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Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 31 July 2015 by Tim Ingram

Day 3 - Strasbourg

'Nobody sees a flower really, it is so small, we haven't time...'

(Georgia O'Keeffe)

This might be an anthem for our times. The quote is taken from the rather good book, 'The Natural Explorer', by Tristan Gooley. The reason I use it will become apparant as I describe or visit to Strasbourg.

Day 3 - Images of Strasbourg

The Rhine is a pretty major geographical, and hence political, divide, as is the Alsace Massif further to the west. The flat plain that runs between the two is a place of its own extending from Strasbourg in the north to Mulhouse in the south. Full of vineyards, rather remarkable and individual towns, culture and architecture, overlooked by old fortified châteaus on the flanks of the hills above - 'a cradle of Humanism and printing' , as well as more pragmatically, of wine - all of this was not actually the primary reason for our visit to the Alsace, but a revealing one. Strasbourg has all of these things and unsurprisingly has become the seat of the European Parliament - a place where history and modernity meet.

On the way we skirted the town of Colmar, unprepossessing on its outskirts but with a very historic centre, a legal capital of the Alsace and home to, amongst others, August Bartholdi, the sculptor of the 'Statue of Liberty' in New York. A smaller version stands - maybe a little incongruously but still dramatically - on a roundabout at an entrance to the town.

The centre of Strasbourg is completely dominated by the Cathedral - the Notre-Dame - and even living near to Canterbury as we do hardly prepares you for this building. It is astonishing in its detailed stonework and sculpture, and I will return to this at the end of the entry. This first view is from the Place de la République, just outside the central part of the city.

Detail can be subtle too and on a building behind the Cathedral, away from the crowds, was this 'downpipe', ending in... well I'm not sure what? (presumably more reptilian than avian).

The old heart of the town is completely surrounded by water and the way this path runs alongside, with plants left to grow and flower, is very appealing and shows imagination which is hardly lacking in this intellectual 'hotspot'.

It is an extraordinary place to walk around with narrow streets and squares - which vary from the Place Gutenburg (where would be the equivalent place to celebrate the 'World Wide Web'?) to the much smaller Place St. Etienne (where I found a small bookshop named for Gutenburg). Like Canterbury though, Strasbourg caters to those very many transient visitors like ourselves, as well as its residents. Culturally it is second only to Paris - which means we had nowhere near enough time to really discover more.

There is little space here for gardens but this secluded and enclosed area (not accessible) gave some sense of quiet.


So what of the flower? One of the reasons for our visit to Strasbourg was to go to the Botanic Garden. This lies as part of the University area to the east of the old town, within easy walking distance. In fact many people move around here, as they are doing more and more in London, by bicycle and the walker dodges bikes, trams and cars.

Here old and new architecture come together. As in any University town there is that sense of how these become integrated.

The last picture shows the Observatoire Astronomique and to the left and behind this is the Botanic Garden. This view is looking from the Garden...

Here - in a wider context - is what I have written about our visit there on the Scottish Rock Garden Club Forum (the 'writing' referred to is an article by Robbie Blackhall-Miles, referenced to in the thread on the SRGC Forum on 'Regulatory threats to seed exchanges and plant movements', which has bearing on all  specialist plant societies and growers): 

That is a good piece of writing about the Nagoya Protocol which I hadn't seen before, if you have faith in the good sense of the legislation and its implementation - i.e.: that it doesn't impose onerous restrictions on small, often local, specialist growers who in many cases will be those with significant knowledge and understanding of particular groups of plants. (There are good examples on this Forum!). But we have just visited Strasbourg, a city full of cultural and artistic heritage - and investment - and a strong intellectual and scientific tradition (plus by chance or not :), the European Parliament and Legislature), and I was dismayed by the lack of resources and energy put into the Botanical Garden, even if this is relatively small and restricted in possible development. The basis of conservation is an understanding of ecology and diversity and Botany underpins this despite at times appearing an out of date and neglected branch of Biology and the Sciences. Botany and gardening are soul-mates because there is little point knowing about plants if you don't also grow them. The Chelsea Physic Garden, by comparison, carries on the practical traditions of observing and describing plants infinitely better in an area of similar size.

(Interestingly there was an exhibition at Strasbourg BG of plants that had been carved in the stonework of the Cathedral, compared to the living examples, which shows how closely plants have been observed in the past).

Strasbourg is a thriving place with a cultural budget second only to Paris and yet the Botanic Garden is sadly neglected, and from my point of view this resonates strongly with the quote I used at the beginning of this piece. These are a couple of pictures from the exhibition at the Garden. It would be difficult to give this garden something of the fascination and vitality of the Chelsea Physic Garden without considerable resolve, but that is no reason not to try.


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