Monday, May 14, 2018

The Schonbrunn Palace Gardens

 Last October was the first time HM and I have been to Vienna and we we were completely blown away by all the city had to offer. There seemed to be no end to the amazing museums, great food and wine, fabulous desserts and fancy coffee houses. For some unique entertainment there are the fantastic Lipizzan horses and of course lots of music, especially Mozart! It's a great place visit! 

On our first day of sightseeing we decided to go all out and take on Schonbrunn, the former summer residence of the Habsburg family. They ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire from this beautiful place for 450 of their 765 years in power. It's fun to have a good snoop around a royal residence, especially a baroque one. Unfortunately photography wasn't allowed inside but there are hours of tours and documentaries on YouTube if you're curious. My favorite is a blurry black and white film of a reception in the Great Gallery following a cold war summit between President Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, the Premier of the Soviet Union. Jackie is all smiles, chatting away to Khrushchev, who seems to be enjoying the attention in spite of the fact that she towers over him. The meeting was considered something of a diplomatic failure but at least they managed not to blow up the world. 

Since I only have pictures of the gardens, it seemed like a good idea to narrow down the Habsburg movers and shakers to the one ruler who was most responsible for it's current look, Maria Theresa. The Emperor Maximilian II purchased the land in 1569 to use as his personal hunting grounds. A couple centuries later it was transformed into it's current state by the Empress, who was the first and only female Habsburg ruler. 

When Maria Theresa was six her father chose a husband for her with the intention of having him rule in her name but she wasn't having that! She did actually follow through with the marriage but never left any doubt about who was in charge. Immediately following the death of her father, she became embroiled in the War of Succession and later the Seven Years War. During her reign, 1740 to 1780, she spent nearly two decades at war, rebuilt the Austrian army, reformed the government and it's judicial systems, instituted public education, turned Schonbrunn into her personal shrine and produced sixteen children, one of whom was Marie Antoinette.

Although she reigned during the Age of Enlightenment and her reforms followed the humanist philosophy she wasn't all sweetness and light. While she did manage an impressive amount of accomplishments she did not treat all her subjects alike and had no tolerance for non-Catholics. Under her rule Austrian Protestants were tortured and the Jews were exiled from Prague. A few years later, she did regret her treatment of the Jews and allowed them to return. On the grounds of Schonbrunn she made some pretty heavy handed statements about who was in charge. Visitors showing up at her front door in 1775 were greeted by this fountain representing the recent addition of the kingdoms of Galicia, Volhynia and Transylvania to her empire. The three figures seem happy enough to have allied themselves with the Habsburgs - or are they just reconciled to their fate?  

The name Schonbrunn means beautiful spring and there is one located somewhere in the 435 acre complex but between the palace, Gloriette, several formal, botanic and Japanese gardens; a dairy farm, the Children's Museum and playground, an Imperial Carriage Museum, a labyrinth and maze, the Palm and Desert Houses, the Orangery, a vineyard and the Vienna Zoo - we totally missed it!

The dramatic Neptune Fountain stands at the end of the Great Parterre or the divided lawns that lead from the palace. Neptune is holding court in his sea shell chariot and is being petitioned by Thetis to allow her son Achilles, to have a safe voyage on his way to Troy. It was a popular theme at the time, symbolizing how the monarch controlled the destiny of their nation.

On a lower level the sea horses, called hippocampi, are anxiously waiting to draw Neptune's chariot across the seas. They are being wrangled by Tritons, half-man, half-fish creatures who wielded conch shell trumpets. The sound is said to be able to instill fear in both humans and animals which is pretty much of an idle threat since they're made of stone.

Most of the large fountains are accessible from all sides and offer some pretty interesting views - if you don't mind getting wet! The gardens have been open to the public since 1779, a year before Maria Theresa's death. That seems to have been a common practice at the time and may explain all the underlying meanings of the statues in the fountains. The Habsburg monarchy ended in November of 1918 and Schonbrunn became the property of the newly founded Austrian Republic.


 Off to the east of the palace there are several huge gardens full of exotic potted trees and shrubs as well as the Orangery where they are housed during the cold months. It dates from 1716 and is twice the length of a football field. In the 18th century Seville orange trees were a popular status symbol among European royalty and they were famous for throwing lavish parties amidst their tropical specimens during the dead of winter.

In February of 1786 this was the scene of the famous opera competition between Mozart and the Imperial Court Composer Antonio Salieri. It was actually held in the Orangery because it was the only heated building at Schonbrunn. These days there are regularly scheduled concerts several times a week and even though Mozart lost that competition it's his music that is always performed here. 

I'm a sucker for crazy names so we had to visit the The Garden on the Cellar. It's unusual name comes from the fact that it's actually sitting on top of storage cellars built in 1700. The flower beds are called "parterre de broderie" because the designs were borrowed from embroidery patterns. There's nothing like having your garden match your dress! The pink and yellow areas between the flowers and lawn are made up of dyed sand, I guess that's one way to bring color into the garden! 

Around the outside there is an enormous pergola that is interspersed with four huge lattice pavilions and one contemporary one. The original pergola was also lattice but didn't last long and had to be replaced with this one that is made out of iron in 1770. Guess that worked out well.

At the furthest end of the garden is a new viewing pavilion. A note on the garden map said it was designed to be a modern interpretation of the original lattice one. I'm all for adding contemporary structures to historic sites but this really looked more like temporary scaffolding done on a budget.

At least the new viewing platform gave us a great view of the beautiful Virginia Creeper just starting to come into it's autumn color. It was planted in the 1800's - so it's one of the newer additions to the garden, ha! Two restored 18th century lattice pavilions can be seen at the upper right.

To the left of the Neptune fountain, at the foot of a wooded slope of Schonbrunn Hill is the Roman Ruin. Built in 1778, it's an artificial garden feature carefully set into the surrounding landscape in order to give the impression that it's an ancient building slowly crumbling to pieces. Directly up the hill through the arch is a statue of Hercules fighting Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the entrance to Hades. There was no sign of Hagrid. 

In the pool in front of the ruin are figures representing the gods of two important Austrian rivers, the Danube and Enns. Originally the structure was called the Ruin of Carthage and was meant to reinforce the fact that the Habsburg's believed they were the rightful heirs to the Holy Roman Empire, even though it was actually an elected office.

This is a view of part of the maze with the labyrinth beyond. We were lost for quite awhile in the maze and never would have made it to the center if we hadn't started following a teenager who's dad was shouting directions (in English) from the center viewing platform.  

The Gloriette sits on the top of Schronbrunn Hill and was partly constructed of elements recycled from an unfinished Renaissance palace that was begun by a previous Habsburg. Other parts were incorporated into the Roman Ruin. Half of it was destroyed by Allied bombs during WWII, along with the palace and a lot of the city of Vienna. We worked up quite an appetite walking up the hill but it was worth it to stuff ourselves with schnitzel and strudel at the cafe located inside. There's an incredible view from the roof. If you look closely you can just barely make out people standing near the edges of the center section.


There seem to be a number of opinions on the reason the existence of the Gloriette, one claimed Maria Theresa had it built to honor a "just war" or a war carried out by necessity, that would lead to peace. Perhaps she was referring to the war she was forced to fight against her cousin's husband and his allies when they contested her right to reign because she was merely a woman? That's one possibility but the official Schonbrunn web site states that it was part of an original plan drawn up in the 1680's when the property was first acquired.  

It's hard not to notice the spooky ox skull decorations running around the interior frieze. They're called bucranium and are another one of those hints that the Habsburgs liked to leave around to let everyone know they were the rightful rulers of the Holy Roman Empire. Apparently, in Roman times and earlier, the heads of sacrificed oxen were hung on the temple walls and festooned with garlands of flowers. I'm so glad these were made out of plaster. 

This post has been sitting in my drafts file for a very long time while I read up on the history of the Habsburgs and attempted to make sense of it all - like that was ever going to happen, ha! I had to try, if only to satisfy my own curiosity. Apart from the fact that they were one of the most powerful royal families of Europe, they made a significant impact on the development of western civilization from medieval times until the end of World War I. Although they were often ill-fated they were never dull. So if you ever find yourself in Vienna, it's a great place to visit.

A belated Happy Mother's Day to all the Moms of human and fur babies out there! I do hope you are enjoying lovely weather wherever you live. My backyard is currently a sea of mud so it looks like springtime will be a little delayed here. Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Weird Spring Saga

Finally, the first sign (up here in the frozen north) of spring!
It seems that warm days and lots of pretty flowers may actually become a reality.

I never seem to be able to come up with things to blog about in the wintertime. It probably wasn't the best idea to start a blog about gardening when I live in a part of the country where there can be snow nine months out of the year. It's usually only six but this year has been completely outside the norm. The only spring flowers we have so far have come from the grocery store but they're pretty, too.

Last weekend there we had a blizzard. It snowed continuously for three days.

The fact that it could snow constantly for three whole days took us all by surprise.

It doesn't always snow here in April but it's not uncommon. It just doesn't normally amount to a couple of feet of the white stuff.  Since we are located on a major migratory route, the news was full of sad stories of tired and hungry birds with no access to food. 

So, when it finally quit snowing it seemed like it was our civic duty to put out some extra food for the birds. I was going to put one of the trays of seed on the garden bench but the snow was as deep as the seat so that was pointless, ha! They ate it anyway and so did the squirrels.

Since we were stuck inside all weekend there was plenty of time to take down the Easter decorations. It was a little confusing to be putting away bunnies and chicks instead of snowmen and reindeer while a blizzard howled away outside.

Good thing there was enough chocolate left over.

The bunny wreath (my budget version inspired by a fancy one by Mackenzie-Childs) never made it to the outside of the front door. Maybe next year.

For now, I'm very grateful for the snowdrops, hopefully they won't get buried under a foot of snow. 

Sorry for the long absence, thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Let's Just Pretend It's Spring

A few days ago, on a typical early March afternoon, HM and I ventured out to catch a glimpse of spring. There are no actual signs of it around here but luckily some nice florists teamed up with the local art center to a give us all a glimpse of what is to come - if the current weather doesn't drive us completely out of our minds! Just kidding, I love all the seasons and can't imagine living anywhere else but sometimes winter can go on way too long.

Rooms of Blooms is an event that combines flowers and artwork and is put on by our local Paine Art Center. A variety of exotic plants and flowers are done up in wildly imaginative bouquets by florists from the area who are inspired by the paintings from the Paine's permanent collection. There are also special displays to complement the rooms and a group of fantasy themed dining tables.

The main gallery showcased a collection of 19th century landscapes, hung salon style. Set among the paintings were the floral arrangements that took their design inspiration from the works of art on the walls. That sounds a little on the stuffy side but it was actually kind of fun to look at the art and flowers together since no two interpretations were the same. The contemporary botanicals were also a nice contrast to all those pictures in their serious gilt frames. 

This bouquet's reverse pony tail had me laughing.

This visitor seemed to blend right in.

There were some groupings that were very carefully color coordinated . . .

. . . and others where the lines between the art and blooms were just a blur.

I'd love to create a tiny meadow like this but what would it look like after my kitties got into it?

Orchids and roses were on display in the Ladies Sitting Room.

This is a look into the powder room off the Ladies Sitting Room.

How much writing do you suppose she is getting done with those two ravens watching?

The Great Hall was full of tables set for fantasy luncheons. This one was very impressive but a little scary to get close to. I was afraid I might bump into a chair and send the whole thing tumbling down!

A unique centerpiece of birds, nests, moss, succulents and folding cameras.

Here is another flower arrangement that called for a wide berth. Luckily, it was very fragrant so I didn't have to get too close. How cute are those lucite chairs?

No flower show would be complete without roses!

I rarely photograph the staircase because, well . . . it's a staircase. However, the handrail is carved with oak leaves and acorns so I sort of felt like it fit in with the overall botanical theme.

More conventional spring flowers were on display in the appropriately dark Gothic Gallery.

Upon leaving the art center we stepped out into a completely different story.

Of course, since this was a celebration of spring, it was snowing heavily.

At least it was pretty.

I'd like to think that in a couple of months all this snow and cold will be completely forgotten.

Ha! Ha! Ha!  Not likely! 

Thanks for stopping by! Has spring showed up where you live?