Happy Birthday, Karl Foerster! (And Giveaway Winner)

Posted on

The ornamental Feather Reed Grass ‘Karl Foerster’ (Calamagrostis x acutifolia) is pretty well known, but what about the plant breeder and garden designer Karl Foerster, for whom the grass was named? March 9th just happens to be Karl Foerster’s birthday, so perhaps a little attention is called for. Though he died in 1970 at the age of 94, Foerster’s legacy lives on through the plants he developed and his influence on garden design.

karl foerster grass
Feather Reed Grass ‘Karl Foerster’. Photo from my.chicagobotanic.org.

Foerster was born in 1870 and in 1903 began his own nursery not far from Berlin, specializing in hardy perennials.

2014-09-01 17.35.11 black eyed susan
Black-Eyed Susan aka Orange Coneflower

Over the years, he successfully propagated about 370 perennial plants. Some are still in use today. He was a pioneer regarding ornamental grasses, and worked with North American perennials that were generally dismissed as weeds on this side of the Atlantic. His namesake grass began as a naturally occurring hybrid that Foerster found along a railroad track. He also propagated the Black-Eyed Susan Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’.

karl foerster 2

Delphiniums and Phlox were also among his favorite genera.

Foerster was a major influence on later garden designers like Piet Oudolf, Wolfgang Oehme, and James Van Sweden. Their emphasis on grasses, naturalistic design, low maintenance, and year-round interest owes much to Foerster.

‘Karl Foerster’ beautifully massed in the garden of Pat Webster, Glen Villa.

Foerster’s life was caught up in the tumult of 20th Century Europe. He defied the Nazi regime by employing Jews at his nursery. After the war, the nursery was located in East Germany. It was nationalized but remained under Foerster’s management for a number of years.

karl foerster person

In any case, it seems right and proper to take a moment to remember Karl Foerster – for his creativity and his love of plants.

On a totally different front, I want to announce the giveaway winner for Andrea Jones’ The Garden Photography Workshop: Nell. Congratulations, Nell! Please provide me with a delivery address by writing to jasonbertkay@gmail.com.

I know I said I’d give away a book every week, but I’ve decided to do it every other week. So next week we’ll be giving away Succulents: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Designing, and Growing 200 Easy-Care Plants, by Robin Stockwell.

That’s all for now.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *