (partly composed of old kerbstones – the old communist ones weren’t good enough for the new look new Germany) bursts with plants, the paving on the drive seems to be being infiltrated by a miniature botanic garden, a strip of peat bog studded with orchids acts as a filter for a natural swimming pool (Prof. Kircher is a leading authority on this now very popular form of pool). We would have to be permanently on our hands and knees weeding this place, or arbitrating in disputes between rampantly spreading plants. In a dryish continental climate the weeds just don’t grow so well – in fact the Kirchers don’t describe weeds as a problem at all.

A wonderfully productive garden. The raised beds are supported by the box hedging - yes really!

No point throwing out old boots if you can plant in them

A natural swimming pool feels like the centrepiece of the garden. Water is cleaned by the action of plants and bacteria.

Part of the garden is a quite English looking area of box-bound raised beds with vegetables, fruit bushes and herbs; there are roses and a clematis-draped pergola. Self-sufficiency in fruit n’veg clearly no problem. But how are those raised beds built?…. poke around a bit…. hmmm, the ‘sides’ are actually the box hedges, so that on one side of the 40cms high hedges the soil (very loose and full of compost material)is actually supported by the box. We were astonished, at home the box would surely rot – maybe not, maybe we should give it a go?

Gaps in paving can make a good habitat for low-level, don't mind being stepped on occasionally, plants, such as this thyme.

Being here reminded me a little of Lauren Spring and Scott Ogden’s garden in Colorado – similar ‘cold – dry’ continental climate I suppose. And yes, The Kirchers can grow cacti out of doors too, even through last winter’s minus 25C.
Would I live here, simply in order to grow more plants and not spend so much time weeding? Probably not, as I love our West Country lushness, but it is nice to know that if for some reason I ever got exiled to the bleak plains of the old GDR I could create a great garden.


Several Turkish species of dianthus form incredibly tight hummocks of painfully spiky foliage.


I am now publishing e-books  through Amazon, for Kindle, smartphones, iPads etc. There are currently two of collections of writings for Hortus magazine from the early 2000s, plus a transcription of an hour long interview with Beth Chatto, one of the most influential gardeners of modern times. Click here to take a look.

Noel Kingsbury

Noel Kingsbury

Noel Kingsbury is a gardener and writer based in the west of England. Author of over 20 books, including four collaborations with Dutch designer Piet Oudolf, he is passionate about wild-style planting and bringing nature into the garden.

Noel Kingsbury

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Sunita August 13, 2011, 5:16 am

I know exactly what you mean about wishing for gardens you see while travelling. I’ve been keeping all the nurseries in the nearby hill-towns in business while feeding my craving for temperate-growing plants. In hot, humid Mumbai! 😛
I love the look of that pool. So natural.

elaine rickett August 13, 2011, 8:05 am

Lovely garden – I enjoy seeing other people’s gardens through your eyes.

Adnan August 13, 2011, 3:06 pm

We have been planting on raised beds for years but hey! what is the hedging stuff on raised beds.What is the science behind that ? Wouldn’t it cause root mass under the soil ? Can you enlighten me more?


Chookie Inthebackyard August 14, 2011, 7:38 am

I love the pool. I wonder how deep it is, and how they prevent passing children from drowning in it?

ann August 14, 2011, 8:10 am

Turkish Dianthus doesn’t look like Sweet William we have here in North Dakota. What is it?

Hoover Boo August 14, 2011, 8:35 pm

Gorgeous garden. 400 mm is about what we get here in Southern California (in a good year). But a much different winter!

Noel Kingsbury August 15, 2011, 4:32 am

Dianthus erinaceus – or something very similar. There are 300 Dianthus spp! a number from v. harsh alpine environments in the mid-east have this hard cusion habit

Noel Kingsbury August 15, 2011, 4:33 am

Its a private garden so any children are warned of the potential danger.

Noel Kingsbury August 15, 2011, 4:35 am

I was really puzzled by this myself! I suppose because the box foliage is supporting the soil in the raised beds the box roots will be going in lower than the mass of the raised bed contents so not causing a problem.

Freda Cameron August 16, 2011, 7:11 pm

Love the tapestry of burgundy, blue and pink in their gardens.

With our 100 degree, dry summers of the last year or two, I’m slowly moving toward gravel gardening in a few difficult spots. We merged our gravel guest parking with our garden around it and the results this summer have been wonderfully surprising in that the gravel, being permeable, allowed the rain in to the soil while preventing fast evaporation during the weeks without.

Thanks for sharing this rock garden.

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