Karl Foerster - Influencer of his time

written on 02/11/2020
by Patricia Pazos

Professor Doktor Karl Foerster was a gardening visionary. He was born in Berlin on 9th March 1874 and was a precursor to "modern" gardening.

Although his gardens may not seem “revolutionary” today, he pioneered the creation of natural landscapes and spontaneous meadows about 100 years ago.

By promoting the use of perennials and grasses, valuing not only their beauty, but also their resilience and resistance, Foerster supported a new approach to garden design.

He bred many species of plant, but there is one grass that carries his name: “Calamagrostis x acutiflora - Karl Foerster” which has a vertical growth and is a winter beauty.

This grass is a natural hybrid of two species native to Eurasia and has the unusual characteristics of being infertile, low-maintenance and ornamental all year-round. 

His vision inspired various movements in gardening art: in the late 20s, he contributed to the "New German Garden Style" casting aside the existing pompous styles.

Together with the landscape architects Herta Hammerbacher and Hermann Mattern, he founded the alliance "Gartengestaltung Bornim", the "Mecca" of garden enthusiasts.

Inspired by Foerster,  the landscape architects Wolfgang Oehme and James van Sweden later became the pioneers of the “New American Garden Style”; and the renowned "Dutch New Wave" with landscape architects such as Piet Oudolf, Henk Gerritsen, and Tom Stuart-Smith, is today a paradigm of sustainable gardening.

His private garden is a UNESCO world heritage site “Potsdam Sans Souci”.

Karl Foerster died in his home in Potsdam-Bornim at the ripe old age of 96, on 27th November 1970. This year will mark the 50th anniversary of his death.

Inspired by Foerster, the Garden Club Ispra remodeled a corner of Ispra, following an original plan found in his plant catalogues from 1972. The corner is a strip of 80 m², along the back wall of the secondary school, and visible from the traffic lights.

The plants arrived from “Cascina Bollate”, a social cooperative which rehabilitates prisoners in Bollate prison and is run by volunteers. The world famous grass Calamogrostis acutiflora-Karl Foerster will be the star of our ‘Foerster garden’. 

Garden Club volunteers designed, planted, and will maintain the garden with the help of the local community. This project is being realised thanks to close collaboration with the German Semester and its sponsorship.

Paying homage to Karl Foerster, we hope to promote the sustainability and the beauty of a natural garden.

Curious? Click here to find out more about Karl Förster and gardening:





Photo 4: ©Daryll Mitchell, Photo 6: ©IngolfBLN, Photo 7: ©Eva Foerster und Gerhard Rostin, Photo 8: ©Erich Braun, Photomontage and Photo 9: ©Garden Club Ispra/JRC