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Working in summer: gardener
“The water is there for watering, not for bathing.”

Gardener Thomas Heller with rhododendrons
Thomas Heller has gardened all his life | Photo (detail): Svetlana Kerestely © Goethe-Institut

Gardening for Thomas Heller is not only a profession but also a life style. Even when he sees the green spaces between the tram tracks, he thinks about how the grass is doing.

By Svetlana Kerestely

Thomas Heller inherited his enthusiasm for nature from his parents. “Every weekend we were outside, in the mountains, at the lake or in the woods”, recalls the 52-year-old. His father, a pastry chef and hobby gardener, enthusiastically explained to his son herbs, flowers, trees and mushrooms.

At the age of 16, Heller decided to turn his father’s passion into his own profession and began an apprenticeship at a company selling potted plants and cut flowers. Later he moved to the Botanical Garden Munich-Nymphenburg. Even after thirty years working there, Heller is still fascinated every day by the diversity of the green world: “It is unbelievably interesting how different, how fine, how delicate plants can be”, he says.

 Gardener Thomas Heller is looking at plants in the botanical garden More than 14,000 plant species from all over the world can be seen in the Botanical Garden in Munich | Photo (detail): Svetlana Kerestely © Goethe-Institut
Heller heads a group of eight people who take care of the plants. They cut hedges, water and plant flowers, mow the lawn, weed weeds. The hardest time is the transition between spring and summer. The spring flowers are removed and the summer flowers planted. Then it is often very warm in Germany and the gardeners have to work under the blazing sun.

An important characteristic of a gardener is patience. “Plants grows as they want to and not as we would like them to”, says Heller. “Often it’s only 10 centimeters a year.” That would not be so bad if you always knew this right from the start so that you could take care of the right kind. The problem is that the plants can cross with each other. The seeds look identical.

After sowing, sometimes it takes up to seven years until the plant flowers for the first time and can at last be determined. "Imagine you take care of a small tree over several years. But then it turns out that it’s is not the kind you were hoping for. That’s very laborious”, says Heller.
Rhododendron Heller is fascinated by how delicate flowers can be. | Photo (detail): Svetlana Kerestely © Goethe-Institut
One of the special features of the Botanical Garden in Munich is the Alpine Garden auf dem Schachen near Garmisch-Partenkirchen. At an altitude of 1,850 meters, more than one thousand plant species from various mountain ranges are cultivated there – for example, species from the Alps, the Himalayas and the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa. Heller works there three months a year. Mountains, he says, have always been his second passion. “The Alpine Garden auf dem Schachen is located in the immediate vicinity of the King Ludwig II castle. The view is fantastic.”
Thomas Heller with the Eastern Siberian fir Up to 25 years can pass before you can finally determine the Eastern Siberian fir. | Photo (detail): Svetlana Kerestely © Goethe-Institut
That’s why Heller doesn’t find it problematic that as a gardener he usually cannot allow himself a summer holiday. “I work where many people go on vacation”, he says. He therefore usually takes off instead in winter and skis or flies to his favorite place in the Canary Islands to go hiking. “The sea doesn’t interest me so much”, he says. “I always think, the water is there for watering and not for bathing.”
Gardener Thomas Heller is watering flowers. On warm days, a gardener is engaged in watering for up to eight hours a day. | Photo (detail): Svetlana Kerestely © Goethe-Institut

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