Jonathan Kelly

If I were not a musician ...

(Photo: Annette Hauschild/Ostkreuz)

In this section, we introduce members of the Berliner Philharmoniker and their extramusical passions. Today: Jonathan Kelly has a green thumb.

“Life begins the day you start a garden.” Jonathan Kelly would probably agree with this Chinese proverb. As long as he can remember, he has been fascinated by gardens. He planted his first garden – a typical English garden with lots of roses – in Birmingham, where he was principal oboist in the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra for ten years.

When he joined the Berliner Philharmoniker in the same position in 2003, his passion had to be put on hold temporarily. During his first four years in Berlin, he lived in a flat that had a balcony but offered little space for gardening. How could he manage without a garden of his own in the new city? An allotment garden? Jonathan Kelly shakes his head. “That would be too bureaucratic for me,” he says with a smile, “too many rules and regulations. I would feel too inhibited there.” When he finally found a house with a plot of land in Kleinmachnow, he was able to realize the dream of his own garden again.

Jonathan Kelly’s garden contains both crop plants and ornamental plants. The two areas are not separated from each other, though: “Vegetables do beautifully in the flower bed,” explains the 54-year-old. “If it looks nice and tastes good on top of that – what more could you want?” It is not so easy to get anything to grow in the barren Brandenburg soil, however. After all, the fact that the Mark Brandenburg was already denigrated as a “sandbox” at the time of Frederick the Great says a lot about the condition of the local soil.

As a child, Jonathan Kelly wanted to become a stage designer; his interest in the theatre also dates from this time. Today he organizes his garden like a large dramatic work: some of the plants are the soloists and stand in the limelight, others join the ranks and remain more in the background. And there is definitely a parallel to music as well, he says; in both instances one must have concrete ideas of what one wants to achieve, whether planting a flower bed or interpreting a composition.

“I’m not a control freak at all,” Jonathan Kelly admits. “My garden can also be a little chaotic.” If he, his wife Lucy and their three daughters travel a lot during the summer, the garden quickly turns into a jungle. Thanks to a sophisticated drip line system, his plants always get enough water, even in the most intense heat. “The garden doesn’t bear a grudge, though, and forgives me right away,” says Jonathan Kelly. After two or three days of weeding and trimming, everything is generally fine again.

After 13 years, the garden dream in Kleinmachnow will soon be drawing to a close. “We’ve decided to return to the city.” The children have left home, and they don’t need so much space any more. One can certainly believe that it won’t be easy for Jonathan Kelly to leave his own garden. “In the future, I’ll look after the green courtyard of our block of flats in Kreuzberg.” He smiles – and his new neighbours can be happy.

Oliver Hilmes

From the current issue of  Phil – Das Magazin der Berliner Philharmoniker.

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