In southern Germany, one man is on a mission to bring a splash of colour to the streets
DRIVING THROUGH BadenWürttemberg, the most southwesterly state of Germany, you will see a number of sights that tell you that you are a long way from England. Onion-domed church towers poke out from among the terracotta roofs of villages; roadside vendors tend fields of gladioli, and in places the old strip-cultivation system persists, each villager farming a narrow belt of maize, sunflowers or barley.
But find yourself on the fringes of the Schwäbische Alb, the brooding limestone plateau to the east of Stuttgart, and you may see something even more remarkable. Around the town of Mössingen, the roundabouts glow with colour and the streets, as you approach the town centre, are lined with vivid borders of blossom.
This astonishing display is the work of one man, Dieter Felger, town gardener of Mössingen. For twenty years Felger has worked to persuade the town council that expanses of close-mown grass are not only visually uninspirng but are also an unnecessary drain on the town’s already stretched finances. And the message seems to be getting through.
What no doubt swung things in his favour was a detailed comparison of costs; figures for the preparation, sowing and aftercare of flower borders compare very favourably with those for municipal grass lawns, which may be mown ten, fifteen or even twenty times in an average year. But another big influence on policy-makers has been public opinion. The townsfolk of Mössingen love their flowers, and a stream of letters, postcards and emails to the Town Council has made their feelings clear. Much of Felger’s twenty-year project has been devoted to perfecting his seed mixes. At first, he concentrated on native species, but soon realised that what the public wanted was colour, which natives did not always provide. So he widened his search to the floras of North America, Australia and South Africa. Aprocess of refinement eventually produced a number of species mixes for different situations; low-growing species for the edges of busy roads, a taller mix inspired by the paintings of Monet and, most recently, a selection designed to benefit bees and other pollinating insects.
Behind an old people’s home on the outskirts of town, local beekeeper Sabine Schultz keeps eight hives on the edge