Planten un Blomen, a remarkable and little known park – by Giacomo Guzzon

My friend Giacomo Guzzon has become a regular guest writer on View from Federal Twist. Several months ago, Giacomo told me he was planning a trip to Hamburg, Germany, to revisit Planten un Blomen, a park he remembered from a visit there many years ago. Unlike New York City’s Central Park, which emerged from a unified vision of Olmsted and Vaux, Planten un Blomen was created in several bursts of activity over many years. The result is an extraordinary park, clearly very popular with the public, but one relatively little known outside Germany. I hope the photographs and words in this post will make you want to visit, possibly even make a pilgrimage to see Planten un Blomen.

Giacomo is fortunately fluent in German, so he has been able to make use of sources of information on the park, such as Plomin’s book, Der vollendete Garten: die Kunst, mit Pflanzen umzugehen, that are not available in English translation. An Italian landscape architect working in London, Giacomo is Head of Planting Design for Gillespies, a large landscape design firm. He has a deep interest in plants and their use in landscape architecture to create meaningful places with emotional power, and he teaches and lectures on the importance of planting design in landscape architecture.

James Golden


View of the water-cascades in the distance from the deciduous conifer grove. These areas, which gently slope down to the water, are planted with a rich array of shade-loving plants.
The water cascades, shown in the distance in the image above.

Planten un Blomen, a little-known park located in Hamburg, Germany, is a remarkable place that deserves to be far better known. It is a model for the use of landscape and planting design to create places with strong identity and character. The park extends across several neighbourhoods in the city centre, offering a green and diverse urban space to the public. The name means ‘Plants and Flowers’ in low German.

Because the park is L-shaped with two roughly narrow, linear parts, it is easily accessible through many entrances scattered around its perimeter and it ties in with the urban fabric well. The shape and multiple entry points make the park easy to reach and use.

Planten un Blomen is L-shaped and offers many points of entry.

This park has been a favourite of mine since my first visit several years ago, and I’ve been surprised that it is still not as well-known as it should be. There is little information online or in books about this urban space. Perhaps that’s the reason it hasn’t become more well-known. In any case, I believe that it deserves to be given more attention by the profession of landscape architecture. It is a particularly outstanding example of how to create a characterful urban space with a strong identity.

The water cascades at the north-western end of the park. This area is the oldest part of the park, which was previously a zoo and a cemetery. These cascades were built in 1935 for the ‘Low German’ Garden Show, under the direction of  Hans Meding and Karl Plomin, and today remain a very popular area with a strong and unique feeling.

The park is especially interesting because of its peculiar character; it is an unusual mixture of garden-like and park-like elements. Probably the best term to describe it is ‘landscape garden,’ or ‘public garden’; it is difficult to assign it to a definite category because it feels intimate yet public, it is gardenesque yet many aspects of it are park-like. It has a special combination of elements that you would encounter in a large public park—such as generous lawn areas, playgrounds, and large waterbodies—and others that are typical of smaller, private gardens—such as rich and well-maintained plantings, botanical collections, and sophisticated and movable furniture.

The south-facing terraces with movable chairs and, to the left, the Johan van Valckenburgh Bridge. These areas were built for the 1963 International Garden Exhibition (IGA) under the direction of Mr. G. Schulze, Mr. H. Raderschall and Karl Plomin. The site was further expanded to 76 hectares, including the old botanic garden and the large and small Wallanlagen, meaning walls, which were fortifications built in the 17th century under the direction of the Dutch Engineer Johan van Valckenburgh. Several pedestrian underpasses were built underneath carriageways to connect the different sections of the park.
In Planten un Blomen the use of common and unusual plants combined in rich and habitat-specific compositions adds sophistication and beauty to the park.

After my last visit in August, I wanted to learn more about the park’s history and design influences, so I made private inquires to the Friends of Planten un Blomen (see endnotes below). The history of Planten un Blomen is rather complicated since its development is connected with many events and the park, as it is now, is the result of several German National Garden Shows.

Until the 70s the name Planten un Blomen was used to identify only the oldest part of the park. The other three areas were called: Old Botanic Garden, and small and large Wallanlagen. The name proposed by the city council for all four areas was “Wallringpark” and the alternative option was to use the name Planten un Blomen for the whole park. Only after the vote by the Hamburg Mitte district assembly in 1986 was the park officially re-named Planten un Blomen.

Different areas of the park were at times a zoo, a botanic garden, and a cemetery; principally from 1935 the land was gradually redesigned in phases into what we can see today.

In 1935 the ‘Lower German Garden Show’ took place in the park, and in 1953, 1963 and 1973 three International Garden Shows (IGA) were held.

View of the lake in the middle of the park, which in the summer it holds daily water and light concerts after dawn. For the IGA 1973 the lake was extended and the lakeshore enriched with plants. Karl Plomin and his son were responsible for several planting schemes throughout the park.

These garden shows expanded the overall parkland size, repeatedly reshaped the land, and enriched the look and character of the garden with new follies, water features, buildings, and landscapes. In more recent years a few design competitions were held to re-design specific areas.

For the IGA 1963 several water steps and other water bodies were designed in the new expanded area of the former Wallanlagen.
Small cascades and a large pool, with integrated planting and Taxodium trees, extend below the pedestrian stepped-bridge that connects a low area of the park with one of the entrances dotted along its perimeter.
The elegant simplicity of a water feature completely integrated within the surrounding landscape. I enjoyed listening to the pleasing sound of the water splashing down. Places like this, which evoke contemplation and enable us to go far away with our thoughts, are a notable achievement of the designers of Planten un Blomen.

In 1985 a competition for the creation of the Japanese Garden was won by landscape architect Yoshikuni Araki, and in 2008 a competition for the re-design of the western park entrance was won by the Berlin studio a24_landschaft.

The Waterlily ponds, which are located where the old botanic garden was once situated. In 1970 the botanical garden moved from Planten un Blomen to Klein Flottbek, allowing the area to be better integrated into the park.
View of the Tea House in the middle of the Japanese Garden.
The Japanese Landscape Garden with an idyllic creek unfolding among boulders and topiary plants.
The water cascades within the Japanese Garden, where people can find relief and escape from the busy city life.

Among the many people who were involved in the design of the park during the several garden shows, the recurrence of the name Karl Plomin really stands out. He was a landscape architect and garden designer from Hamburg who designed several areas of the park and had an important and leading influence in all garden shows.

An enclosed area of the park characterized by the columnar forms of the evergreen trees. This area shows how plants can be used to give a distinctive identity to a space.

It is interesting to note that Plomin’s drawing below shows a similar use of columnar evergreens to create a spatial identity similar to the one in the photograph above.

In the 1935 show Plomin had a significant role in using exotic plants from all over the world and mixing them with native species, an approach that was definitely not in line with the Nazi propaganda of those years in favour of German native themes.

He wrote a book in 1975 titled Der vollendete Garten: die Kunst, mit Pflanzen umzugehen, which can be translated as The consummate garden: the art of dealing with plants. Vollendete is not an easy term to translate from German to English since it has a special almost ‘magical‘ connotation in German. Reading this book has revealed intangible aspects of the park that I couldn’t quite put into words but that I somehow felt while visiting. Plomin writes from the very beginning about how a certain combination of plants can create a very distinctive atmosphere that is a result of the site and all the influences that define and characterize a certain space. The spirit of a place, he writes, will then be ‘visible’.

He explains in the preface that the sense of his book is to detect the genius loci of a place and to find the right ‘melody‘ for it. The ambitious term ‘vollendete’ (‘consummate’) has been chosen only to describe the search for the right approach for a garden, since there are no perfect or completed gardens. (They are dynamic entities and not static objects.) The charm in a garden is revealed by the constant change and evolution of the vegetation.

The art of planting for Plomin is the ability to find a synthesis between the visual qualities of different species and their relationships with specific habitats or ecologies, and to combine them with ‘phantasy’ into a meaningful composition.

The powerful composition of shade-loving plants gives a strong character to this place.

There are several vegetation compositions, illustrated in sketches throughout the book, offering a possible design solution for a certain location with an envisioned character.

His approach of selecting plants that are related to each other and the site, with the ultimate goal of creating a composition that gives atmosphere to a place, is very exciting. Giving atmosphere and identity to a place should be the mission of every designer.

Appealing composition of perennials and shrubs along the steps to a viewpoint on top of a small hill above the central lake. In Planten un Blomen the use of landform is skillfully used to create enclosed spaces, frame views, divide the park into different sections, provide a visual and acoustic buffer from the surrounding busy streets and add drama and interest to the park.

I believe Planten un Blomen has maintained Plomin’s legacy. It is a large park composed of many different areas, but most of them have a clearly identifiable identity which I found palpable when visiting (I hope the accompanying photographs will show this clearly.) This park is an important precedent because it celebrates in a very humble way the power of plants for creating public spaces of beauty, escape and inspiration.

The level of maintenance throughout the park is excellent. The garden is maintained by the city: the park has 13 gardeners, 4 craftsmen (locksmith, carpenter, plumber and workshop manager) and 7 gardener trainees. Larger tasks such as tree-cutting and soil improvement works are undertaken by external garden construction firms.

Anyone who would like to make a donation to the park’s upkeep may do so at this link.


* I contacted Mr. Jörg Kuhbier, the director of the ‘Friends of Planten un Blomen’, requesting more information about the park. Mr. Kuhbier kindly sent me a booklet, published in 2013 for 75th anniversary of the park, which is my major source of historical information about the park.

* Germany has a long tradition of garden shows that celebrate the horticultural-nursery and landscape design professions, as well as transform and regenerate derelict or new urban and suburban areas. Normally, at the end of the shows some areas are re-designed for permanent use but the main structures and interventions are left for public use by the hosting city. There are three kinds of garden shows in Germany: 1) The IGA – International garden show (International Garten Ausstellung), which has been held every 10 years since 1865; 2) The BUGA – Bundesgertenschau, the German garden show, which has been held every 2 years since 1951; and 3) The LAGA – Landesgartenschau, the regional garden show, which is held almost every year in each region of Germany.



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21 thoughts on “Planten un Blomen, a remarkable and little known park – by Giacomo Guzzon

  1. Thank you for this infusion of beauty at this time. I drank in your photos and learned from your observations. What a unique garden! As is yours.

  2. I wish I spoke German sometimes, there seems do many interesting aspects of German landscape design and horticulture that don’t receive their due attention within the English language world. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. I can almost hear the fall of the water, the giggles of kids, the hum of insects, the silence of the leaves. Thank you for the post.

  4. Thanks so much, Giacomo and James, for this virtual visit to a garden I’d never heard of. The photos really capture the different characters of each section; the shot of the stepped falls is particularly evocative. I swear I can hear and feel the spray from that water, a spot that must mesmerize many visitors.

    The calm lily pool is inviting in a completely different way. (Thanks for including photos of both empty and the populated moments.) Every part of the park shows firm, clear design (greatly assisted by meticulous maintenance), but the planting is so full and appropriate that it takes center stage. What a life-giving resource in the middle of the city. Thanks again.

  5. It was fun to look up the plants in Karl Plomin’s design sketch and visualize it in color. Quite a lively vignette: the roses on either side are hot orange-red. The alliums are purple, and the delphinium is blue. All seen against the grey-white “floor” of wormwood and the dark blue-green verticals of juniper. It reminds me a lot of the gravel garden at Chanticleer.

    I imagine the allium’s color is mostly gone by the time the roses and delphiniums get going (they’re a modern shrub rose and a shorter floribunda), but the Allium seedhead stalks would continue to echo the verticals into the summer. So would the delphinium stalks, but I’m not so sure how long they’d remain upright, or decorative.

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