Goethe and Ginkgo
Goethe and the Ginkgo tree
In the 18th century, the fashion of creating an English landscape was very popular amongst the aristocracy of continental Europe. Exotic trees were used as "solitaires , as jewels in the garden. After the botanist Kaempfer returned from Japan with seeds of the Ginkgo tree and it was successfully cultivated in the Netherlands, it became a prized addition in the finest parks in Europe. The philosopher and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Duke Carl August of Weimar both had a common interest in botany and the creation of exotic parks and gardens.
Goethe, of course, is very well known for his studies on the 'metamorphosis of plants.'
Duke Carl August had sent his court gardener to the gardens of Kew (England) to study and learn about gardening and it was here that he learned about the Ginkgo.
The gardener returned to Weimar and made the first attempt to introduce the Ginkgo tree in the Weimar Orangery at the Duke"s Belvedere Castle. During Goethe"s lifetime, the first Ginkgo was only about 3-4 m. high. Such was the success of the nursery, that by about 1800, a Ginkgo tree could be purchased for 1 Taler in from the Belvedere in Weimar.
The oldest surviving Ginkgo in Weimar, was planted about 1820 by the royal court gardener Sckell, who exchanged botanic information with Goethe. It can be found just southwest of the House of the Dukes and Princes.
Goethe was very intrigued by the tree and especially the shape of its leaf. This lead him to write his poem ,,Ginkgo biloba", which he dedicated to his lady-friend Marianne vonWillemer, the 3rd wife of the Frankfurt banker Johann Jakob von Willemer This poem can be found in the book Sulekia, included in the poem-collection ,,West-Eastern Divan".
He sent another copy of the poem in a letter to Rosette Staedel, the daughter of Marianne von Willemer, on September 29, 1815. (You will find a copy of the letter at the staircase of the museum). It is known that in September of 1815, Goethe, now over 60 years old, had stopped in Heidelberg and had taken leaves of the Ginkgo tree and sent one of the leaves to Rosette Staedel as a gift, as a sign of his affection for the 31 year-old woman.
- Translation with many thanks to our Friend Steve Ross, Sedona, Az.
- Update by Zenaida des Aubris, 2009