Copyright: Insel Mainau (Mainau GmbH)/Peter Allgaier

In the corner of the German, Swiss, and Austrian borders, where the Alps turn into a gentle slope, Lake Constance (German name: Bodensee) lies in an expansive valley protected from the wind. The subtropical area has a very rich flora, especially in the north-west. Germany’s national monument and most beautiful tourist attraction, the almost 45-hectare Mainau floral island is found in the basin of Upper Lake Constance. Located at the foot of the Alps, Insel Mainau administratively belongs to the city of Konstanz, connecting to the shore by a bridge. The entire island is a gorgeous historic castle park and cultural centre covered in hundreds of thousands of fragrant flowers.

The island was inhabited in 5000 B.C. already and later became the resting place of Scandinavian crusaders. The first exotic flowers and flower seeds were brought to the island by them, and these were the first seeds sown on the island too. The creation and prospering of the botanic garden has to do with Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, who owned the island from 1827. Among the giant trees and tulip trees of the park, there is still a 43-metre-tall tree that was planted by him. The island was bought by Grand Duke Frederick I of Baden in 1853 and later went to his descendant, Count Lennart Bernadotte in 1932. By that time, the castle park and the whole island was in a rather neglected state. The grandson of King Gustaf V of Sweden, Count Lennart Bernadotte and his wife Sonja spent almost 50 years renovating the island. It is thanks to them that the gardens are so marvellously kept today. Their descendants still live in the castle and manage the floral island as a foundation. Blumeninsel Mainau was opened to the public in 1974.

Photo by Anton Ivanov

The Bernadotte family design their fascinating flower compositions with the help of hundreds of gardeners, selecting the flowers in a way that makes it almost impossible to notice when they whither, as the garden constantly blooms. When one flower has to say goodbye and drop its petals, the next one is already budding. One cannot sense the passing of time here. During the spring blossoming, nearly one and a half million flowers are in bloom. There are 550 kinds of tulips alone, sporting two hundred different shades of the palette, from a bright pink to a faint rose colour. Among them, blue forget-me-nots and yellow pansies create a contrast. 200 kinds of daffodils wear over 80 radiant colour combinations, not to mention the 280 kinds of rhododendrons. In the summer, rhododendrons and roses paint the whole world pink on the island of Mainau. However, it is not only the flowers that define the scenery but also the motto of the island, which is “diversity”. The palm trees among the subtropical plants and the fragrance of the citruses blooming next to the cypresses give the impression of the sunny south during the summer months. Hibiscuses and fire lilies blossom on the terraces, and there are over-hundred-year-old giant trees, such as the Victoria linden tree and the giant redwood, the colossal size of which astonish us and provide shade when it is hot.

Photo gallery | Copyright: Mainau GmbH and Werner Spremberg

The thousand-square-metre, humid Butterfly House is the second biggest one in Germany, welcoming its visitors in the magical world of vibrantly colourful butterflies. These most beautiful butterflies fly among a carefully selected arrangement of tropical plants, enjoying a much longer life than their peers living in the temperate climate zone. These butterflies are incredibly gentle and friendly; it might even happen that they stop to rest on our shoulders every once in a while. The climate of the butterfly house is kept at a constant 28°C and 80% humidity. The pupal cases from which the butterflies emerge also form an interesting collection.

It is a paradise for orchid lovers too, as we can marvel at 1,200 kinds of orchids in the greenhouse out of the 25 thousand kinds blooming across the globe.

In the summer period, the flora of the Mediterranean Terrace dazzles us. The palm trees, cacti, agaves, Bougainvillea, passion flowers, cypresses, sweet chestnuts, and evergreen oaks all contribute to the southern atmosphere. The Italian Floral-Water-Cascade made from Ticino granite also looks the most spectacular at this time, and the garden of the perennials is also in full bloom.

In the autumn, dahlias are in the focus, as from the end of August to mid-October, 20 thousand dahlias bloom in an area spanning 2,400 square metres. Nearly 250 different kinds of dahlias are shown every year, from the smallest, mignon plants growing a 40-centimetre bush to the two-metre-tall ones sporting decorative cactus flowers with a 25-centimetre diameter.

Copyright: Insel Mainau (Mainau GmbH)/Peter Allgaier

Mainau has sights to offer in the wintertime too; the gardens are open to visitors every day of the year. In the 1,200-square-metre Palm House, built next to the castle in 1968, we can enjoy the glamorous sight of orchids, orange trees, giant palm trees, and exotic birds. And this is the wintertime abode of the citruses that decorate the castle gardens during summer. We can see lemons, tangerines, pomelos, limes, and many other special kinds of citruses, even historic ones originating from the collection of the Medici family in Florence.

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