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The Schachen experience – July 2023

August 22, 2023
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During the AGS traineeship I was fortunate to go and work in the Schachen Alpengarten, situated in the Wetterstein mountains in Germany. It is managed by Munich Botanical Gardens and looked after by Jenny Wainwright-Klein. The garden opened in 1901 and is one of the oldest in the Alps. Situated at 1,850m in altitude, it is home to an array of wonderful alpine plants which thrive in the mountain conditions.

I was very much looking forward to working there, especially after talking to other people who had been there in the past.

Alpine Display House at Munich BG

Alpine Display House at Munich BG

Munich Botanical Gardens

Aaron Marshall and myself arrived in Munich a couple of days before we were due to head up to the Schachen. Whilst my time in Germany has been funded by the AGS, Aaron came along on a Merlin Trust travel bursary.

Arriving early gave us the chance to explore the Botanical Gardens. Jenny’s husband Bert also took us behind the scenes. We toured around the alpine department including the propagation area and the glasshouses, where they grow plants for the display house and for planting out in the rock garden at Munich.

A large amount of the plants grown here will be taken up into the mountains and added to the plant collection of the Schachen garden. The plants will grow happily there, due to the climate. After visiting the alpine department, we had a look around the public display house. Bert also showed us other glasshouses and behind the scenes in other departments.

At the end of the day we meandered on the many paths around the rock garden which is set in an impressive landscape, overlooking a large lake.

Alpengarten Schachen

Alpengarten Schachen


The time had come to head up to the Schachen Alpengarten where we would be working for the next three weeks. All ready and with the trailer hitched up we started at 6am from Munich Botanical Gardens. Adolf drove us to a local town near the Schachen, where we met Jenny. After a trip to the supermarket to get our groceries, we loaded Jenny’s 4×4 and the trailer up and set off. Pretty quickly the roads turned into dirt tracks, getting narrower and steeper. The four-wheel drive was in full action heading up the mountains. From afar we could already see King Ludwig’s house overlooking the mountain range. The building is only a 2 minute walk from the Schachen Alpengarten.

After we arrived, we unloaded all our belongings. We then had a guided tour around the garden with Jenny, looking at the plants and projects we would be doing in the next three weeks. It was great to see so many plants thriving in the mountain climate. Growing in various areas of the garden were a number of Meconopsis. One species which was looking rather impressive was Meconopsis punicea, a blood-red coloured poppy from China.

Jenny mentioned that due to climate change, cloud bursts were occurring more often and she thought UV light levels were much more intense. This seems to be making it more difficult to grow certain plants successfully. A lot of people are experiencing the same difficulties.

Working in the Schachen Garden

All gardens have different ways of doing things, which makes them unique. It is great that, during this traineeship, I had the chance to work in a number of places and learn different techniques and skills. Who would have thought I would be working at 1850m altitude in an alpine garden in Germany for three weeks! During our time here we had a number of different routine tasks including a weekly walk around the garden to study the phenology of plants.

We took part in many projects, from rock work to planting and weeding. This gave us the chance to get up close to the plants. A number of people were working on a new crevice bed. It was great to help and plant several alpine species myself, including Dianthus alpinus.

Jotting down notes on plant phenology

Revamp of the Bavarian Alps border

The garden is set out in phytogeographic beds and is home to many alpine plants from around the world. The Bavarian Alps border needed a revamp. When we arrived, plants had already been lifted and the border was pretty much empty, with only a handful of plants left that disliked root disturbance.

Jenny showed us the border and wanted us to re-do the rock work to make it look as natural as possible to fit in with the surroundings. The plan was to add fresh soil and replant native species from the Bavarian Alps.

During our time at the garden, the weather was pretty mixed with numerous thunderstorms and a thick mist at times. However, we got to work, gathering the rocks and spreading them around the area to see what we had available. When placing the rocks, we created lots of small planting pockets for species which like to grow between rocks. Once the rock work was complete we started backfilling with barrows of fresh soil, making sure the rocks were firmly in place, with no movement when stepped on.

In a number of areas in the border we added ericaceous compost and cow patty, for plants which prefer more acidic conditions. The Bavarian bed was really shaping up now and it was time to bring in the plants! Jenny brought a selection of species which she had grown back at Munich Botanical Gardens. We also lifted a number of plants from around the garden which needed dividing and cleaning up, such as Astrantia bavarica and Carex baldensis.

Saxifraga mutata

Saxifraga mutata

Rain was in the horizon so we took shelter under the canopy, in front of the gardener’s hut and we went through the plants, dividing and removing unwanted self-seeders and weeds. One species which Jenny had brought along was Saxifraga mutata, which grows in the Bavarian Alps in damp stony places, in limestone crevices. We replicated this by digging broken limestone scree into the soil. When planting between rocks, we top dressed with limestone chippings. The bed was soon planted up with what we had available but on a number of days there were high levels of UV light. We needed to stop the newly planted alpines from being scorched by the sun. Shading was put over to help, until the plants settled and became established. Jenny and the team will carry on growing a number of plants to be planted later into this border. It will all be top dressed with scree at a later date.

It was great being involved in this project. I found it especially interesting to work with plants that I was able to observe growing in their natural mountain habitat just outside the garden gate!

The newly planted Bavarian Bed

Trek to the Meilerhütte

Having been given recommendations of places to visit by many people, on our first free weekend Aaron and I decided to trek up to the Meilerhütte with botanising in mind. The Meilerhütte is situated on the Wetterstein ridge at 2,366 metres above sea level.

We headed off straight after breakfast. Trekking up the mountain we saw a great diversity of species. It was mesmerising to see so many alpines around us. Even though we were hungry and wanted our lunch as soon as possible, we spent many happy hours exploring the flora around us and getting easily distracted, spotting plants and heading off the main path to explore the meadows.

Growing in the meadows were large moss-like cushions of Silene acaulis. It was great to see plants I’ve never encountered before in the wild, which I’ve only seen grown in cultivation. In damp boggy areas in the meadows Gentiana bavarica was thriving. The trip was perfectly timed to see them in full glory.

Spotted on a bank at the side of the main path was Nigritella nigra, commonly known as the black vanilla orchid, a small species with dark fragrant flowers. We started heading over to photograph it, then soon realised we were surrounded by lots of them, dotted through the grass.

We also found large numbers of Androsace chamaejasme commonly known as the ciliate rock jasmine. It was thriving and in full flower, growing around limestone rocks. As we went further towards the Meilerhütte we could see it high above us overlooking the mountains.

As we gained altitude, the terrain soon changed from grass meadows to rocky screes and the climb became much steeper. There were still snow patches on the mountain peaks. The flora also changed as we climbed higher and Papaver sendtneri was growing among rocks in the loose scree. After we reached the Meilerhutte we had a well-deserved lunch and drink whilst taking in the surrounding scenery.

Oreomecon alpina subsp. alpina (syn. Papaver sendtneri)

Oreomecon alpina subsp. alpina (syn. Papaver sendtneri)

Trek to the local town Garmisch Partenkirchen

On a different weekend, we went down the mountains instead of up! This was a chance to see lower altitude plant species. We headed off after breakfast, well prepared for a long day of hiking, with waterproofs ready as rain was forecasted in late afternoon. We took the Kalbersteig route which is a steep path down through the forest.

We soon started spotting a number of various Epipactis. They were popping up among the grass with many still just beginning to flower. Fortunately some were in full flower, ready for us to admire and photograph. On our way down the Kalbersteig route I found clumps of Hepatica nobilis foliage. I got very excited and called Aaron over, as I had never seen them growing in the wild before. After working with this genus on many occasions in my previous job in John Massey’s garden at Ashwood Nurseries, it was a great joy to see hepaticas growing happily here, especially as their foliage was quite varied. I would like to come back one day to see them in full flower.

With still a way to go, we kept an eye on our watches and we pressed on. Another plant we saw often on this route down was Salvia glutinosa, commonly known as the sticky sage or Jupiter’s distaff. A salvia with yellow flowers and reddish-brown markings which can be found in woods and areas which have been cleared, mostly on limestone. We also saw Astrantia bavarica, which we had planted at the Schachen garden in the Bavarian bed.

Salvia glutinosa

At the bottom of the path we decided to walk through the Partnach Gorge to the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Even though it was very busy, as we hit the start of the school holidays, it was still a great experience to see these wonderful gorges. We then went to the town for a well-deserved drink and lunch. However, looking at the time we decided we’d better start the hike back up to the Schachen if we wanted to arrive there before sunset. As the weather forecast promised, the thunderstorm started in the afternoon, but we were pretty relieved as the rain cooled us down after a long day of walking.

My phone indicated we walked 27km (nearly 17 miles) that day.

the Partnach Gorge


We were on the hunt for Moneses uniflora. This species can be found growing in damp mountainous conditions, usually among moss or rotting wood. The flowers can be rather fragrant and the whole plant is no taller than about 15 cm. Jenny told us the location to head for, down the dirt track road from the Schachen. She had seen it growing there on a steep bank, under a tree on the side the road. After a pleasant walk down we found them, alas many had already gone to seed and we thought we were too late. However, walking further down we spotted a few still in flower. This was a great find and we took many photographs of this fantastic little plant.

Moneses uniflora

On our final morning at the Schachen we were very sad to leave. We packed all our belongings into Jenny’s 4X4 and trailer and headed down the mountain. On our descent, Jenny wanted to show us one more area where Saxifraga mutata was growing in cracks in the rock. It was such a perfect end of our time at the Schachen.

I want to thank Jenny Wainwright-Klein for such a memorable experience and for making sure everything ran smoothly. Thanks to Gaby who we worked with in the garden on many occasions. I also want to thank my work colleague and travelling companion, Aaron Marshall from Edinburgh Botanical Gardens for putting up with me! We kept each other company, worked together and went off on many hikes.

Lastly, a huge thank you to the Alpine Garden Society for fully funding this great experience as part of my traineeship. It has inspired me even more to go and see plants in the wild. I will miss the Schachen and working in the garden there. I will miss hiking, seeing the native plants and many fantastic sunsets.

Hopefully I will visit again in the future.

As a charity, the AGS supports the development of knowledge and skills in the alpine field by funding the AGS Trainee Scheme. During the 18 month placement, the successful candidate has the opportunity to work at various horticultural institutions (such as RBG Edinburgh, RBG Kew, RHS Garden Harlow Carr, RSPB Haweswater Nature Reserve and the AGS Garden at Pershore). The work includes maintaining and enhancing the alpine plant collections in all the gardens as well as management of plant records. At RSPB Haweswater the trainee with help with conservation work.