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Journal American Rhododendron Society

Current Editor:
Dr. Glen Jamieson ars.editor@gmail.com


Volume 8, Number 4
October 1954

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The Account of a Flying Gardener - Part IV
By John Bacher

Rhododendrons in Castle garden near Zug Switzerland
     Fig. 29.  Rhododendrons of the hardy varieties growing in a Castle garden
     near Zug in Switzerland.
     Bacher photo

        Now to tell of some of my experiences in Switzerland. I must mention that the weather of that country is just as undependable as we think it here on the Pacific coast. On my first morning there it rained quite a bit, which gave me real opportunity to get my notes in order and mail a batch of sight seeing cards that I found here in great abundance and of a quality never seen elsewhere. It is no wonder that the sale of Swiss scenic cards is now apparently world wide for even in Portland, Oregon, the leading department stores carry great assortments, that feature not only the colorful scenery but also the great variety of colorful flora.
        It is surprising how the scenery remains so attractive, and from my childhood memory I recall the world famous Rigi, one of the mountain tops in the heart of the country. Here one can count 22 lakes on a clear day. I had to see for myself if that were really true.
        The weather cleared up the second morning and my train got me to the Arth Goldau Station. From here the mountain railroad could take us up to the top by cog rails. However, at the station I discovered that this was the first real mountain weather for the season and it had me guessing for awhile. How would they ever get there? Three trains loaded to the gills with tourists from everywhere pulled out without me, but in loading the fourth I got into the jam and we arrived on top of the mountain within a short time. The crowds were polite and well behaved. The views were not easily forgotten and never have I been on a mountain top where solid rows of souvenir shops did such a wonderful business in knickknacks of all kinds, somewhere along the line I was also provided with souvenirs. The air lacked the usual clarity even though it was bright sunny weather. Lake Luzern was barely visible but had its normal blue color as well as Lake Zurich. The temptation to stay here overnight was a task for me to beat down, since my rigid timetable would not permit deviation. After recording the leading phases of the mountain by camera, we went by train to Luzern the well known old city at the outlet of the lake. This is one of the oldest cities in Switzerland with a population of nearly 200,000 inhabitants. Many of its old bridges dating back to the days of 600 years ago. In startling contrast to the old buildings was the Park in front of the depot with floral effects of unexcelled quality. Beyond was the great water fountain going steadily with its many streams reaching a height of 100 ft. or more. No other city the world over has such a display right in front of its main depot, where trains leave for all directions every few minutes, day after day. Swiss train service seems ample as there are from two to four leaving at least every hour.
        One of the schemes extremely useful was the monthly railroad pass which I purchased immediately in Zurich and which functions nearly on the same principle as our street car passes do here. The purchase of this pass is keenly guarded for it requires a passport photo to be fastened onto the ticket. Since the-Swiss railroads are all government property with the exception of a few mountain roads the pass is good for travel in the entire nation. As the trains are all electrically propelled there is no sign of smoke anywhere over the Swiss cities. Classes are maintained on a price basis and some of the transcontinental lines trains only have first and second class accommodations although third class passengers are permitted in special cars. The only difference I observed between first, second or third class fare was the upholstering. Punctuality of the Swiss train schedule appears to be a matter of seconds and the conductors whistle starts the train regardless of laggards. The so-called express or fast trains do not stop except at the most important stations. Personnel on the main lines all speak two or more languages according to territory served, since Switzerland is blessed with three languages and the train employees must master them to hold their positions. As soon as a train crosses a language border they use the local language, however travelers are served in their own language when they need information. On all transcontinental trains you meet plenty of English speaking folk, for it seems that in Europe the English speaking people travel more than any other.
        I arrived at my former home, where but one brother is left of a family of seven. However a young generation was there to make me feel welcome.
        For the most part the country is the same, its habits have changed but little on the farms and hilly regions. Furniture in the home has changed, also farm machinery is noticed here and there. Small motor grass mowers appear to be used in many of the hay fields, that are too small for use of the conventional mower. Farming is done largely with hand power of which there is no scarcity in Switzerland. For amusements there is the customary dancing and musical group meetings, contests of shooting, gymnastics of various types and at the end of each session there are groups singing in great choruses. Here the songs of long ago appear to be just as fresh as in my own school days and are known by all.
        Photography is my special hobby and I made it a point to record all of the gardening sights worth the while. Gardening appeared to me to have gained much in popularity in late years. However the greatest change was in industrial progress. One of the requirements is that everyone learn a trade properly in order to acquire any standing in the community at all. It is this system that provides the basis of the industrial habits of the majority of Swiss citizens.
        Motoring as we know it here in the United States is known to but few in Switzerland yet the roads are good, although only the main ones are paved. American motorists are hard put at times to avoid the extremely numerous bicycle riders, for often they clutter entire streets by their large numbers. As far as I could learn but few road accidents occur, due no doubt to the respect for the laws in general. American cars are on display everywhere and seem very much appreciated in spite of the fact that gasoline or motor spirits are much higher in price than here. Busses as public conveyances appear to be well patronized and in the Alpine passes it is a frequent occurrence to count touring buses from a dozen nations. In order to learn about the Swiss celebration in Bern (the capital of the country) celebrating their 600 years of freedom I went to see the federal gardener, Jakob Jenny* who is in charge of federal buildings such as the Parliament building. I found him a very competent person intensely interested in the task of supplying the offices of the nation with flowers and plants, also doing the decorations for the government. He had formerly served as a staff writer for the Trade Review and had all the information desired in regards to gardening and the type of flowers. He was also in charge of the federal greenhouses and nursery for the propagation of pot plants and cut flowers.
        Plants of the newest and choicest types were grown to perfection much to my amazement for such items as Naegelias, Isoloma and Gloxinias were here in a high degree of perfection. Also the new Crossandra undulifolia flowered amazingly well. Naturally my camera recorded these novelties in color.

Window boxes at Bern Botanical Garden
Fig. 30  Window boxes at Bern Botanical Garden.
Bacher photo

        In crossing the city on foot I was amazed to see buildings often four stories high, public and private, supplied with window boxes planted with gay colored flowers of many sorts and types. No effort seemed to have been spared to make a good showing for the entire summer season, and I may as well admit never having seen an entire city so well supplied with floral effects. Mr. J. Jenny informed me that he was appointed on a committee to judge the boxes of a given region, where a contest is being staged for prizes. I was mighty glad to have the opportunity to meet the other judges and spend all of one afternoon traveling about the city in that windowbox contest. Here I met the garden architect for the city of Bern who invited me to visit the city nursery where all the plants are grown for the Park system and other public grounds. The invitation was accepted a bit later and netted me a wealth of information as well as inspiration. We found the nursery near the river Aar, with acres of perennials, and cut flowers such as dahlias. A collection of Cannas also flourished here and the potted trees of Bougainvilleas, Lantanas, and Heliotropes gave testimony that they use the best and finest in plant material. What intrigued me no end here was a garden roller supplied with a motor which permitted easy operation for lawns or garden walks. While this machine may weigh a half ton its construction was so simple that anyone could operate it. We have machinery of all kinds, but an essential such as this roller proved to be, is noted by its total absence. I thought my friends might appreciate a picture of it.
        As for cut flowers I noted a large supply of Rudbeckia that were nearly 30 inches tall, mostly in yellow colors and of the size of Zinnia. I had observed them in several other cities and by their prolific blooming habits I would judge they were the best cut flowers for the local cool damp climate. Zinnias were few and far between as the weather is not to their liking. However the Dahlias appeared to be at home in the gardens here, and the city nursery certainly grew a tremendous quantity of the cactus Dahlias for cut flowers. I concluded that the output of the city nursery in cut flowers and plants for the Parks a great investment for the city. With limited means the gardeners produce returns beyond one's wildest dreams. However the skill and knowledge of the gardening fraternity also is to be recognized as one of the fundamentals. No man on this staff here fails in his duty, neither is anyone employed before the authorities are convinced he knows his business. I think this is the key of their success. The Kanton of Bern has its own gardening school about which I may tell some other time. No city of any consequence in Switzerland is without its botanical gardens and at Bern the garden is exceptionally well cared for. I was impressed by boxes of Geranium Kewense (FIG. 30). In 1939 it was a rare item of great charm but 15 years later the boxes showed a mass of flowers of the most vivid red ever seen anywhere.

To be continued.

* The Native Rhododendrons of Switzerland, Jacob Jenny, American Rhododendron Society Quarterly Bulletin, April, 1952, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 81


Volume 8, Number 4
October 1954

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