History Botanical Garden Alpinum

History Botanical Garden Alpinum

An overview of the history of the Alpinum Schatzalp
The Alpinum Schatzalp in Davos is the only private recognized botanical garden in the canton of Graubünden. The history of the garden began 114 years ago.

The Schatzalp was a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients, and in 1907 the first Alpinum southwest of the present hotel was initiated by Dr. Neumann. At that time, it was probably intended to bring distraction and the beauty of alpine plants to people suffering from tuberculosis. The patients were usually not able to hike higher into the mountains, so the plants were brought to them. At that time it was considered good manners to show an interest towards the local flora. Thus, so-called “Alpineums” were established in the Alps at that time.

A piece of “Magic Mountain
After the discovery of penicillin and the resulting decline in the number of patients, the sanatorium became a hotel. Even in the time before that, useful plants were cultivated on the Schatzalp. In the standard work “Das Pflanzenleben der Alpen” (The Plant Life of the Alps) by Schroeter in the 1908 edition, there is a reference that the best rhubarb grows on the Schatzalp. Unfortunately, there is hardly any deeper knowledge about the gardens from that time, only on old photos and in Thomas Mann’s “Zauberberg” here and there something is casually said about the plants on the Schatzalp under the pseudonym of the Zauberberg. Only Thomas Mann was not a botanist and described species that did not even occur here at that time. He also mixed up one or the other species. The “Magic Mountain” is a novel and not a botanical work.

Expansion in the Guggerbach Valley
From 1967 /68 one can find more detailed information. In winter an avalanche had come down the Guggerbach valley and caused considerable damage. At that time, an alpine garden was already being planned and a location near today’s “Thomas-Mann-Platz” had been identified. However, after the avalanche, the decision was made to use the Guggerbach valley, which had to be cleared anyway. In 1972 the garden in the Guggerbachtal was opened. From then on it was called the “New Alpinum”. The Old Alpinum was renovated and simply kept its name. The New Alpinum was planned by the Schaffhausen country doctor Dr. H. Lichtenhahn (brother-in-law of the Miller family) and the alpine plant nursery specialists Max and Hans Frei from Wildensbuch, who came from the Schaffhausen area. With the help of the forester M. Stecher and his maintenance group (Tyroleans) the plan was implemented. The whole thing was later extended, with the help of the Schatzalp technical crew.

Ascent to the prestigious garden
H. Lichtenhahn was an enthusiastic connoisseur of the local flora and a friend of the Frei family. They established different small planting fields along the way, edged them with existing stones and planted the fields. Learned, improved and cared for the garden. From the beginning, not only wild species, but also cultivated forms played a role in the garden. They were at the same time used as mother plants for the nursery. The tasks of the hotel gardener G. Pöschel were extended, he took care of the garden. Freis visited the garden whenever their nursery allowed, they replanted and added more flower beds.

A collecting permit was obtained to bring rare alpine plants from the area into the garden. In 1984 the heads of the botanical gardens of Switzerland met at the Schatzalp, from then on the Alpinum was a recognized botanical garden. Hans and Elsbeth Frei became members of the Swiss botanical gardens. (Hortus Botanicus Helvetia, HBH). Their knowledge was appreciated and in demand. Lectures were given, small seminars developed and excursions organized at the Schatzalp.

Petting zoo instead of plants
But troubled times were coming for the hotel and thus also for the garden. The hotel had fallen into economic difficulties and the garden was neglected. Goats now grazed in the “Old Alpinum” and were offered to guests as petting animals. The goats caused corresponding damage. The “New Alpinum” was maintained as well as possible, it became somewhat overgrown. In order to save the “New Alpinum”, an association was founded in 1992. From then on, weeding was done again and a botanical week was initiated. In addition to the maintenance work, excursions were undertaken in the surrounding area, which today also has a number of botanical treasures to offer.

Over time the care slackened again somewhat. Gardener Pöschel retired, and the Davos-based gardeners Tschopp and Müller and hotel employees saved the plants and garden as best they could. The botanical week became the botanical weekend, which is still celebrated today. Hans Frei sought and found a master gardener in his former head gardener Klaus Oetjen, who was hired by the new Schatzalp owners Pius App and Erich Schmid in 2004.

Renaissance of the Alpinum
First, the hotel area was reworked and the “Old Alpinum” was renovated. Piece by piece, the garden was expanded and rebuilt. Oetjen laid a new concept over the garden. The cultivated plants now grow in the “Historic Alpinum” and the wild plants in the “Guggerbachtal Alpinum”. In the Guggerbachtal, the garden is divided into an intensive and a natural, extensive area. Many native species have been added, and the assortment has been and continues to be built up. The gardens are open from May to October and are very popular. The number of visitors continues to increase.
Today, the garden has grown to about five acres and is home to over 5000 species and varieties. Varieties are used to describe cultivated plants, including cultivars. There are thousands of different and rare plants from the mountains of our earth on the “Magic Mountain”. The “Old Alpinum” is now called “Historical Alpinum” and the “New Alpinum” is called “Guggerbachtal-Alpinum”. Other gardens and little gardens as well as a small collection of trees and shrubs have been created in the Schatzalp Forest Park and surround the venerable Art Nouveau hotel. Each planting, indeed each plant genus, each species can tell its own story. These are told with anecdotes during the various guided tours through the gardens and especially during the botanical week, which has now been launched once again.

Probably the largest Aconite collection in Europe.
Nevertheless, there is still a lot to do, now the labeling of the plants is tackled. A labor-intensive and costly affair. Quietly and secretly, one of the most important plant collections in Europe has been created. For example, more than 300 different gentians and 80 different edelweiss species and varieties grow in the Alpinum. At the moment, the largest collection of aconites in Europe is being created. Further focal points of the assortment would go far beyond the scope of this small article. From May on, new plant species bloom every day, and the splendor continues without interruption until the autumn colors of October. A wonderful, natural, species-appropriate plant culture has developed on the Schatzalp. Tours of the gardens are becoming increasingly popular, and associations such as the International Herbaceous Gardeners (ISU), the Swiss Friends of Herbaceous Plants and the Swiss Landscape Gardeners have already met at the Alpinum. Just recently, Hortus Botanicus Helvetia has again applied for a general assembly for 2024. (pd)

Translated from an Article in the Davos Newspaper 10.07.21