In the Dolomiti, the Highest Rose Garden in Europe

Lotte Zemmer in her Uhrerhof Rosarium, the highest-situated rose garden in Europe
Lotte Zemmer in her Uhrerhof Rosarium, the highest-situated rose garden in Europe

In the long days and warm sun of June, rose buds unfold and blossom.

But it was late September with “Autumn’s languid sun and rain/When all the world is on the wane”. Would it be worthwhile, after returning to Ortisei from hiking, to visit Uhrerhof Rosarium, the highest rose garden in Europe? Why not? It was a gorgeous day, also our wedding anniversary, and only a twelve-minute drive away.

After the navigator (me) failed to notice the turnoff to Bulla (maybe twice), and the road narrowed to a single lane hemmed tight by stone fencing and stone buildings, and the only parking space looked too small for a motorcycle (requiring another visitor’s assistance and a ten-point turn), the romance of visiting a rose garden on our anniversary had paled considerably.

But the bloom was not off the roses. Or us.

Who wouldn’t be calm in the tranquility, late in the season, late in the afternoon, following the terraced path and seeing the vast selection of roses?

The garden is below the Zemmer von Uhrerhof family’s Charme-Hotel, an updated farmhouse dating back to 1612. Lotte Zemmer and her husband built the hotel, but he has passed away and the next generation now manages it.

Lotte built this garden in 2009, ignoring the warnings from experts who told her it wasn’t possible to grow roses at this elevation (1,500 metres) on such a steep mountain slope. Now in her late 70s, Lotte was tending her roses as we were leaving. Language barriers limited us to expressions of gratitude for what she’s accomplished, sadly, as we wanted to know more and there’s scant information available about the garden. However, another visitor came along and translated for us—we discovered Lotte still does most of the gardening herself!

But, when writing this story, we found that Luca Annovi, a journalist and filmmaker, created a smartphone video of the garden that was officially selected by numerous Italian and international film festivals. The link to “Il Roseto di Bulla” on the Charme-Hotel’s website doesn’t work, but Magellan, true to his navigating expertise, unearthed it from the nethersphere.

From the film, we learned that when she turned sixty, Lotte’s husband asked her what she wanted for her birthday. “Do you want a car?” he asked. Lotte said, “No. I would like a garden.”

“It’s a big job in spring, pruning them all, it’s seven weeks, there are three of us doing the work,” Lotte tells Luca. If her mother is any indication, Lotte will be tending this garden for years. In the film, she says that one day when her mom was 92, she suggested they take a walk. Her mom said, “Today is not Sunday, what will people say about someone 90 years old walking around and not working?”

Lotte’s garden has more than 7,000 roses representing more than 250 different species, including, as you’d expect, the Rose Dolomiti, a small shrub rose, which received the Gold Medal in Baden-Baden in 2008.

In her garden is another rose named after this region (more appropriately I think), the Sweet Dolomiti, snowy white with an exquisite tint of leafy green on the petals.

The whimsical garden includes ornaments handmade in the Dolomites and roses named for fairy tales. The Brothers Grimm rose. The Cinderella rose. The Sleeping Beauty rose. The Snow White rose, The Little Red Riding Hood rose. The serpentine path is also a Way of the Cross, reflecting the religiosity of people in this mountain valley.

While writing this, I asked Magellan for his thoughts. “Gardening with love,” he said, “I could stay there.”

Yes.

A rose it is though least and last of all,
A rose to me though at the fall.

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Uhrerhof Rosarium

Rossetti, Christina. (1830-1894) We have quoted from one of her famous poems.

An October Garden

In my Autumn garden I was fain
     To mourn among my scattered roses;
     Alas for that last rosebud which uncloses
To Autumn’s languid sun and rain
When all the world is on the wane!
     Which has not felt the sweet constraint of June,
     Nor heard the nightingale in tune.

Broad-faced asters by my garden walk,
     You are but coarse compared with roses:
     More choice, more dear that rosebud which uncloses,
Faint-scented, pinched, upon its stalk,
That least and last which cold winds balk;
     A rose it is though least and last of all,
     A rose to me though at the fall.

8 Responses

    1. Thanks Shelagh, nice to hear from you. At that elevation in late afternoon in autumn, the air cooling, the scent was faint, but present.

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