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

Frederik Lüttichau, owner of manor Søholt, talks about finding pleasure in nature 400 years ago

Photos and Words by Annika Kiehn, November 2020

At their manor house in Søholt Frederik and Christel von Lüttichau take care of Denmarks oldest Baroque garden. If you ever happen to take an interest in the matter, you easily come to the conclusion, that this is surely not the most grateful task there is. A Baroque garden is hardly as rewarding as an English Cottage garden, I dare to say. It is based on a rather more complex and intelectuelly demanding type of nature. To 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 unique experience and a severe enlighenting about what entertainment meant back then. 

When you think of a baroque garden as an amateur like me, you might expect a scenery of decadence – Flowers of a dramatic colour span in lavish occurence. Playful garden sculptures emerge out of a fountain and in 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 on everything, right?!

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

„The trick is the shadows“, he explains, which instantly cures my disappointment. He offers me with a lovely cup of hot coffee in their stunning new built orangerie. Frederik von Lüttichau and his wife Christel own manor Søholt, a whitewashed two-storey building, that is 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 fell in love with the landscape down here immediately“, Frederik von Lüttichau says. Located near the Maribo nature park and many lakes, they are surrounded by a rich birdlife such as roaring geese, ducks and sea eagles. A mild climate adds up perfectly to their demands as farmers of their Engestofte-Søholt estate. The planting sugar beet, spinach, peas and lupine provides their income. They also export grass seeds worldwide. Hunters from everywhere value the nearby forest for a mini-adventure.

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. So there you can see that the garden was considered just as important as the house“, Frederik von Lüttichau explains.

The garden expans with a length of 340 meters and a width of 110 meters. It counts several geometrical figures such as circles, semicircles, squares and straight lines of hedges. „It is almost impossible to maintain a baroque garden privately“, Frederik von Lüttichau says. The trimming and upkeeping demand a huge amount 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, contrary to Germany for instance, were most manor gardens are just as protected as the house itself. With the help of the foundation Realdania Fonden the couple was able to reconstruct the remains of their garden according to the historical drawings.

„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. The project was realized between 2009 and 2010. Six Million Danish crones were spent, he says. It was reopened to the public on the 13th of June 2010.

Whilst preparing for my visit at Søholt manor, I had read about the concept of a baroque garden. There I came learn 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 entering the garden you would not guess the effort and amount of time and money spent to create this little baroquesque idyll. It is difficult to understand the whole concept o fit, Having no background knowledge at all, I tell Frederik as we walk around it. He nods in approval and tells an anecdote he observed in a former visitor: „I have my office at the other end of the estate, so I need to cross the garden to go there. Whenever I do so, I often pass by visitors. One day, at the entrance of garden I overheard a couple talking and the guy said loudly: ‚Oh, it is immediately disapppointing! 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!“

Why the effort of maintaining it then, I ask? Frederik explains: “You know, 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 that time – they did not have televisions or smartphones, all that sort of entertainment. So to create and control a thing like a garden was a fun for the people.“

“To tame Nature was a big thing back then.”

Frederik von Lüttichau, Owner manor Søholt

I get it: To cut the hedges into different geometrical shapes must have been a little revolution, as mankind had put himself over nature for his own pleasure. A long standing humbleness gave in to a new arising self-esteem. „To tame nature was a big thing back then“, Frederik says and I try to imagine how fascinated people were at their first exposure to the garden. And he adds: „They instinctively knew how difficult it was to create the figures. And then they liked the display of the shadows of it and all the experiences.“

When Frederik talkes about his garden, he sounds as if he makes an excuse for having something of such importance, that does not seem to hold up to peoples expectations. But bearing in mind, that the idea of a baroque garden first developed in Italy in the 16th century and spread all over Europe in the 18th century.

Look, he says, pointing at historic 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 and when baroque style was taken over by the English garden style, the baroque part of the garden got neglected. What we see today is not all of what had been there originally. It is like what you call an old house that is ruined and reconstructed. And you should see it from this perspective in order to being able to appreciate it.“

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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