Thursday, August 13, 2009

King of Flowers

He still inspires... this man caught between the Baroque and the Enlightenment. I love the fact that Carl Linnaeus set out to define and solve the mysteries of botany and taxonomy while wielding only a swan's feather pen and reading by a seal fat lantern. Totally un-intimidated by the task he set before himself, he never seemed to let geographic isolation in Sweden or his humble beginnings deter him from his vision.

He was very much a man ahead of his time, reporting on the similarities of man to apes (pre-Darwin) and advising the government of Sweden on how to train rice and tea to grow on the tundra - today's version of genetic crop enhancement. The charm of Linneaus definitely lies though in those other ideas and pursuits of his that just did not quite take off or seem very of the period - flower clocks, swallows hibernating under the sea, pearl culture on the Baltic and seeing in the the New World what he believed to be the actual remains of the original Paradise. And who's to say? Nature and God ruled supreme in Linnaeus' world. In "Essay on Man" his contemporary, Alexander Pope, writes:

Slave to no sect, who takes no private road,
But looks, through nature, up to nature's God!

A Swede today who is working very much in tune with nature is landscape
architect Ulf Nordfjell. He has more in common with Linnaeus then you may think, having studied both botany and zoology before becoming one of Sweden's leading landscape architects.

Nordfjell won the coveted Chelsea Flower Show 2009 Gold Medal this year
for a garden (above) that combined Swedish modernism with elements of the classic English cottage garden. Stephen Lacey, noted British Garden journalist describes Nordfjell's style as thus:
- A powerful sense of landscape and ecology
- Plants treated as sculptural objects
- Natural materials
- Modern furniture and design details
- Lean lines and absence of clutter
- Bold contrasts of natural and man made elements
- A garden that changes with the seasons
- Meticulous attention to every aspect of the composition
....well, it doesn't get much more Swedish then that!

In 2007, to celebrate Linnaeus's Tercentenary, Nordfjell designed another Gold Medal winning garden for the Chelsea Flower Show in London called "Tribute to Linaneus". In it he used plants that Linnaeus cultivated himself at Uppsala University and at his private residence in Hammarby as well as native Swedish woodland plants. The overall color theme was white, silver and green with lots of white martagon lilies, vibernum roseum, pine, iris and, of course, Linnaeus' name sake wildflower linnea borealis.

The most subtle combinations become magic in Nordfjell's hands. Here a detail showing a combination of wild ginger ground cover with ferns, white violets and snowdrops.

Here, another example from the "Tribute to Linnaeus" garden. Note how Nordfjell incorporates materials such as steel, art work panels and hard edges into the more traditional planting scheme.

"I think Swedish nature is always present in my garden design." says Nordfjell
in his company profile. " I grew up in the north of Sweden and spent my childhood surrounded by huge woods and streaming rivers. From our house we could savor the scent of Linnaeus' favorite - the twin flower linnea borealis. When they were in bloom the pine trees in the wood there were carpets of them, which is rare even for Sweden."

A few things I'd like more of inspired by Linneaus and Ulf Nordfjell.... since the delicate wild flower linnea borealis most likely won't grow for us in Connecticut, I am going to plant more of the delicate aquilegias - something I know will grow in our woods and gardens. Linneaus studied them extensively ( look at those stamen and pistels!) and the original pressed collection can be found at the Linnean Society of London.

...and I am a bit obsessed with the flower clock idea. Does anyone know any living gardens that have incorporated this into their design?

Linnaeus House, originally uploaded by seadipper.

...and then there is Hammarby that has inspired documentary fabrics and the decoration of countless botanical engraving wallpapered rooms around the world. Wait for another post from Rhonda and I on this and visit the Linnaeus house at


  1. I living in Sweden and I don´t know how I found you?? So interesting to read about swedish things when you are a suede. My son 25 years old are going to move to L. A and are going to marry a american girl so this blog is good for me in the future .....??? My blog is just a month old but it´s very fun and you meet alot of people as crazy as me: loving interior design.
    Have good day and i am going to follow you!!

  2. Excuse me for my bad english! I was going to change some words and then something append!!!

  3. Sassa,

    The best part of having this blog has been meeting people from other countries! Thank you so much for visiting us and we will be sure to check out your blog! xo E & R

  4. This has been a very significant blog indeed. I've acquired a lot of helpful information from your article. Thank you for sharing such relevant topic with us.

  5. If you have these kind of flowers in your private garden, for sure you'll feel refreshed everyday! There are a lot of apartments for rent in Dubai that have private gardens! Find that home today!