The Ausseerland-Salzkammergut is the setting for Austria’s largest flower festival. The Narzissenfest welcomes thousands of visitors to the region each year with the narcissus taking centre stage.
Every year at the end of May/beginning of July, people flock to the centre of Bad Aussee in the Ausseerland-Salzkammergut on Narzissenfest Sunday.
Visitors flood the town, marvelling at the metre-high sculptures at the grandest Austrian flower festival: dragons and owls, raccoons and clowns, dinosaurs and chickens – all decorated with thousands of narcissi flowers. Sunday is the highlight of the multi-day festival honouring the star narcissus.
As of 2019, the festival has taken place 60 times. Surrounded by music, dancing and traditional clothing. Accompanied by the Narcissus Queen and her princesses, who assume reign over the Ausseerland-Salzkammergut for a year. The narcissus-decorated figures are exhibited in Bad Aussee and at one of the two local lakes – Lake Altaussee or Lake Grundlsee.
More than 3000 volunteers help develop the unique festival: fire brigade, police, the Red Cross, students, private individuals, clubs, workshops, press associations, and travel agencies. All contribute to the success of the venture. The approximate 35 members of the Narzissenfest Association voluntarily organise and coordinate the event. In the midst of the activity, the main actor remains steadfast: the narcissus is the focus of the Narzissenfest.
The narcissus stands for biodiversity
The star narcissus belongs to the family of narcissus plants and can be found throughout Austria in Styria, Carinthia, as well as Upper and Lower Austria. The climate of the Ausseerland-Salzkammergut is especially wholesome for the flower. The bulb plant blooms from mid-May until Mid-June depending on altitude and prefers nutrient-poor, wet or dry soil. Meadows and pastures, where the star narcissus dominates, are called narcissus meadows. “The narcissus stands for biodiversity par excellence,” states Karin Hochegger, nature and environment official of Styria from the district office of Liezen. “When narcissi are found growing in a meadow, one will also discover up to 70 other types of plants there,” she explains.
Insects also profit from the flower. For each meadow flower, between 10 and 12 types of insects can be expected. “If we count 50 species of plants, then we can estimate up to 500 species of animals,” says Hochegger. For seven years, she has been dedicated to the preservation of the narcissus meadows in the Ausseerland-Salzkammergut. In the course of her work, approximately 100 meadows have already been mapped. “They are more or less in good condition,” Hochegger explains. The condition of the meadows depends on their care.
The narcissus needs healthy meadows in order to thrive. Intensive farming is driving the plants from the landscape. Regular mowing and fertilization with slurry are responsible for the decline of the flower.
Counteracting this effect is not easy. Every year, meadows are lost to intensive farming. “The pressure toward intensive farming is heavy,” acknowledges Hochegger. Narcissus-friendly care, namely extensive farming, would be necessary in order to preserve the flower’s habitat. This is not economical for farmers. “After two years, only a few individual narcissi are found in meadows that have been intensively farmed,” Hochegger explains. It is not yet known how long it takes for a meadow to recuperate in order to once again provide ideal conditions for the narcissus.
Awards and associations for a flower
Hochegger is engaged in the preservation of the narcissus meadows by working with the population to continually develop ideas and strategies for awareness and conservation. These efforts include participation in competitions for nature conservation awards and the establishment of a separate association for the preservation of meadows.
In 2018, the Narzissenfest Association was awarded the nature conservation prize ‘Die Brennnessel—Naturschutz is ka gmahde Wies’n’ by the Blossoming Austria - REWE International non-profit private foundation for its project, ‘Narcissus Meadows in Ausseerland—Protection and Preservation’. The award is granted to praxis-oriented natural conservation projects for the protection and development of valuable, ecological areas and habitats and honours flagship projects in the areas of nature and biodiversity conservation. Along with the ‘Brennnessel’, a total of 100,000 euros are awarded for natural conservation projects. In the Ausseerland-Salzkammergut, the prize money was used for, among others things, the clearing of a narcissus meadow.
In the Bad Aussee city district of Obertressen, committed helpers, working both manually and with machinery, freed a meadow from small tree groves in order to prevent the meadow from becoming overgrown. Two years later, a sea of narcissi can be found blooming there. “This is a great success,” states Hochegger. “Nevertheless, we still need to consider how to sustainably care for and preserve the meadow in the long-term.”
This is where the Association for the Protection and Preservation of the Narcissus Meadows comes into play. For the first time in 2019, the association honoured people who were painstakingly caring for their narcissus meadows. “Owners of naturally-preserved narcissus meadows, which are invaluable for the Narzissenfest, should be highlighted and awarded in the future,” association chairwoman, Franziska Miller-Aichholz explains.
The first award for an especially valuable narcissus meadow went to Heidi Rastl from Gößl in Grundlsee. “This farmer has an incredibly beautiful narcissus meadow,” declares Miller-Aichholz. She also participates in a nature conservation programme for the protection and preservation of narcissus meadows. As part of this project, property owners enter into contracts which set guidelines for aspects such as fertilization or cutting dates. These contracts are valid for several years and thereby provide long-term protection for the narcissus meadows.
An additional partner in this nature conservation programme is Energie Steiermark. As a Narzissenfest sustainability partner and sponsor, the company has taken over the patronage of the project.
The flower of the festival
“An intact narcissus meadow is a guarantee for the security of our flower festival,” states Rudolf Grill. He is the chairman of the Narzissenfest Association and knows – no flowers, no festival. After all, each year several hundred thousand flowers are needed for the various figures. The picking of the flower stems doesn’t signify any danger for the fragrant, white-blossomed bulb plants. “Quite the opposite! Picking the blossoms stimulates the narcissus to increased vegetative reproduction,” Grill explains.
A few days prior to Narzissenfest Sunday, the narcissi are picked. Only in the night between Saturday and Sunday do busy hands stick the flowers into the tight mesh covering the figures. In just a few hours, these artistic sculptures covered in a mantle of flowers are finally created. During months of preparation, the framework of the figures are drawn, planned and welded. The grand presentation lasts a single day.
Karin Hochegger continually has the educational programme, campaign elements and further projects for the protection of the narcissus in mind. The preservation of the plants is a matter of personal concern for her. The narcissus expert moved to the Ausseerland-Salzkammergut and lives in Bad Mitterndorf. Even in her retirement, she plans to care for the narcissus. “Perhaps this is why I have so much commitment and passion for the narcissus,” she says. “The flower is not just commonplace for me; it’s simply enchanting.”
The 60th Narzissenfest is from 31st May to 2nd June 2019. The city procession in Bad Aussee is open for exhibition starting at 8 AM. The boat procession begins at 2:30 PM on Lake Grundlsee. In 2020, the Narzissenfest is from 21st to 24th May in Bad Aussee and on Lake Altaussee.