There are four baroque gardens in and around Vienna that fans of geometrical landscapes, clipped hedges, patterned ‘broderie’ flower beds, and sculpted boxes shouldn’t miss: They are all part of baroque palaces, and perfect examples of transforming nature into organic classical art.
The Augarten is Vienna’s oldest baroque garden, and in my view the most charismatic. Located in the second district Leopoldstadt, the Augarten has the shape of a kite, patterned with a mixture of large flower beds and geometric lawns lined by cubistic chestnut, acorn and lime trees. At 52 ha, it is as large as 73 football fields. The Augarten was designed in 1712 by French garden architect Jean Trehet. The Augarten Palace, the home of the Vienna Boys Choir, and the baroque porcelain manufactury and museum of Augarten porcelain are the traditional center pieces.
The square-shaped garden in front of Augarten Palace has four patches of lawn with geometrical box trees and flowerbeds that form a clover leaf around the starflower-shaped blossom. A baroque sculpture, a stone amphora, forms the centrepiece.
The garden in front of Augarten porcelain manufactory is simple and elegant. The main path leading to the entrance cuts the patch into two rectangles. It is lined with lavender, giving it a very French feel, while geometric shaped trees line the garden edges. (There are porcelain manufactory tours there combined with coffee and cake at a traditional coffeehouse.)
What adds drama to this garden are less its baroque sculptures and palaces, but a gigantic air defense tower from World War II, protected building and war memorial at the flat end of the kite-shaped grounds. The Austrian Film Archive, the Augarten Contemporary Museum with its modern sculpture garden, the Vienna Boys Choir’s new concert hall Muth and the bar/restaurant Bunkerei Augarten have made this baroque garden a lively meeting place for Viennese and visitors.
Schönbrunn Palace Gardens
Schönbrunn Palace tops the list of baroque architecture in Vienna. For the Viennese, the baroque gardens of Schonbrunn Palace are a leisure zone more than anything: from jogging, taking granny for a walk, visiting the zoo and palm house, and having coffee at the Gloriette to having a down-to-earth lunch at the Tiroler Haus, up to picking wild garlic in the woods at spring time.
The Schönbrunn Palace gardens were designed at the end of the 17th, early 18th century on the grounds of Emperor Maximilian II’s hunting area. The grounds around the palace, up to the slope that leads to the Gloriette belvedere are strictly symmetrical. A rectangular grid of lawn, flower beds and eight symmetrical paths lead from the back of Schonbrunn Palace to the Neptune fountain. The adjacent areas to the left and right are cut into crosses by two rectangular and two diagonal avenues that are held together by nymph fountains at their centre.
Jean Trehet, who was responsible for Augarten, started to design and cultivate the areas next to the palace. A few decades later, Empress Maria Theresia (1740 to 1780) and her husband Franz Stephan of Lorraine, commissioned garden architect Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg, and a whole crew of garden artists to turn the area into a baroque playground, among them Jean Brequin, Louis Gervais and Adrian van Steckhoven.
The gardens are part of Schonbrunn’s UNESCO World Heritage site and have largely maintained their baroque layout. Louis Gervais’ baroque masterpiece is the Kronprinzengarten, with its rich ornamental bed of flowers, box trees and stone and red brick chippings. The garden is located at the Eastern facade of the palace, and is surrounded by a horse-shoe-shaped pergola of grape ivy, and white and green painted wooden pavillons. The nearby maze and labyrinth have been re-established after the original baroque sketches.
The most impressive baroque sculptures and objects and are the neptune fountain at the back of the palace and garden parterre, the obelisk fountain, the columbary, and the angel fountain. The ‘Schöner Brunnen’ (‘Fair Fountain’) which gave Schonbrunn its name, is hidden in the woods close to the Obelisk fountain. Few visitors discover the Small Gloriette on the hilly slope, one of my favourites. The small one-storey brick pavillon has the same look and feel as Schonbrunn Palace, and has lovely rococo paintings inside.
Gardens of Belvedere Vienna
The baroque gardens of Belvedere Palace connect the Upper Belvedere with the Lower Belvedere. While they are less diverse than Schonbrunn, they have wonderful baroque sculptures of female allegories, two sphinxes and fountains that display water games in the spring and summer.
Bavarian electorate landscape designer Dominique Girard, who learned with Versailles garden architect André Le Nôtre, created the Belvedere gardens in the early 18th century. Prince Eugene of Savoy, the owner of the palace and gardens, even had a little zoo there, and a kitchen garden.
The main garden forms a long stretched rectangle framed by clipped hedges, white stone females and trees. The wide path in the middle guides your view to the palaces, and is interrupted by two cascade fountains populated with heroes and water nymphs. The ornamental ‘broderie’ flower beds to the left and right look like embroideries of baroque costumes. My favourites are the smaller private garden (Kammergarten) of Prince Eugene of Savoy at the Lower Belvedere. I wish that the garden’s charming wooden pavilions with their delicate carvings will be restored, and Prince Eugene’s little peach garden (both have been projected by the Austrian Federal Gardens for the coming years).
Like the Belvedere, Schloss Hof Castle belonged to Prince Eugene of Savoy’s dazzling collection of artistic palaces. The palace grounds stretch across 50 ha (about 70 football fields) in the East of Vienna. Baroque architect Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt, who also built the Belvedere, designed the rococo country estate, which was utterly loved by Prince Eugene, and the subsequent owners Empress Maria Theresia and her family.
Once you have seen the baroque gardens of Schloss Hof, you will likely rank them among the most beautiful baroque gardens in Europe: Their colourful ornamental flowerbeds gracefully lined by boxes, their pergolas and neatly lined up clipped trees, their manicured lawns and pyramid thujas, fountains, cascades and baroque sculptures create a space that beams you straight into the times of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Louis XV, and Madame Pompadour.
For around 120 years (since the late 19th century) Schloss Hof and its gardens had been used by the military, who didn’t really care about trimming hedges and weeding flower beds. Between 2002 and 2005, Schloss Hof and its gardens were meticulously renovated. The layout of the gardens was painstakingly reconstructed using historic plans and paintings.
Note: Schloss Hof is open daily between 25th March and 3rd November.