Off the southern coast of Sweden is the island of Gotland, an idyllic place full of farms and villages, and even the summer house of the King and Queen of Sweden. It is also where the town of Visby is located, a terra cotta-roofed, church spire-studded little town, much of which is located within the medieval city walls. The town boasts a spectacular Botanical Garden, but even before you get there, you feel as though you are in a garden, as roses and other flowers burst from every opening; some growing where they were planted, others “volunteering” wherever there is enough soil for them to thrive. You get the feeling that if you stand still for too long, someone will plant a rose at your feet. If you walk down the rather incongruously named Fish Alley and you will see white and yellow houses covered with red and pink roses, with Lavender and Daylillies, Cornflowers and Campanulas growing lusciously in front. Everywhere there is an opportunity for plants to grow, they will be growing, even if they are just poppies eeking out an existence in a crack at the foundation of a house. And the residents of Visby seem happy to let them grow, and leave them to strut their stuff.
The Botanical Gardens, although fairly small in size, make up for it in content. There are shady gardens with lichen encrusted urns, the mossy ruin of a building (I never did find out what it had been) and a bridge over a small stream. When I was there, someone was playing a flute, just out of sight, and the notes hung over the garden and mixed with the bird song. It was an idyllic place, but the jewel in the crown was the Rose Garden. There, a pergola with a white climbing rose (Rosa x helenae ‘Hybrida’) foaming over the top provided the background to what must have been close to a hundred different species of roses, with perennials such as Geranium ‘Rozanne’, Hemerocallis ‘Stella D’Oro’, Salvia, and Dianthus planted in the front. The scent was heavenly. Each arch of the pergola created a separate “painting”, and it was like being in a living art gallery. I passed the gardener who was busy deadheading the roses, and had almost filled up a wheelbarrow with the most beautiful collage of different colored rose petals. It was a feast for the soul.
If you ever find yourself in Sweden, a trip to Gotland is well worth the effort. Once you find yourself in Gotland, a visit to Visby is a must. Just don’t stand still too long!