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Germany's Window Boxes and Balcony Gardens
It is a never ending cycle: from spring flowers through winter greenery and berries and back to spring. Hanging baskets, containers and window boxes overflow with flowers, evergreens, trailing vines, ivy, pelargonium, bushes and berries, decorating Germany's windows and balconies.
Some are hundreds of feet in the air on tower blocks, others accessorize trendy apartments in upscale districts, small apartments and houses in narrow streets. They hang from the each floor of large prestigious villas, as well as down most farm houses.
Decorating stores and restaurants of every description, banks, hospital entrances and railway stations; flower filled containers are found everywhere.
The love of nature and forests has been part of Germanic culture since pre-Christian days, and is one reason why so much of the country's land is left to nature, wild spaces and protected areas. While as most people do not live in houses with gardens, but in apartments, it is easy to understand Germany's "Blumenkasten" and balcony garden culture.
In first century Rome Pliny the Elder, a Roman philosopher, wrote about window boxes as, "Every day the eyes might feast on this copy of a garden, as though it were a work of nature", and when the Romans swept through Europe bringing with them everything from chestnut trees and vines to asparagus they also brought the "window box". Fensterkästen.
Wherever it is possible just to see a little piece of sky in Germany, Austria and Switzerland advantage is taken of all the options.
A dense mass of hanging red alpine geraniums is the popular choice for the window boxes on pastel colored buildings in sunny Bavaria, and other other Alpine regions that even in the summer often have snow covered mountains as a background; but planning the seasonal window boxes is almost an art form.
Filled by plants of different heights, colors and textures, or mixtures of roses and lavender with trailing ivy. Annuals, especially in the winter months pansies with their upturned faces: in spring bulbs, and for summer petunias, are mixed with the permanent plants or grasses that can over winter and form a background to an ever changing display. Blocks of impatiens together with rambling evergreens like ivy thrive in shady areas.
The combinations are not only decorative, they sometimes verge on the eccentric.
Each flower box is designed to take into consideration if it will be sitting on an East or North balcony, window ledge or door step, or one facing South or West, and plant centers providing "Blumenschmuck fuers Haus - Familienheim und Garten" helpfully label "what goes best where".
Winter's arrival means another transformation of both balconies and window boxes.
Spruce, fir and holly are interspersed with winter flowering pansies or Christmas roses, spring bulbs lie in wait having doubled in quantity during summer, while for the advent and Christmas period the mini gardens suddenly become fabulously festive with the addition of lights, candle powered lanterns, additional varieties of evergreen twigs and anything with red or white berries or pine cones.
The summer months see "edibles", vegetables: zucchini and tomatoes, edible flowers, berry shrubs and fruit trees, come into their own. Experience having proved that not only are these nutritious and decorative, as long as they are looked after and have the correct soil conditions, they don't much care if they are in a pot or a garden.
In Roman days a container with medicinal herbs was usually included somewhere in the mixture and today there is often a herb window box, or on a balcony landscaped with its different ornamental tubs, barrels, clay pots and containers, one or more will be filled by the favorite herbs ideal for kitchen extravaganza's or grill evenings.
Especially basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, marjoram or oregano, chives and mint.
It is not at all unusual to see squash and tomato vines laden with their crops snaking up walls and along balcony rails, while marigolds are often somewhere around. Even set in between the chili, eggplant and paprika plants, because they are great at discouraging mosquitoes on balmy summer evenings when there is no better way of passing time than sitting with a glass of wine by an open window. Or outside with both wine and a glowing barbecue.
In Germany however there are rules to be followed for balcony living, whether it is a exclusive block or an apartment house.
A balcony covered with visible "junk" is a definite "no no", so those unloved bits and pieces had better find another home.
Grilling is allowed, as long as it is not forbidden by local rules or the rental agreement, but it has to be powered by gas or electricity, not glowing charcoal.
After 10 pm there can be no further noise, not even hushed whispers, and the only aromas allowed must come from flowers not grilled sausages.
Window boxes are to be fixed so water cannot drip on a balcony belonging to neighbors living below, or onto passersby on the sidewalk, and they also have to be firmly attached with special hooks and fasteners so that not even the strongest wind will move them.
Despite Germany gradually becoming a "no smoking" country, you can light up your cigar, pipe or cigarette on your balcony but just make very sure that no smoke blows in the direction of your neighbors and disturbs them. Although of course you will no doubt be forgiven if they are also smokers, and out there at the same time.
With centuries of tradition behind them to Germans the "gardens in boxes", bursting with trailing vines and minicascades of colorful flowers, are a way of life, but visitors are captivated by the seasonal displays in pampered window boxes and containers that appear in every size of town and village; or along country roads.
Even when they are not in one of Germany's many medieval villages, or those of Switzerland and Austria, the use of color, textures and accents adds beauty to both city and landscapes. Giving thoroughly modern countries a wonderful feeling of old world charm.
IMAGES: Farmhouse in Baden-Wuerttemberg, BW Tourismus - Window box and Balcony - deavita.com, Mühlen-Freilichtmuseum Südheide Gifhorn, Trachtenhaus - Südheide Gifhorn GmbH (GHN)
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