The lawn in the Englischer Garten (park) is perfect. Our author also has a garden, and wants to know: How do they manage it?
Envy is the highest mark of appreciation – and anyone who enjoys gardening for pleasure should feel envious upon entering the Englischer Garten. Seriously, how are the lawns here so perfect? How is the grass so velvety soft – and how come, even at the height of summer, it stays so lush and green that a new word needs to be invented just to adequately describe the colour? Why is there no sign here of any those scourges of the domestic lawn keeper: moss, weeds, bald patches? Have they identified the perfect fertiliser? Or do they just have the very best species of grass in the world? What is the magic formula? What trickery do they use?
I call Bernd Rogge, Technical Manager of the Englischer Garten – a more difficult task than the sentence suggests. It takes weeks to get Bernd Rogge on the phone. Due to the arrogant hauteur of this lawn artist? Because he continues to jealously guard his secrets? No: it's because Bernd Rogge is a very busy man, and too modest to make a fuss about himself. A lawn is nothing very special, Rogge tells me, when I’m finally able to speak to him.
It takes weeks to get Bernd Rogge on the phone. Due to the arrogant hauteur of this lawn artist? Because he continues to jealously guard his secrets?
“Apart from the North and South Poles, there are indigenous grasses in all climate zones; they make up the majority of the vegetation on the planet.” He's right, of course. Grasses – known by various names such as steppe, savannah, pampas and prairie – cover more than a third of the earth's land surface. The Englischer Garten encompasses an area of 384 hectares, making it larger than New York's Central Park and London's Hyde Park, and you could see it as a sort of inner-city savannah – only more beautiful than most.
The Eisbach (river) which wends its way through the park; the Monopteros temple; the blissful salvation to be found in the beer garden at the Chinesischer Turm; deciduous trees that tower overhead, their beautiful branches moving gently with the wind: all these things make the Englischer Garten what it is. And yet, what would it be without what it grows from, without the ground on which everything stands? The lawn, nature's soft carpet, calls out to every visitor, whether local or tourist: You are welcome here! Take off your shoes – take a seat or lie back; nothing will bother you here, and you'll find nothing to scratch or poke you as you recline; relax. This is your public, green living room.
Bernd Rogge speaks slowly and precisely: it sounds a little as though he might be reading from a ring binder, but in fact he has all the figures in his head.
There are around 70 employees taking care of the Englischer Garten – not just gardeners, but also fitters, mechanics, carpenters and painters who keep the benches and bins looking smart. And of course there are administrative staff too, from messengers to the executive board. Rogge tells me that while these are all very capable people, they are not wizards – they have no magical ingredients or mysterious skills. “In the past, it was seeds that fell out of haylofts which were simply swept up and sown. We still have to replant certain particularly exposed areas in the Englischer Garten from time to time, though these days we simply use various standard seed mixtures that comply with the DIN 18917 standard – similar to those you can buy in any hardware store. We buy 80 to 100 10-kilo sacks of grass seed every year, containing a wide variety of standard seed mixtures.“
Bernd Rogge speaks slowly and precisely: it sounds a little as though he might be reading from a ring binder, but in fact he has all the figures in his head. He even knows how many blades of grass grow in a single square metre of the Englischer Garten (between 80,000 and 100,000). By my reckoning the entire Englischer Garten must contain 30 to 40 billion blades of grass. No two of these are exactly the same, and together they form a gently undulating surface in innumerable shades of green.
While a sea view is about the only natural joy that Munich cannot offer, there is a similar happiness to be found in gazing over the rippling grass of the Englischer Garten – whether in the soft sunshine of the afternoon, by the light of the moon, or in the morning when the dew glitters as though thousands of diamonds have been hidden in the grass overnight.
“People come here to be seen, to marvel, and to be admired, so persons of all classes need to be able to gather here and move in long, colourful processions while the little ones can skip around,” wrote Friedrich Ludwig von Sckell, the landscape gardener who completed the Englischer Garten at the beginning of the 19th century. Visitors come to the Englischer Garten not only to observe nature, but also to observe other observers of nature – which is precisely what makes the place so appealing. Even today, out of all the places in Munich, it is a park that is still the most metropolitan.
"We mow it frequently – as often as twice a week in May and June.” It seems as though the man might finally be willing to share his secrets.
Up to 400,000 people come here every weekend – and, of course, they don’t all keep to the paths, so the grass needs to be suitably robust. Every amateur gardener knows that when grass is too long, it gets trampled down; but if it is too short, it might scorch in the sun. “An ideal length for grass is between three and eight centimetres, similar to the length required for grazing horses and cows on agricultural pastures. We mow it frequently – as often as twice a week in May and June.” It seems as though the man might finally be willing to share his secrets: “What fertilisers do you use, Mr Rogge?” – “We don't use any.” – “And how often do you water the grass (and how do you even water 384 hectares anyway)?” – “We don't water it at all”.
Gardeners with private lawns turn on their sprinklers two to three times a week in summer, and according to Rogge that can also have a negative impact as it can make the grass lazy: it will get water no matter what it does. Grass that is not watered from the time it is sown sends its roots deeper – as much two metres is not uncommon – and can therefore better survive dry periods.
“Many garden owners do too much in their gardens – too much water, too much fertiliser.”
It won't do in the dry, sandy soil they have in Berlin, for example – the parks in the German capital often look more like deserts in the summer. But in the Englischer Garten the groundwater is relatively abundant, so Munich’s grass fends for itself – and that is perhaps why it can carry its head particularly high.
“Many garden owners do too much in their gardens – too much water, too much fertiliser,” insists Rogge. A park is a place where nature and culture meet; it needs to be maintained, but you mustn’t overdo it. Tranquillity is important, the serene Bernd Rogge points out. And tranquillity can be easily learned, for example during an outing among the green expanses of the Englischer Garten.