At an elevation of 2,076 metres above sea level, the Schynige Platte is a mountain flank not far from Interlaken. A popular peak with day-trippers and hikers with a mountain hotel and restaurant of the same name, the Schynige Platte gets its name from the huge light-reflecting wall of slate on the mountain's flank (“Schynige Platte” means “shining plate”). For more than 125 years, the nostalgic cog railway has been winding its way up to the Schynige Platte in 52 minutes – offering splendid views of Interlaken and Lake Thun.
The plants are his passion: Paul Brunner has been working as an all-rounder in the Alpine Garden since 1995. He maintains and tends the beds and plants, mows the meadows and guides tour groups through the Alpine Garden. The team also includes three gardeners, as well as Esther Brunner, Paul’s wife.
The train climbs at such a leisurely pace that there’s plenty of time for your mind to catch up.
With around 65 plants per square metre, the many meadows in and around the Alpine Garden are important for biodiversity. In order to preserve the diversity of the environment, Paul mows the fields with a scythe – just like in the old days.
The season starts in May with snow shovelling and ends in October with seed collecting and mowing.
So that they could marvel at the beauty of the alpine mountain flowers from their own gardens, the British took seeds and small plants from Switzerland back home with them. This eventually inspired the Swiss to create alpine gardens here in Switzerland too. The Alpine Garden on the Schynige Platte was thus founded in 1927 with the aim of showing as many Swiss alpine plants as possible in natural plant communities.
What makes the Alpine Garden so special is the fact that the plants are grown in natural communities. There are 16 such habitats in the Alpine Garden, such as the primary rock field for alpine plants that prefer lime-free soils, the riviera for southern plants or the windy corner for plants that prefer exposed locations. Likewise, there’s a little snowy valley where the winter snow remains for a particularly long time, and an alpine moor with water-saturated soil.
These plants don’t only look good: Many alpine plants have healing powers that are still put to use in traditional and conventional medicine to this day. The right dose is the key: plants like monkshood are poisonous, but beneficial in small, controlled doses. Most medicinal plants are aromatic herbs that develop their healing properties in the form of teas and distilled extracts. Examples of familiar medicinal plants with well-known active ingredients are St. John’s wort (anti-depression properties), the yellow gentian (for gastrointestinal complaints) and arnica, Paul Brunner’s favourite plant.
The arnica plant looks like the alpine sun. It is absolutely packed full with power.
The arnica flower heads are quite something. Around 150 pharmaceutically active ingredients have been identified to date. Arnica can be used for pain relief, heart problems and, above all, to treat sore muscles and bruises. That’s why arnica is jokingly known as the “patron saint of muscles and bruises”.
So that the young plants get the best start in the challenging mountain environment, they are lovingly raised in the Alpine Garden’s nursery. The seeds are collected by the gardeners from throughout Switzerland or are exchanged with other alpine gardens. Depending on the plant, it can take several months or years until it is large enough to be planted out in the Alpine Garden.
If you’re done admiring the Alpine Garden and fancy a short hike, you should take the rewarding panorama trail. This circular hike, which takes around two hours, first leads to the Berghotel Schynige Platte, where you might like to stop for a bite to eat. After a short ascent, you will be rewarded with the Daube lookout point. The trail continues on a secure ridge path around the Oberberghorn, past marmot colonies and thousands of alpine flowers to the Loucherhorn and then back to the Schynige Platte upper station.