Rock gardens: Can you create a gravel garden? – style

Is that art now or does it have to go? A miniature garden that reproduces a mountainous dry zone in a very small space with strict formalism: the Ryōan-ji Zen temple near Kyoto in Japan has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994. With its evenly raked gravel surface, few rocks and even fewer plants, it calls for quiet contemplation. In Japan or China, such nature-stylizing house or monastery gardens with dwarf plants have been celebrated for many hundreds of years. In Germany, these almost vegetation-free collections of rubble have entered the legal system as gravel gardens. The judges agree: “Must be dismantled.”

It is not a matter of taste, but of soil sealing, biodiversity and climate protection – i.e. a greening requirement that all German state building codes contain in a comparable form. Stone elements are not excluded per se. In the overall picture, however, they should have a subordinate importance, the administrative court in Hanover recently ruled (Az.: 4 A 1791/21). The Lower Saxony Higher Administrative Court rejected the application for an appeal at the end of January. According to this, building control authorities can demand the removal if gravel gardens are inadmissible from the point of view of building regulations.

In the garden, the “green character” should be in the foreground

In a hearing, the city of Diepholz asked the plaintiff to green his garden or to pay a fine of up to 50,000 euros. The Higher Administrative Court of Lower Saxony has now ruled that this building regulation is legal. In Bremen, a new greening law stipulates that existing gravel gardens must disappear by 2026 at the latest.

“The consequences are far-reaching, now that there is a judgment from the Supreme Court. The era of gravel is coming to an end,” states attorney Martin Klimesch: “Owners of existing gravel gardens cannot claim any kind of grandfathering because their gardens were never permitted under building law.” , emphasizes the specialist lawyer for tenancy and residential property law from Munich: “Gravel and gravel gardens do not offer insects any opportunity for food intake, and the Bavarian building code also prohibits soil sealing where no buildings or comparable structures are erected.”

It is also not at the discretion of the building authorities whether they take action: “If the authorities are notified of a gravel garden, they must order its removal,” says Klimesch. The Lower Saxony judgment referred to a specific dispute in which there was no longer any green space within the meaning of the building code. Instead, it is a matter of gravel beds, in which conifers and shrubs as well as ground cover have been planted at certain points. According to the OVG, this contradicts the intention of the legislator to limit the “petrification of the city” to the necessary extent.

In Asia, rock gardens have a special cultural and religious tradition

The greening requirement of the state building regulations requires a garden with a “green character”. Planting individual plants or shrubs is not enough for this; what is required is that the planting predominates. “We are not in Asia, where rock gardens have a completely different cultural and religious tradition,” summarizes attorney Klimesch. That’s why the greening requirement also allows justified exceptions: “In the case of facilities that are aesthetically based on monastery gardens, Article Six of the Basic Law could apply, i.e. the irradiation effect of the fundamental right to freedom of belief.”

There is also nothing wrong with a species-rich garden with dry stone walls, in which stones are used as elements of the natural landscape. The specialist lawyer, who has been dealing with biodiversity and the food chains in wild gardens for years, welcomes a corresponding variety of garden styles. But the monotonous and easy-care, washable “gardens of horror”, as the botanist and author Ulf Soltau calls them and which can be found in their thousands in German suburbs, have nothing in common with a biologically and aesthetically valuable rock garden.

If homeowners want to refer to a German garden tradition that has found international recognition, they can read Karl Foerster. In his standard work “The Rock Garden of the Seven Seasons” he wrote eighty years ago: “We experience how regular garden parties close to the house are heightened in their austerity and splendor with new types of plants into the picturesque, namely through magnificent and vine plants as well as by some wild plants set in regular stone terraces and walls.” Diversity instead of horticultural unimaginativeness.

Right column: Can you do that?: Stones in the garden?  Gladly!  However, the author prefers near-natural dry stone walls to colored ornamental gravel.

stones in the garden? Gladly! However, the author prefers near-natural dry stone walls to colored ornamental gravel.

(Photo: Bernd Schifferdecker (Illustration))

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