Friday, March 20, 2009

From Karin's time to our days

Pergolas were popular in the last turn of the century as they provided shaded outdoor sitting areas. Photo of Villa Pergola in Saltsjö-Duvnäs 1907; courtesy of Nacka lokalarkiv.

As I wrote in my post about Karin Larsson, the way how gardens in Sweden were designed and planted underwent many changes during the late 19th century and early 20th century, partly due to economical and sociological changes in the society. One and a half years ago while in Sweden, I held a presentation and wrote an article of this period and gardens together with a friend. When doing research for that presentation, we gathered and scanned in a large amount of archive material in form of old photographs and post cards. I thought it might be interesting to continue on this theme and show a tiny part of this material here.

Sitting in the garden in the end of the 19th century; trees were rewered and left even in quite impractical places, as here by the pathway. Tegelön, Villa Berga 1900, photo courtesy of Nacka lokalarkiv.

As I wrote earlier, at this time a new, quite well-off middle class had developed as a result of industrialism during the 19th century. Many of the well-off people fled from the the crowded and filthy cities to the undisturbed nature and even whole residential areas were built to provide healthy and beautiful surrounding to families that could afford them. Those not so lucky often chose to emigrate as an effort to improve their lives; totally over 1,3 million Sweden left the country during the 19th and early 20th century; a huge percentage of the population of a country with only ca 5 million inhabitants in total. To curb this development, a movement called Egnahemsrörelsen started to promote the ownership of houses and gardens even to those with smaller resources. This in essence very nationalistic movement had international roots; similar housing developments and garden cities had been seen both in England and in Germany.

Family sitting in front of their small house, Klockargården, 1900. Their garden is mostly used for growing edibles. Photo courtesy of Stockholms Länsmuseum.

Blooming potato plants in front of a small house, Sjöviken 1900. Photo courtesy of Stockholms Länsmuseum.

So, if things are simplified quite a bit, three main styles of garden were typical during this period. The smaller houses, "egnahem" like the ones above, had much of their garden allocated to fruit trees and kitchen gardens, even if the owners often grew ornamental plants, often in flowerbeds near the house or as edging the pathways. Typical plants besides edibles were Syringas, peonies, honeysuckles, Philadelphus, bush roses, and other hardy and easy to propagate garden stalwarts.

A newly planted garden in the formal or architectural style; Herrgårdsvillan i Saltsjö-Duvnäs, early 1900's. Photo courtesy of Nacka lokalarkiv.

A garden in the natural style, interestingly combined with a kitchen garden in front; Skepparbacken 1 in Saltsjö-Duvnäs, early 1900's. Photo courtesy of Nacka lokalarkiv.

Houses for the better off, which in Sweden are called "villas" after a word of Italian origin, had gardens in the "formal or architectural style" or in the "natural style" - or even combined these both, if the owner could not quite decide or thought that this was needed for the situation. August Brunius, a well-know Swedish writer of this time, described these styles in his book Hus och Hem (House and Home) from 1912. He wrote that the formal or architectural style took the building as starting point and followed its geometrical plan into the garden with straight lines and pathways, walls, terraces and stone laid sitting areas. The natural style avoided disturbing the nature around the buildings and followed the lines of the nature, with curved pathways and often rounded forms. According to Brunius, the style of the house and the character of the owner (!) should guide which style should be chosen, or if these should be combined (which actually was typical for the gardens of the Arts and Crafts movement). Of course, Brunius ideas did not develop in insulation, but followed closely the discussion of his time and his predecessors; for example William Robinson's and Reginald Blomfield's fights between the naturalistic and the formal gardening styles to mention one of the most famous garden controversies.

A garden in the natural style; Bergvägen in Saltsjö-Duvnäs, early 1900's. Photo courtesy of Nacka lokalarkiv.

Bergvägen in Saltsjö-Duvnäs in 2007; almost no traces are left of the original garden; the house stands totally exposed, with only one old pine tree to the right to shade or give proportion to it.

A garden in the natural style; with typical picket fence, flag pole and a sitting group in the shade. Most of the trees around the house have been saved while building the house to make it sit in the landscape. Bergvägen in Saltsjö-Duvnäs, early 1900's. Photo courtesy of Nacka lokalarkiv.

The same house at Bergvägen now; no trees left, only lawn and more lawn...

It is difficult to say if we have made any progress in gardening within the last hundred years; when looking at the pictures above, I would claim the opposite. So often, when listening to my garden customers in Sweden, they told they "did not have any garden" or that they only have these "horrible conifers" (mostly firs and pine trees). The ordinary house owner seemed either to be afraid of real nature and/or have forgotten everything that was held in value for hundred years ago; that the beauty of nature itself could be appreciated, even very near our abodes. (And here, I don't mean the naturalistic plantings that have been popular for the last ten or fifteen years; beautiful as they are, they still are highly arranged works of gardening, often with many plants not native to their countries.) I understand that for some of us, a garden with this much "nature" could be too much to bear and that many prefer cultivating their gardens in a more elaborated style; but wouldn't it be lovely if we could at least partly revive the thinking from Karin's time and keep some of these gardens intact?


Lee17 said...

I would love to see a move back to the naturalistic plantings. Even just leaving one part of the garden naturalistic while designing the other. Lawn is so boring and doesn't support anything but pests and fertilizer companies. What kind of a garden is void of birds and bugs and frogs and other wonderful critters? Not a very good one in my opinion. Down with the boring old lawn I say! Bring back the plants and critters ;)

Anonymous said...

I agree with your exclamation point about gardens needing to go with the person's character. Also the house's, if possible. Sad to see the old gardens being ripped out, especially the venerable old trees. Takes away so much when that happens. Yes, I think a lot of people are afraid of their landscape, that's why they either do nothing with it or hire someone to design/maintain it. Love all these old photos, thanks for saving, scanning and sharing them!

nilla|utanpunkt said...

The images show very clearly the step from natural woodland to getting rid of the trees to "not shade the house". A very modern-times approach. I am surprised these trees where chopped down without actually adding anything else – but lawn. On the whole, I am a ittle ambigious, while natural woodland gardens can be beautiful, they can also just be quite uninspiringly what was "left" after the ground was cleared by the builders – thus, no real thought was put in, which designing a garden always is. Ideally, there should be a mix, I think, a subtle blend between natural and man-made.