Mainau – Island Abloom

It’s no wonder plant lovers flock to Mainau from all over the world; the entire island is one big, spectacular garden. A million visitors  make  the  trek  annually  to  this  little jewel  of  green  in  Lake  Constance.  The freshwater  alpine  lake  (also  spelled  Konstanz ) lies on the Rhine River at the foot of the Alps and stretches into three northern European  countries:  Germany,  Switzerland, and Austria. With such close proxim- ity to the Alps and the lake’s heritage as an Ice Age glacier, it would make sense that the  island’s  growing  season——and  repertoire  of  plants—would  be  limited.  But Mainau  has  long  been  ambrosia  for  plant lovers  for  its  miraculous  microclimate,  which  owes  much  to  natural  windbreaks and the surrounding waters. These unique conditions  nurture  plants  that  normally thrive  in  warm-weather  locations,  with something   in   bloom   year-round.   Even exotica  like  orange  and  lemon  trees  and palms enjoy a long season here.

The  gardens  are  very  much  a  labor  of love,  for  love  is  what  set  in  motion  the design of the gardens you see today. For centuries,  the  island  was  the  domain  of fervent  “gardeners”—Hungarian  princes and Baden dukes—from various royal and ducal dynasties, each of whom built upon the botanical construction left by the previous owner. In 1932, the island was a gift to  Prince  Lennart  Bernadotte  of  Sweden from his father in the wake of the prince’s marriage  to  a  commoner—which  effectively  ended  his  claim  to  the  Swedish throne.  Bernadotte  chose  love  over  the crown, and in the bargain gained an island home.

It was Prince Lennart (thereafter down- sized  to  Count  Lennart)  who  dedicated himself  to  reshaping,  reorganizing,  and modernizing  the  island.  He  opened  it  to the  public,  and  adopted  ecofriendly  gardening  techniques  that  have  earned  the garden  numerous  environmental  awards. The Count died in 2004, but the family created a foundation to maintain the island— and   his   heirs   continue   to   live   in   the baroque 18th-century Castle of the Teutonic  Order,  the  architectural  center- piece of the island.

The  45-hectare  (111-acre)  island  is  a pleasure to stroll. Pick up a map and hit the neatly  manicured  pathways.  Among  the garden  highlights  are  the  Italian  Flower and Water Staircase, a cascade of flowers and conifers; the Mediterranean-tinged  Arena of Fountains, a terraced garden surrounded  by  tropical  plants;  and  the 20,000  roses  abloom  in  the  Rose  Gar- dens.  Kids  love  the  whimsical  topiary, Germany’s  largest  Butterfly  Gardens, and  the  farm,  where  ponies,  donkeys, sheep,  and  rare  farm  breeds  live  the good life.

Mainau is easy to get to: You can access the  island  either  by  tour  boat  from  the town  of  Constance  or  by  walking  across the small footbridge connecting the island to  the  mainland.  The  island  has  four  restaurants but no lodging.