Wednesday, July 16, 2008


The Gardens Illustrated tour of Sweden rolls on. We have just visited a series of public plantings in Gothenburg created by the two of the best planting designers anywhere – Mona Holmberg and Ulf Strindberg. We walked through a number of areas of public housing looking at perennial borders and pocket-parks, many of them centred on a barbecue point. Nearly all have a notice with a plan and plant list – virtually all un-vandalised. They are all colourful, but not overwhelmingly so; there seems to be as much an emphasis on foliage as on flower, and in any case, the plantings have to look good over as long a season as possible. Plant longevity is very much a feature of the couple’s work, with nearly every square millimetre covered in dense foliage.

The most extensive planting was a park in Backa, supposedly a problem estate, although we saw none of the burnt-out cars and graffiti which we would expect in Britain or the USA. A series of wide paths wend through densely-planted borders, dominated by summer-flowering perennials, but with enough trees and shrubs to give longer-term and structural interest. Everything is so beautifully layered, the kind of plant combining which only those who really know their plants can carry off. A key part of their success seems to be in using ground-covering species like bergenias or alchemillas to fill in space between more upright species.

Yesterday we went to two of the four sites for the second Gothenburg garden festival. The general feeling from the group was that the show was a lot more stimulating than Chelsea, where all the designers seem to be trying to hit a target. There was a feeling about the Gothenburg show gardens that designers felt unconstrained and uninhibited. The standard of construction was excellent throughout. ‘Grandmother’s Jewel Box’, an extraordinarily colourful array of bedding plants within a framework of dark pink painted wooden frames set the tone for colour impact. A number of gardens tackled a theme of global warming from an attitude of exotica-driven adaptability to doom-laden pessimism. There seemed to be a fully expressed gradient from practicability to ‘show garden as installation’ – with one of the latter showing a white-tiled hospital room filled with medical paraphernalia, and plants mysteriously growing in a few small boxes.

The show is on until 28th September - so make it if you can.