EVERY year since 1998, the Swiss Heritage Society recognises one garden in Switzerland for its outstanding achievements in the garden arts, placing as much value on efforts to conserve and maintain valuable historic green spaces as it does on the creation of new, contemporary ones.
On Saturday, 18 May, the Society awarded its Schultess Prize, named after the award’s benefactors Georg and Marianne von Schulthess-Schweizer and worth CHF 25’000.00, to the Jardin Botanique Alpin Meyrin, located in the Geneva suburb of Meyrin.
Not being a resident of that suburb nor having any reason to visit it on a regular basis, I’d been unaware of this lovely get-away that’s bordered by busy roads, a low-rise apartment block, and a sprawling commercial complex, none of which intrude to any great extent on the skyline behind the park’s high trees and its original wrought-iron fence.
Other than the unfortunate hum of planes flying overhead en route to and from the nearby airport, no outside noise interferes with the natural garden sounds that pervade this beautifully designed space that’s by turns a lively and a serene meeting place for visitors.
A gathering place for all
The Alpine Gardens’ beginnings go back to the dawn of the twentieth century when local fabric merchant Amable Gras envisioned for the spot an idealized representation of an alpine landscape…a “piece of mountain”…that merged ornamentation with scientific curiosity.
The city of Meyrin acquired the spot in 1960 and following the opening of the new tram line (nos. 14 and 18) in 2012, which further encroached on the ever-diminshing property, the city believed the park and its original buildings needed protection and refurbishment, as well as a new mandate focusing on transforming it into a gathering place open to one and all.
Now officially classified as a historic monument, the Schultess Garden Prize recognises the city of Meyrin’s outstanding accomplishment in saving and developing the park’s botanical and architectural heritage.
Cultural and social engagement
The city has wisely recognised the park’s significance as a cultural venue and two original properties located within its borders have been beautifully renovated and now host scientific and social activities.
“Thanks to a subtle and daring valorization, the Commune showed…how a historic garden can satisfy the most diverse needs of a growing urban area.” Swiss Heritage Society.
La Maison du Jardin, originally the home of gardener Annibal Miazza, who realised the Alpine Garden on Amable Gras’s behalf, today hosts scientific and conservation activities as well as workshops, exhibitions, guided tours and conferences.
The Alpine Garden’s main villa, called Le Cairn, is the site of public educational workshops, artists residencies, and individual or group exhibitions and in July and August, weeklong artistic workshops for children are held there.
Diversity and playfulness
The Garden harmoniously inserts man-made structures into the landscape, including a goat and hen’s pen called La Chèvrerie, a natural well and a small pond inhabited by frogs at Le Nant, a children’s playground, wood sculptures, and a Swiss chalet and bee hives set within Les Rocailles (rock gardens).
Le Chemin des Senteurs brings visitors along a path scented with flowers, foliage and fruit and a variety of native and temperate trees such as maples, cedars, oaks, redwoods and pines.
In preserving and developing the Alpine Botanical Garden so wisely and sympathetically, the city of Meyrin has set an example for other communities that may be facing the same challenges inflicted by time, deterioration, and the encroachment of urbanisation.
The Park is well worth a visit, but don’t take my — or Swiss Heritage’s — word for it, go see for yourself. A ten-minute ride and five-minute walk from Cornavin is all it takes to get you there.
Then again you might want to delay your visit to coincide with one of the special events the Park will be holding to celebrate Botanica 2019 from 15th June to 14 July along with twenty other gardens across Switzerland.
Botanica 2019 – Focusing on trees
Every year around the time of the summer solstice, Switzerland’s 20 Botanical Gardens — including ten in the Swiss Romandy –play host to “Botanica”, a cross-country event that aims to highlight the important role these gardens play as refuges for biodiversity.
This year’s initiative, Botanica 2019, will take a comprehensive look at the effects of climate change on the plant kingdom and specifically on the fate of the country’s trees. A varied program of 70 events in French will feature lectures, exhibitions, guided tours, workshops and excursions.
“Even if I knew the world would go to pieces tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree.” St Francis of Assisi.
These events are open to the general public and almost all are free of charge. Please refer to the program of events to discover what will be available at a botanical garden closest to you, for example, at the Aubonne Arboretum, the Geneva Conservatory and Botanical Garden, and the Botanical Garden of the University of Fribourg.
You will also find a listing about the Alpine Botanical Garden in Meyrin or you can consult its Facebook page (click on Upcoming Events: See all).
Coinciding with the event, a catalogue called Botanica Guide to Gardens and Plants has been published and features profiles of the 20 participating Swiss Botanical Gardens together with photographs, interviews, and reproductions of antique drawings of tree seeds and leaves that can be found at these gardens. It can be ordered online for CHF 20.–.
As it says in the catalogue, climate change and its global effects on the environment, economy, and society are a major challenge for us all in the 21st century. Switzerland is not exempt, having recorded in 2018 the hottest summer since measurements began in 1864.
These high temperatures and prolonged dry periods have a profound effect on plant life, so these events offer us a chance to appreciate the green heritage that we have around us and inspire us to think about what we must do to preserve it. ♣