Dr Hilke Steinecke and Dr Matthias Jenny tell us about the Palmengarten (‘palm garden’) in Frankfurt am Main, where an incredible variety of plant species are nurtured and cherished. The Palmengarten also grows edible plants that we use in our kitchens and that provide popular herbs and spices.
In 1866, when Prussia annexed the Duchy of Nassau, botanically-inclined Duke Adolph von Nassau found himself hard-pressed for money. He was obliged to sell the famous plant collection he kept in his castle gardens at Biebrich (Wiesbaden). Nurseryman and market gardener Heinrich Siesmeyer made great efforts to obtain this plant collection for Frankfurt. A joint stock company was set up to collect capital for the purchase. The exotic plants from Biebrich were the bedrock of the Palmengarten’s first collections, on a plot of land provided by the city of Frankfurt. Siesmayer designed the park along the lines of an English landscape garden.
The Palm House, built in 1869, and the adjoining building for socio-cultural events form Palmengarten's central element. The steel greenhouse has no need of supporting pillars, which was an architectural sensation at the time. Glittering balls were held in the society building, where attendees could stroll beneath palm trees. The Palmengarten remained in the property of the joint stock company until 1931. When the company could no longer pay for its maintenance, the city of Frankfurt took it over. The Palmengarten withstood World War II without significant damage – the original Palm House is still standing.
The garden was fundamentally redesigned in the 1980s, when the old greenhouses were replaced and the Tropicarium (tropical greenhouse complex) was built. The greenhouses with plants from the humid and dry tropics let us discover tropical plants from all over the world, from deserts to rainforests. Regular guided tours, presentations and exhibitions inform visitors about exciting aspects of horticultural, botanical or ecological themes. The Palmenhaus makes you feel you are in a jungle. A waterfall, tree ferns, banana trees and many different palms let us forget we are in Central Europe. The Tropicarium with its star-shaped buildings is so generously dimensioned that it gives visitors the impression of being in a real tropical landscape with the corresponding plants.
Although we are familiar with many tropical spices we use in the kitchen, few people know which plants they come from. These can be admired in Palmengarten's greenhouses. Depending on the spice, different parts of the plants are used: cinnamon comes from the bark of a cinnamon tree, ginger from the root stock of the plant, and black pepper is the fruit of the pepper tree. It’s worthwhile paying a visit to Frankfurt’s tropics at any time of the year – there’s always plenty to see.
Dr Hilke Steinecke is the curator of Frankfurt’s Palmengarten and is also responsible for its PR activities. Dr Matthias Jenny is the institution’s director. For more information on the range of events offered and the venue's programme, visit www.palmengarten.de.