50 years of International Hardy Plant Union:
A passion for plants and active perennial enthusiasts
(ISU) The International Hardy Plant Union (ISU) is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Just like in any other organization, there are ups and downs, moments of doubt and times of optimism. But the members on an international level have always supported the interests of perennial gardeners. What binds its members to the ISU? What motivates them to get involved or take part in congresses, trips and other events? Let us listen to what some of the members from different countries and generations have to say.
Susanne Weber, who celebrates her 90th birthday this year, had twelve days off in 1965. Every summer from 1965-1998, she used seven of them to go on the ISU trip. After that, traveling became too troublesome. But the friendships made during these trips lasted. Up until 2014, a small circle of ISU gardeners would come together every year in Markgräflerland. As an employee of the Zeppelin perennial nursery in Laufen – near the Swiss border – she attended the founding assembly of the International Hardy Plant Union in 1965 in Hannover and was – in her own words – somewhat in awe of the distinguished gentlemen there. On her way there with her boss, Countess Helen von Stein, she met a group of Swiss gardeners. From that moment on she was “firmly rooted in the perennial family”, and so began their travels throughout Europe.
At the age of 16, Anja Maubach was brought along to ISU events and trips by her mother. “I want to experience and enjoy the world of perennials with friends – the International Hardy Plant Union and their Winter Days events provide the ideal venue for this”, says Anja Maubach, a perennial and garden architect from Wuppertal-Ronsdorf, explaining why she supports the ISU today. She is internationally well-connected and has been organizing the ISU Winter Days in Grünberg since 2014. Anja Maubach sums it up: “The international flair is inspiring and expands the perennial cosmos.”
To Xavier Allemann of lautrejardin in Switzerland, the ISU is “one big family of gardeners with interested members from all over the world”. Having opened his nursery 10 years ago, he says that visits to other nurseries, experimenting with cultivars and the open dialogue with other members provide him with much inspiration.
“Big and small ideas improve my everyday business and further my personal progress. I also have a better understanding for the market mechanisms and am able to gain a clearer overview. At the ISU trials I always discover interesting new perennials”, says Rickard Nordström from Säve, Sweden, a member of the ISU management board.
It is the personal encounters and horticultural passions that bond Nik Spruyt, the ISU delegate from Belgium, to the association. In his opinion, the new Europe also needs a union of perennial gardeners who will follow legislative processes in order to react to current and future legal requirements in good time.
Who is the ISU and why was it founded?
At the 1963 International Garden Show in Hamburg, German perennial gardeners and experts were given the task to prepare a meeting for a “cross-national cooperation”*. In 1965 representatives from five European countries came together to “launch the ISU”*. By the end of the year the ISU had 147 members from Denmark, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Sweden and Switzerland. “We needed to find a common language”, says Willi Tangermann, senior owner of the Tangermann perennial nursery in Nordstemmen, naming the primary goal of the union. He was not only referring to communication among peers, but also a unified naming of the perennials – the nomenclature.
On this subject, the first annual report notes: “One thing is sure: Much water has yet to flow down the River Thames before the south, north, west and east agree to internationally valid trade names.” Several countries had locations for judging the perennials. Uniting these evaluation sites and establishing an international perennial register was also a priority.* Professor Dr Richard Hansen from Weihenstephan presided over the commission.
The beginnings for the ISU were difficult. The three-man management board had neither money nor help. Although doing some hands-on work also had its perks, according to the first annual report. Mr Tangermann, who witnessed the early days, recalls how the perennial gardeners also had to struggle: “Everyone managed because we were all pulling together. On the one hand, people had a strong desire to buy flowers and plants and on the other hand, we gardeners stuck together.” Every perennial gardener was a collector and had his own special lists. Nonetheless there was an open exchange and the “inner enthusiasm” was great, as Mr Tangermann describes the situation. The personality of the entrepreneurs was what influenced their businesses. There were very strong personalities involved in the union and the perennial sector. To name but a few would be to leave too many of them unconsidered.
During the post-war period, Willi Tangermann was touched by Europe’s perennial gardeners reaching out a hand to their German peers in the course of their professional international exchange, making them once again a part of Europe. After the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, many Eastern European enterprises joined the ISU and were welcomed by their peers. The bond created by a common enthusiasm for plants and the friendly exchange between members are to this day solid elements and strengths of the ISU.
*extract from the first annual report of the ISU in 1965