This is the first of a series of informal reports by myself on the recent visit by the Society to Switzerland. For the second report, please click here. If you wish to go to the third and final report, please click here.
With nearly 50 attendees, with weather that ranged from snow, through rain to hot sun, with an itinerary that took us from Zürich to Basel, Grindelwald, Kandersteg, Montreux, Yvoire and back to Zürich, planning, organizing and enacting this event was quite a challenge, but Marianne and Fisch Fistarol and their team (Gabi Allet, Marianne Conrad, Klaus Gmür, Bix Schmied) ensured the whole event ran with the precision of a swiss watch. We thank them all.
MFO Park Vertical Garden
We all met in Zürich on the first evening for an excellent and very sociable dinner in our hotel. Next morning our coach was waiting outside to start our tour around Switzerland. First stop was the "vertical garden" that is MFO Park. I'm not quite sure what my expectations were for this amazing steel structure, but we were all surprised and impressed with what we saw.
MFO Park is situated in the centre of an industrial complex and comprises a large three level open steel framework with wires strung between the verticals to provide supports for many (mainly climbing) plants. The framework has a discrete in-built watering system, also lighting, though we were only there during daylight. Each level has a walkway around it with stairs between levels, other than the top which comprises a platform across much of the space.
I have never seen anything like this before, it was huge yet totally in proportion with the surrounding buildings, and very much in sympathy with the industrial surroundings whilst retaining a sense of green and peaceful open space. There were a number of clematis growing up some of the supports, including the C. tangutica shown below, along with honeysuckle and other climbers. We swarmed over the levels almost like insects, eager to see it from all angles and all levels.
"Private" Garden of Mrs Kollegger
Next on the itinerary was the garden of Mrs Kollegger, located in the Zürich suburbs. Once again we were a little surprised as this "private garden" turned out to be the grounds surrounding of a number of low rise apartment blocks. Mrs Kollegger has not only an eye for design but has spent much time, not to mention money, implementing a number of beautiful garden rooms for all tenants to enjoy and share.
The gardening theme has obviously affected a number of the tenants as many of those with balconies had window baskets full of flowers in bloom.
The planting was both varied and colourful, with many clematis used in conjunction with companion plants to great effect. It would have been a credit to anyone as their own garden, but to have been created by someone, not for themselves but for their tenants is quite unique in my experience. All I can say is "lucky tenants"!
Brüglingen Botanic Gardens
From here we drove to Basel and the Brüglingen Botanic Gardens. Stefan Tschirky, member of this Society, is responsible for a major section of the Botanic Gardens including a clematis breeding program.
With his partner, Anne, he showed us around the grounds and some of the other collections and features, such as an impressive display of carnivorous plants.
However eventually we came to Stefan's clematis collection. Tucked away behind some trees, the collection is a lot bigger than first glance would suggest. There was much in flower, although the number of seedheads also demonstrated how many early flowering clematis, notably alpinas and montanas, are also planted here. Time soon passes when confronted with such a collection, which we all found interesting.
Contec AG Roof Garden
The final visit of the day was to Contec AG, a company specializing in the construction of roof gardens.
They practise what they preach in that the complete roof of their industrial unit is a roof garden, and a quite comprehensive one at that.
The roof garden was divided into two sections, a comprehensively planted area designed for staff relaxation, staff meetings and entertaining, complete with water feature, and a larger area with simple, low-level planting to demonstrate how any roof can be greened (see left). We were also pleased to see that the planting also included clematis, here to your right you can see C. 'Błękitny Anioł', Trade Designation BLUE ANGEL.
Contec AG has taken the eco-design a stage further by collecting the run-off water from the roofs and channelling it through filter beds to a pond (at ground level) stocked with koi fish. Koi are notoriously difficult to keep and require water of the highest purity, so this is a very effective demonstration of eco-design in action.
Sausages and Beer
That night we stayed at Spiez and enjoyed a fine dinner of sausages and beer. After a strenuous day in the open air, this made a perfect supper.
A Stroll through Alpine Meadows
Sunday and the weather was not quite as bright as it had been yesterday, but it had been decided that, in spite of a forecast of further deterioration in the weather the program could go ahead as planned. We drove to Grindelwald and transferred to a couple of smaller buses (you can see one in the picture to your left) which would take us up a very narrow and windy road to Grosse Scheidegg, a peak of 1961 metres.
The road to the top was beautiful, with forest giving way to open meadows and grazing cows - complete with Swiss cow bells. However as we approach the summit, the cloudy got denser and we disembarked from the buses to a cold biting wind, some rain and visibility of some 20 metres.
The plan was to walk through the wildflower meadows from Grosse Scheidegg (1961 metres) to First (2168 metres), a walk that should take some 1½ hours though contingency had been added to allow for stops for the photographers.
Well, we set off into the mist, barely being able to see the head of the line of people, with our mountain guide very keen to keep the line of people together so as not to loose anyone.
The first 30 minutes was not much fun, although our guide was very good, stopping fairly frequently to point out this or that wild flower. But soon we all got into the rhythm of the walk and in spite of the weather our spirits started to rise.
Then suddenly the cloud started to lift and for the first time we could look around at the surrounding mountain peaks, which included the Jungfrau and Matterhorn. The scenery was magnificent, possibly made even better by the way it was suddenly revealed through the mist.
The weather closed in again, though not quite as bad as it had been and before much longer we found ourselves at First and our lunchtime restaurant. Our alpine "breakfast" was absolutely wonderful, but also very timely. While we enjoyed our lunch the weather closed in and we had some 30 minutes of hail. A very good time to be inside and not out!
Although the weather could have been better, we were all very pleased that the walk had not been cancelled as it was a unique experience to see the flora of the mountains.
In the afternoon we visited the Trümmelbach Waterfall, a most unusual and unique feature whereby a series of ten waterfalls have been created purely by nature within a mountain. One can visit all ten via a lift and series of tunnels and stairways, which take you from one viewing platform to another.
It's a very popular tourist attraction and the top falls in particular were quite crowded. But it is still quite spectacular and a vivid demonstration of the power of water.
Dinner this evening was served to us at Hünegg Castle, a lakeside house built some 150 years ago in the style of the French Loire chateaux. Perched overlooking Lake Thun, the interior has remained just as it was in 1900. We toured the castle rooms and grounds before dinner was served in the great hall.
That ends my informal report of the first two days of Switzerland 2009. We have already had rain, hail and snow, as well as a little sunshine. For my second installment, which includes an alpine garden, Clematis alpina in the wild (twice), a very wet hike, chocolate and cheese, please click here.
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