The friend of the trees goes on a hunt for records


  • fromThomas Stillbauer


Manfred Wessel, head of the Frankfurt Botanical Garden for 28 years, is looking for “Champion Trees” in retirement. He once lived with his family where no one else is allowed to live.

A favorite place? In the botanical garden? No, says Manfred Wessel – not that he knows. Or, if he thinks carefully: the pine forest. “Pines are beautiful anyway,” he says, “especially when they have grown so nicely.”

Indeed: It is interesting to see how Pinus silvestris bows and branches in front of the dune in the north of the garden, assisted by Erysimum hieraciifolium, the stick scotland from the cruciferous family. And then there will be a few more favorite places in the course of this walk.

Wessel ran the garden for 28 years. The end of the year is over for the great, always calm man who always has a friendly word, not just for his thousands of plants. End of working day. Pension. The last few weeks before the oasis winter break, he had imagined a little differently. “I actually wanted to come here regularly on Saturdays to say goodbye to the people who do guided tours here.” Didn’t work because of Corona. No tours. “It all fell into the water.” Or into the virus. And now of all times, for the same reason, there won’t be a Christmas party with the team for the first time in 28 years. How should one say goodbye appropriately? Maybe later. Now to North America first. “I thought: It would be nice if we had a way through North America,” says Manfred Wessel. You have to know: North America is a region in the Botanical Garden. North American plants grow there. And normally you are not allowed to leave the path. But through North America, Wessel thought, a very simple route would be something fine, mulched, marked with narrow tree trunks. The path is now in the works. Whoever passes through North America does not come out here at the North Pole, but in East Asia. A botanical garden can do that.

The botanical garden can also be exciting and inviting. When Manfred Wessel came along in the early 1990s, if you’re honest, he probably wasn’t. “It was a forgotten place back then,” he says. “There was nothing going on here. Visitors were ”, he puts quotation marks in the air,“ tolerated ”. There were no information boards, no tours. Science garden. It seemed like you didn’t really want a lot of people to come.

Then someone came from the north. With ideas. For three years, Wessel had implemented things in the Botanical Garden in Kiel, such as public relations, a program for visitors and a group of friends who helped with the financing. “When I announced changes in front of the entire Frankfurt team in the canteen, people weren’t very enthusiastic at first.” But some were. For example, Professor Theodor Butterfaß, emeritus professor of botany, who in retirement worked on a guide to the botanical garden. Later he found sponsors for a gardening supervision – after all, an item of 25,000 euros a year. Not the only person with a strange name, by the way. “We also had the professor after work,” recalls Wessel, “he was always here the longest in the evening.”

Was there an official assignment to the new head Manfred Wessel to change things? “No. But I came from Kiel. I thought: It has to be. “


Manfred Wessel has been the technical director of the Botanical Garden in Frankfurt for 28 years. He will retire at the end of the year. The trained gardener says: “A tree is the most durable thing you can imagine. Some trees were already there when the Romans walked around here, and they are still there now. We as humans cannot even measure that. ”

What does such a garden actually have to do? “Explain what the meaning of diversity is,” says Wessel. “Why it is important to also preserve inconspicuous plants. To arouse interest. Bring children into the garden, show them nature. They’ll keep it. Someday it will have an effect. ”The pine trees and the rod-scotland couldn’t have explained it any better. And don’t you hear the wild bees nodding their heads in their wooden houses? “I’m proud of this garden,” says Wessel, “and I’ve always wanted to share this pride.”

What is special about the Botanical Garden? “The mood,” he says. “It’s like in the forest here. I fell in love with this garden straight away. ”So much so that the family promptly moved into the little house on the site – and lived there for 19 years. “It was an inexpensive apartment and ideally located.” The Wessels two children grew up in the garden, and today, the trained gardener explains, they like to show their friends the place: “We played here as children.” but lived. “At most we go out to Bockenheim to go shopping,” says Wessel. It sounds like a kind of Aussiedlerhof in the middle of the big city.

At some point it got too uncomfortable, too damp, too cold in the simple dwelling. The family moved out. And because the atmosphere was also uncomfortable, almost the entire Botanical Garden would have moved out. At the beginning of the millennium, it was about the future. The university rebuilt its natural sciences at Riedberg, what should become of the area in the Westend? There was a long, stressful back and forth until it was finally clear: the city is taking over the botanical garden from the university, i.e. from the country. “During that time, the team could not be divided up,” says the manager. “We just stuck together, and that means something.”

And there was one more good thing about it. “When it looked very alarming, I founded the Botanical Garden Friends”, says Wessel. That was in 2001. Today the association has 550 memberships, including many families, so a total of even more friends.

And? Everything done, now that retirement is coming? “I absolutely don’t have that feeling.” But some things have been quite successful. The renewal of the paths. The many explanatory boards – “Before that one didn’t find out anything here”. The shelter by the pond. The houses for the bees. “And, as the icing on the cake, barrier-free access.” Since last year there has been very helpful information for visually impaired visitors, new route guidance and information via smartphone app.

The walk is coming to an end. What is going on behind the medicinal garden? New vines are just moving in, explains Wessel. This is the conservation plant garden – a kind of reserve for endangered species. “The garden has changed a lot,” says the outgoing boss. It was a university for 100 years, now it has not been for nine years. “The task is: environmental education.”

Wessel will continue to contribute to this – in the background. He is responsible for the website, would like to continue and stay connected to the circle of friends. He wants to continue living in Bad Vilbel with his wife in the future, and then there is the DDG, to which he has been a member for more than 30 years: the German Dendrological Society. He is committed to the preservation of the trees and bushes on the extended board and heads the “Champion Trees” specialist department. This is an almost endless list of record trees from the bush horse chestnut in Greiz (Thuringia) with a trunk circumference of 22 centimeters to the summer linden in Heede (Lower Saxony) with a circumference of 17.76 meters.

“A tree from Ockstadt in the Wetterau is right at the front of the Speierling”, says Manfred Wessel, “4.50 meters!” His enthusiasm has certainly inspired entire pine forests to grow. And if he were a tree himself, it would be an absolute champion tree.

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