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Schachen Garden Diary

This entry: 15 August 2011 by Jenny Wainwright-Klein

Schachen Log 7

Having spent the last two weeks in Munich I don’t have any recent pictures from the Schachen so I’ll use the break write some background information about the Alpine Garden.

The Alpine Garden on the Schachen is one of the oldest in the Alps and was opened on the 14th of July, 1901. The party of guests at the opening walked up from Partenkirchen through the Partnachklamm and up the Kälbersteig to the Schachen. I have to admire the women of the party; two can be spotted in the group photo, who walked up this strenuous, steep route in their long dresses!

The easiest and most popular route up to the Schachen starts at the Hikers parking area just after Schloss Elmau. From here it’s 10 km with a gain in altitude of approximately 800 metres along a forestry road known as the Königsweg (King’s Road). The road follows a mountain stream, the Kaltenbach, for the first half an hour. On the cliffs along the stream there are a number of interesting plants, such as: Saxifraga caesia, Saxifraga mutata and Pinguicula alpina. It’s another hour through the forest until the Wettersteinalm where one can stop and relax and buy something to eat and drink. After the Wettersteinalm it’s another half hour along a zigzag road through the forest then the road levels out almost at the tree line with about another hour to the Schachen. Altogether, the walk up the forestry road takes about three hours, not including breaks.  I’ve already mentioned the Kälbersteig which is the shortest route but fairly strenuous as it’s also steeper. Most of the Kälbersteig leads through the forest with only glimpses of the mountain until one joins the Königsweg ¾ of an hour from the Schachen. To enjoy the Kälbersteig it’s important to be fit and having long legs helps as there are numerous large steps, sometimes 50cm high, cut into the mountainside. This route up can take anything from 2 ½ hours to 5 hours! I need 5 hours being short and am usually carrying a heavy rucksack full of provisions. There are three more routes but all are long and can be read about on the webpage of the Munich Botanic Garden.

The gardener house is still the original block house built the summer before the garden opened, in 1900. It’s a simple two up, two down design with the kitchen and bathroom downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs. Until the late 1930’s what is now the bathroom was a small laboratory which fell into disuse and was subsequently turned into a bathroom in the 1980’s. This coincided with the hut being fitted with solar panels. The energy produced was, and is, used for lighting, to run a fridge and a radio and, most important of all, to pump water from a spring up into the water reservoir. The reservoir lies outside and up the slope from the garden with gravity producing our water pressure.

On the hill directly above the Alpine Garden stands a Hunting Lodge built by Ludwig II just over 30 years before the garden opened. This is well worth a visit as the Moorish Salon is a totally unexpected sight typical of the whimsy associated with Ludwig II. He had no interest in hunting but was fascinated with Middle Eastern. On the other side of the hill, just five minutes away is our nearest neighbour, the Schachenhaus which offers meals, refreshments and a bed for the night for hikers. The Hunting Lodge is the main draw on the Schachen and we’re lucky to get the ‘run-off’ of their visitors. Unhappily, not even a quarter of our visitors hike up especially to see the Alpine Garden, although, I do feel that at least ¾ of those who visit the garden leave feeling that they’ve seen something really special.

An old plan of the Alpine Garden, we don’t know how much was actually implemented, divided the area into taxonomic beds with some areas set aside for Himalayan, Caucasus, Balkan and indigenous alpines. In the earlier 1950’s Dr Markgraf of the Munich Botanic Gardens decided to do away with the taxonomic beds and under the guidance of the then assistant curator of the Alpine Garden and outside areas of the Botanic Garden the Alpine Garden was replanted with the plants organised geographically. This arrangement has been kept and between 2005 and 2008 two new display beds for plants from the mountains of the southern hemisphere were added.

The present day plan of the Alpine Garden.

A bird's eye-view of the Schachen area with the Alpine Garden nestled among the trees.

On Thursday I'm back on the Schachen until we close the garden on the 7th of September. I've heard that Gentiana farreri and Gentiana hexaphylla are just coming into flower. We don't have many autumn flowering Gentians on the Schachen as they usually flower long after the garden has closed. Various Cyananthus species are in flower as well as numerous Saussureas. There aren't any of the very high altitude, wooly Saussureas but I find there are many other attractive Saussurea nepaulensis, S. woodiana and S. ciliaris. I'm hoping to have an internet connection for my last 3 weeks of the season on the Schachen, if not then I'll post again at the end of August from Munich.

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