“A Baroque garden was the smart phone of the 16th century”

Danish Manor Søholt

Frederik Lüttichau talks about finding pleasure in nature 400 years ago

Photos and Words by Annika Kiehn, November 2020

Frederik and Christel von Lüttichau take care of Denmark’s oldest Baroque garden at their manor house in Søholt. If you ever take an interest in the subject, you will quickly realize that this is surely not the most rewarding task there is. I dare to say that a Baroque garden is hardly as rewarding as an English Cottage garden. It is based on a rather more complex and intellectually demanding type of nature. To better understand what our 16th-century folks had in mind, I talked to Frederik Lüttichau, who, together with his wife, saved the ruins of this Baroque beauty on Lolland-Falster. A one-of-a-kind experience and a profound awakening to what entertainment meant in the past.
When an amateur like me envisions a baroque garden, one might expect a scenery of decadence—flowers with dramatic color span in lavish occurrence. Playful garden sculptures emerge from a fountain, and in the background, you might hear the soft splash of waterfalls. I mean, this was the age to impress your folks with a kind of attitude of abundance and sumptuousness towards everything, right?!

Denmark’s oldest baroque garden

While entering Denmark’s oldest baroque garden, I discover an ordinariness, which, for a second or two, makes me wonder if I am at the right place. However, it is mid-December. Gray clouds cover the sky, and it is raining. Surely, this is not the best time to visit a garden. So, here I stand and look at brownish hedges and pitch black trees. It appears as though I have chosen a bad day to visit today. However, I will learn in a minute from Frederik von Lüttichau that sunlight is quite a significant benefit to having a taste of this baroque experience.

”The trick is the shadows,” he explains, instantly curing my disappointment. He offers me a lovely cup of hot coffee in their stunning, newly built Orangerie. Frederik von Lüttichau and his wife, Christel, own manor Søholt, a whitewashed two-story building connected to the garden.

The couple bought the place in 2003 and moved from their former home in Jutland, in western Denmark, to the south of Lolland. ”We immediately fell in love with the landscape,” Frederik von Lüttichau says. Located near the Maribo nature park and many lakes, they are surrounded by rich birdlife such as roaring geese, ducks, and sea eagles. A mild climate adds up perfectly to their demands as farmers on their Engestofte-Søholt estate. The income is generated by the cultivation of sugar beet, spinach, peas, and lupine. They also export grass seeds worldwide. Besides, hunters from everywhere value the nearby forest for a mini-adventure.

It counts several geometrical figures such as circles, semicircles, squares, and straight lines of hedges.

The main attraction, though, the baroque garden was built in the 1690s as a prestige project by the German Henning Ulrich von Lützow.
He came to live in Denmark as a court marshal. „To establish the garden back then cost 62 000 Danish crones, whereas the estate, meaning the manor and 800 hectars of land, had cost 64 000. It proofs, that the garden was considered just as important as the house“, Frederik von Lüttichau explains.
The garden spans 340 meters in length and 110 meters in width. It counts several geometrical figures such as circles, semicircles, squares, and straight lines of hedges. According to Frederik von Lüttichau, ”It is almost impossible to maintain a baroque garden privately.” The trimming and upkeep demand a huge number of workers and a complex underground system to water the place. Only a few gardens in Denmark are protected and hence sponsored by national heritage authorities, in contrast to Germany, where most manor gardens are equally protected as the house itself. However, with the help of the foundation, Realdania Fonden, the couple was able to reconstruct the remains of their garden using historical drawings.

The garden as an extension of the manor house

”We also reorganized the walking paths here; it allows us to use machinery to cut the hedge and drive around it without ruining the roots,” Frederik explains. Moreover, the project was realized between 2009 and 2010. “Six million Danish crones were spent,” he says. “It was reopened to the public on June 13, 2010.”

While preparing for my visit to Søholt manor, I read about a baroque garden concept. There I found that the geometrical shapes were also meant to reflect the ground plan of the manor house. This made the garden an extension of the manor.

When you enter the garden, you have no idea how much effort, time, and money went into creating this small baroquesque idyll. It is difficult to understand the whole concept of fit. As we walked around it, I told Frederik I had no background knowledge. He nods in approval and recounts an anecdote about a former visitor: “I have my office at the other end of the estate, so I need to cross the garden to get there. Whenever I do so, I often pass by visitors. One day, at the garden entrance, I overheard a couple talking, and the guy said loudly, ‘Oh, it is immediately disappointing! I want my money back,’” Frederik smiles. “I could understand him in a way. I mean, look around; it is a bit boring in contrast to a garden full of flowers!”

I ask, “Why then is it worth the effort to maintain it?” As Frederik explains, “A baroque garden is not a piece of nature. That is a big surprise for many people. And the most amazing thing about this garden, the most fun thing, is its structure. It is a construction in the middle of the wild. If you look at the baroque garden and the people at the time, they did not have televisions, smartphones, or other forms of entertainment. So, creating and controlling a thing like a garden was fun for the people.”

“To tame Nature was a big thing back then.” Frederik von Lüttichau, Owner manor Søholt

I get it: Cutting the hedges into different geometrical shapes must have been a little revolution, as mankind had elevated itself above nature for its own pleasure. Long-held humility yielded to a newly developed self-esteem. “To tame nature was a big thing back then,” Frederik says, and I try to imagine how awestruck people must have been upon their first encounter with the garden. And he adds, “They instinctively knew how difficult it was to create the figures. And then they liked the display of its shadows and all the experiences.”

Visit the baroque garden

When Frederik talks about his garden, it sounds as if he is making an excuse for having something of such importance, which does not seem to hold up to people’s expectations. However, keep in mind that the idea of a baroque garden originated in Italy in the 16th century and spread all over Europe in the 18th century.

“Look,” he says, pointing at historical papers to demonstrate the original idea for the garden: “This is a ruin, you see. The house used to be bigger when it was built in 1690, along with the garden. It was converted in 1804. When the baroque style was taken over by the English garden style, the baroque part of the garden got neglected. What we see today is not the entirety of what was originally there. It is similar to what you would call an old house that has been ruined and reconstructed. And you should see it from this perspective to be able to appreciate it.“

Visit the Baroque garden at Søholt Manor

Garden opens daily from 9 am to 5 pm. Parking lot is located east. Entry fee is  30 Danish Crona per person.

For guided tours please make an inquiry beforehand per E-Mail: cl@soeholt.nu - Very recommended!


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