GdS “The Dynamic Vision” Symposium and visit to Hermannshof, Weinheim

Kate Burtonwood
23 to 26 August 2023, Mannheim, Germany


The Gesellchaft der Staudenfreunde (GdS) “Dynamic Vision” Symposium. GdS may be translated as the Society of Perennial Friends; it draws together experts in the field with a theme of designing and maintaining naturalistic plant communities.


To learn more about naturalistic perennial plantings by hearing from experts at the conference on “Designing and Maintaining Naturalistic Plant Communities”.

To view new designs in situ and discover the success and durability of these plantings.

To better understand the role of Mediterranean plants in these western and northern European plantings.

To visit the Hermannshof garden near Mannheim, six months after the decision to defund and cease to function as a research garden.

I attended the Dynamic Vision Symposium in Mannheim, Germany from 24-26 August. 2023, a conference on designing and maintaining naturalistic plant communities. The conference brought together speakers mainly from western Europe, curated through the German Association of Friends of Perennial Plants (

I also had the opportunity to view planting in the Luisenpark and Spinelli Park during the German National Garden Show which was taking place in Mannheim ( Either side of the conference I visited the Erbertpark in Ludwigshafen and Hermannshof Schau- und Sichtungsgarten in Weinheim.

Long-term Mediterranean plantings at Hermannshof, 6 months after Schmidt’s departure

Mixed perennial plantings at Hermannshof, where trial mixes created have been used across Europe

The Dynamic Vision Symposium

Day 1 addressed what the role of the practitioner is and the maintenance of perennial plantings. This was framed with talks questioning how we should update our thinking about planting, given issues of climate change, shifting populations and use of technology and mechanisation.

Day 2 focussed more on the role of plants in the environment and how to plant when the city is the environment.

A diverse range of views were presented about how we approach our designed landscape.  Speakers from the UK included Noel Kingsbury, Nigel Dunnett, John Little, Tom Stuart Smith and Sue Stuart Smith. It was interesting to see these speakers (with whom I was already familiar) alongside a range of international presenters with wider scope of work. These included:

Mariana Siqueira (Brazil), a landscape architect, presented her work bringing the plants of the Brazilian Cerrado (savannah area) to gardens for the first time. She has faced great challenges as no one was growing native plants in Brazil and the special ecosystem in the Cerrado does not get the same national or international focus as the Amazon rainforest areas. She has worked with a range of players – botanists, ecologists and nursery owners – to bring native keystone plants to the commercial market and to garden design, many of which feature vast underground root systems. She has also found combatting invasive plants a core problem at the start of any new native planting.

Roy Diblik (USA) who grows and designs with traditional and native plants, talked of using sturdy plantings which withstand minimalist but mechanised maintenance – for example mulch mowing over perennial beds once a year with a ride-on machine. He provides strong naturalistic plantings in mainly urban environments.

Jonas Reif (Germany), editor of Garten Praxis magazine and landscape designer, advocated a municipal planting approach where what is planted is simply left without maintenance for several years (three to ten depending on planting). The suggestion here is that plantings are then simply replaced, with the overall effect being less intrusive, complex and costly than constant maintenance to help a planting live over many years.

Veronique Mure (France) treated us to an illustrated ode to the root systems of plants and their strength in adversity. She showcased a range of root systems whereby plants store, move their growth areas, adapt and avoid obstacles, using their roots. This featured many examples from Mediterranean plantings such as Suaeda vera or Helichrysum arenarium. The message was to consider the complexities in the relationship between plants and their environment, and what the plats are doing for the ecosystem overall. This therefore highlighted the importance of “wilder” plantings in our landscape thinking. Veronique is the founder of Botanique-Jardins-Paysages ( which specialises in the study of Mediterranean flora and links this to gardens and landscapes.

Gilles Clement (France) took the opportunity to talk humorously of his lower interventionalist work in his own garden, including living with fallen trees and Heracleum mantegazzianum. He talked of the process as “gardening by subtraction” – namely waiting to see what happens and then whittling it down – rather than actively planting a garden with exact specifications. He advocated that this approach helps everyone as it allows the natural processes to continue, but also means less work in the garden.

Jacques Soignon (France) talked through the far-reaching project to create green corridors through the city of Nantes, where he directed the Parks and Gardens. The scale and creativity shown in relandscaping so much of the city was incredible. He commented that native plantings become irrelevant as the modern city environment is more akin to a canyon, a mineral environment where heat and wind persist, that is contrary to the environment needed for endemics in the region to thrive.

Overall, the conclusions from the symposium pointed towards mixed plantings of perennials which reflected compatible and varied root systems (over just varied flowers or foliage), and that woody plants should also form part of matrix plantings rather than solely herbaceous. This was not just from a structural and design perspective, but an ecological one. Using woody plants better reflects longevity of plants, ability to act as carbon stores both above and below ground, and gives wildlife and climate benefits by providing different plant structures.

The consensus also seemed to be that a planting mix would not necessarily focus on native plants, due to the changing climate and the artificial conditions created in city plantings. Therefore, we see the frequent occurrence of Mediterranean plants as part of mixed plantings in sustainable city contexts. The practice does not focus on creating plantings using a specific flora to showcase them from a scientific angle, but on finding the plants from a range of environments which will suit the conditions and interreact – often those of North American prairies, Central Asian steppe, alongside Mediterranean species.

The skills of practitioners to design and maintain these plantings was at the heart of everyone’s discussions, with an acknowledgement that it does not simply take “maintenance” for plantings, but an understanding of the ecology, wildlife and wellbeing impact, and longevity of plantings. A lower intervention level boosts the natural balance in the plantings, but takes knowledge to create and for us to know how to oversee its establishment and subsequent development. This was the meaning implied by “Dynamic” gardening and vision, that we plant with the expectation of change and that the stewardship of the garden involves overseeing and curating that change.

Plantings around BUGA and Mannheim/Ludwigshafen

We viewed the plantings by Harald Sauer at the Luisenpark site of BUGA and those by Bettina Jaugstetter at the Spinelli Park – a reclaimed industrial site.  I also visited the planting by Harald Sauer at Ludwigshafen’s Erbertpark.

Harald Sauer’s plantings at Erbertpark, Ludwigshafen

Harald Sauer’s Plantings at Erbertpark, Ludwigshafen

Erbertpark is a rundown city park in an average suburban area of the city. Sauer has little by little been experimenting with new planting and growing styles (even “weed meadows”) to regenerate the park over the course of years. It is an extraordinary and unusual achievement to find this sort of work in a municipal space. Much of the design centres around old parkland features such as a rose garden, watercourses and ornamental pond bases. Rather than renovating according to the original period, new plantings are formed around the decay. The planting is an effort which speaks of how to recast our public spaces in modern times, working around old formal landscaping features which would no longer be maintained due to lack of funds or lack of public interest, and bringing in plantings which may challenge some traditional park users. Tidy patterns and rows of plantings and bedding have been abandoned, and therefore the designs may also change public perceptions of what they should see in these spaces, combining long-living naturalistic perennials, and letting areas have a less “maintained” appearance. The plant range therefore changes from traditional annuals and commonly recognised shrubs to drifts of multi-seasonal perennials from a wider global flora.

Sauer has provided further plantings at the BUGA site in Luisenpark which similarly involve swathes of larger size, durable plantings in naturalistic drifts.

Bettina Jaugstetter’s plantings in the Spinelli Park involved carving out sections from a concrete road at an old military site and allowing 2 years for the plantings to establish in the soil found underneath this. They are a living demonstration of reclaiming brownfield land to garden or parkland, and the speed with which this could occur. Again, the plantings contain a range of multi-season durable perennials – including Artemesia arborescens, Euphorbia myrsinites, Limonium latifolium, Verbascum chaixii, Helichrysum italicum, and Seseli gummiferum. The plantings are particularly marked by the inclusion of large woody plants as dot plants, including Tamarix ramoissima and Phillyrea angustifolia

The plantings at Spinelli Park, including Phillyrea angustifolia

Bettina Jaugstetter showing the preparations for planting at Spinelli Park

The plantings at Spinelli Park, including Tamarix ramosissima

Cassian Schmidt and Hermannshof

As well as chances to discuss and learn about planting styles, the conference took place in tandem with knowledge that the renowned Schau- und Sichtungsgarten Hermannshof has ceased to have its research and development function. Long-term Director Cassian Schmidt had for 25 years transformed the garden using selections of globally-sourced plants in prairie, steppe and woodland plantings, and through this formed planting and seed mixes which were adopted for use in other settings, such as parks and landscape projects across Europe. Schmidt also spoke at the Symposium on “Nature as an Ecological Palette”.

Schmidt writes, “Research at Hermannshof […] includes plant ecology and performance and the coexistence of plants in designed plant communities. [… N]ative European grassland and tall forb vegetation, stylized North American prairie or eastern European steppe vegetation as well as Mediterranean shrub steppe have been modified and enhanced for aesthetic and practical demands. Additionally, the implementation of specific economic yet ecology-based maintenance techniques are fundamental for the long term performance of those plantings.”

Cassian Schmidt showing Mediterranean-inspired plantings during his Symposium talk

“Plant communities with the dominance of subshrubs like the Western Mediterranean garrigue vegetation and Eastern Mediterranean phrygana can be a solution for harsh urban environments in milder and summer dry regions- even North of the Alps. The advantage is a perfect adaptation to summer drought and a year-round evergreen appearance. With its rounded shapes, this vegetation can be highly aesthetic when combined with openly branched shrubs, clump forming grasses, Umbellifers and Euphorbias.” Schmidt has also based plantings on specific regions such as Corsican flora.

We were given the chance to go to Hermannshof for a last guided tour by Cassian Schmidt, which covered explanation of the differing planting areas, methods of planting and maintenance, and longevity of planting. Again, key in messaging was the variety of planting. In areas where initial sowing or planting may have focussed on a regional area and terrain – such as cool steppe plantings – the development over time has seen interlopers creep in, sometimes those which would be unexpected in a tight, taller planting. One example would be the establishment of Sedum maximum subsp maximum in a steppe planting. Despite the obvious competition and cooler damper ground, the sedum has established itself well in an unlikely cohabitation. Another interesting lesson was to see a border containing Hermannshof’s “Silver Summer” mix, which has had very little editing or reworking since its sowing 25 years ago. ( Within these mixes therefore, we see plants from prairie and step areas (predominantly therefore North America and Central Asia) combining with European species.

Older Mediterranean beds, representing Garrigue and Phrygana, remain in the garden but are already becoming neglected and overgrown. These show clearly the model for the introduction of shrubbier species in the garden as dot or specimen plantings, including Chamaecytisus, and Cistus in the Corsican bed. It was clear here to see the evolution in plantings leading to designs such as Jaugstetter’s beds with Phillyrea in the BUGA Park plantings. The lessons from Hermannshof about plant combinations and plant durability, as well as novel ideas about maintaining these plantings will doubtless live on in the work of those who follow a naturalistic, perennial style. And through these means, it is clear that Mediterranean plants hold a significant role in modern horticultural thinking, as stalwarts of drought tolerant, lower nutrient, multi-seasonal plantings.