Mainau Island, on Germany’s Bodensee (Lake Constance to the rest of us) presents extravagant plantings of tulips in spring, roses in early summer, and at the end of summer, dahlias.
The flowers are the visual centerpiece of cultural programming that includes classical and jazz music performances, cookery demonstrations, and wine and schnapps tastings. Last weekend, I made a pilgrimage to the island, where late summer offered a last fling of floral color before the trees take over and flame into autumn shades of russet and gold.
Summer’s last fling
The first thing I noticed was is the autumnal cast to the afternoon sunlight. Shorter days are still quite warm, with a haze over the lake and a warm and fuzzy feel to the light, as well. The crowds did not seem as large as in spring, and in some parts of the parkland, I felt as though the display was just for my benefit.
It was not, of course. The dahlia show is a Big Deal in garden circles, with more than 12,000 plants and 250 varieties blooming in banks of riotous color between the hill with its castle and the lake with its sailboats. Who, other than dahlia fans, knew that the plant blooms in so many combinations of red, yellow, white, and pink?
The varieties on show ranged from almost heart-shaped cylindrical petals to disks of yellow flecked with red, to stiff and pointy. All are in competition to be named Mainau Queen of the Dahlias 2012, and from 31 August until 3 October, visitors get to vote for favorite blooms—I cast mine for “Babylon Purpur”, an elegant number sporting draped petals in a deeply hued magenta edged with white.
Just a few of the latest blooms
Here’s a sampling of this year’s specimens:
The dahlias were concentrated in enormous beds dedicated to seasonal plantings. As diverse as they seemed to my non-gardening eye, the flowers shared one attribute: a healthy attraction to the local bee community. Bees were everywhere, making the most of an ecological setting designed to sustain the island’s population of wild bees through the coming cold months.
An unexpected delight was the bee-specific garden, with its bee hives, hollowed tree-trunks, bee baskets and even a couple of stone-and-wood bee “houses”. There are almost 550 species of wild bees in Germany, and on Mainau Island, they do a masterful job of pollinating many species of plants. Human caregivers have provided numerous places for these mostly solitary bees to lay their eggs.
A year-round attraction
Mainau Island is open year-round, and in the cooler months, indoor attractions include the Palm House and Butterfly House, tours of the baroque palace and church, and Christmas decorations in the castle.
I stopped in at the Butterfly House before leaving for home, and spotted these beauties, enjoying an aperitif of orange juice and ripe banana.
Related post: One perfect day on the Bodensee (a springtime visit to Mainau Island)
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