2019, Gardens of the World, Uncategorized

Armchair Travelers’ Gardens: Visby, Sweden

 

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 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.

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   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.

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    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! 

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2019, Gardens of the World, Uncategorized

Armchair Travelers’ Gardens: Akureyri, Iceland

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When anticipating a visit to northern Iceland, gardens never entered my mind. Instead, there were images of volcanoes, barren hillsides, and geothermal pools, punctuated by flocks of sheep. I had done my research, and knew that the Icelandic people paid 50% of their income in taxes, getting healthcare, education, and a high standard of living in return. (This was before their financial crisis, which has since stabilized.) I knew that Iceland was on its way to becoming a global supplier of liquid hydrogen, and that most of their heating was achieved by taking advantage of its geothermal energy. I even knew that Iceland was the world’s leading consumer of soft drinks. But beautiful gardens in Iceland, 62 miles from the Arctic Circle? Impossible!

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I was proven wrong in Akureyri, a small, extremely pleasant town set along the Eyjafjordur Fjord, midway along Iceland’s northern coast. Surrounded by mountains, and with a protected harbor, the conditions are the best in Iceland for growing plants, and thus is home to the Botanical Gardens, the most northerly botanical gardens in the world. The gardens encompass several acres, terraced on a steep hill by a maze of reddish painted railroad ties. From a design standpoint, this is rather distracting, but in an area that is covered in snow from October to April, the need for such strong structure is quite understandable.

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Despite the fact that Akureyri averages only 1047 sunshine hours per year, the gardens manage to grow a very respectable number of plants without the aid of a greenhouse, from Delphiniums, to Bleeding Heart, to Rhododendrons. The taller plants grow on a slant because of the wind, but they are healthy and vigorous and in some ways, it is very like home, as the plant palette is quite similar to that of New England.

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But the best part was the huge bed of Himalayan Blue Poppies. (Meconopsis betonicifolia.)  Looking just like the poppies that we all know except that they are an amazing shade of true blue, they resemble the coloring book of a child who has decided to color using imagination instead of convention. They just don’t look real. I have tried to grow them, with no success. Besides being fairly picky about their environment, (they originally come from the Tibetan mountains), the seed has to be meticulously prepared for germination. Without going into the exact specifics, I’ll just tell you that the seeds need to be kept wet and cold in the dark for a month, then wet and cold in the sun (but not direct sun, mind you, just bright light) for another month, and then, if you are lucky, they germinate. Then, if you can protect them from rain yet keep them wet, keep them out of the sun while giving them light, and protect them from slugs, then maybe another six weeks later you can plant them in the garden… Well, you get the picture. Suffice it to say that I was thrilled to see so many healthy plants, and to be able to be in their exotic presence, which someone else’s slave labor had helped create. 

And you can enjoy them, too, if you find yourself just south of the Arctic Circle, with a sense of adventure and the desire to discover something special.

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