Thursday, December 24, 2009

All is calm, all is bright

And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.
- Rainer Maria Rilke -

I hope you all have a lovely, peaceful Christmas time, however you choose to spend it.
The Intercontinental Gardener.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Quote of the day

Only tame birds have a longing. The wild ones fly.
- Elmer Diktonius -
I loved this Diktonius quote while I grew up in Finland. It seemed to symbolize all my longing for things to come; growing up and entering the world. I wanted to be one of the wild, courageous ones, even if it sometimes was against my true nature. And in a way, I have kept flying. But as the years have gone by, I'm not so sure anymore: what if it takes more courage to stay than to fly away...?
Original quote in Swedish: "Endast tama fåglar har en längtan. De vilda flyger". By Finnish - Swedish poet and author Elmer Diktonius, Min dikt, 1921.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Late November in Sipsalo

The Sipsalo buildings as seen from the South; in front a meadow with old apple trees planted in rows.

It seems difficult for me to write just something small about Pehr Kalm's experimental plantings at Sipsalo, there is so much to tell... but at least I can publish some of the pictures from my visit two weeks ago, even if late November is an unfair time of the year to photograph any gardens in Finland. As I've written about Pehr Kalm earlier, I won't repeat the history... other than as a student of Linnaeus, Kalm travelled widely, first in Sweden, Finland and Russia (1742–1745) and later to North America (1748–1751), visiting Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Niagara Falls, Montreal and Quebec. Of his last trip, Kalm wrote a long a detailed journal called En resa til Nord America.
A small sign noting that Pehr Kalm (in Finnish, Pietari Kalm) had his experimental plantings here.

During his time in North America, Kalm met many interesting personalities, such as John Bartram, now called the Father of American botany (see Bartram's Garden) and Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the U.S. whose inventions, as the Franklin stove, Kalm documented and described in great length. He described the native and immigrant inhabitants and their customs with a keen eye for detail; it is interesting to read his comments from cooking to religious, medical, agricultural and building practices. A new American edition of Kalm's travel journal was published in the 1930's and it still is an important reference to life in colonial North America.
Yard between the house and a barn, a crabapple in the center.

After his travels, Kalm worked in Turku, both with the botanical garden of the Academy and after 1752 with this experimental plantings in Sipsalo, in Hirvensalo near Turku. Here, he cultivated many seeds and plants from his travels to North America, introducing several new genus to Finland, like the now more than common Crataegus grayana, Rubus odoratus and Parthenocissus inserta. He grew several species of crabapples, members of the Malus family, some of which are mentioned in old documents written by Kalm.

Only a few crabapples were still hanging to the branches... this tree was very old, and might be one of the varieties grown from the seed that Kalm brought to Sipsalo; note the unusual, oval form.

Kalm faced many difficulties at his experimental plantings: the soil was quite heavy containing a lot of clay, and despite the South facing exposure, it kept the cold until late in springtime. Periods of severe cold damaged many of the plants he had managed to germinate and grow from the seeds he had collected and imported. Money was always scarce and Kalm worked long days both as a Professor at the Academy and after that at the plantings. K

Caragana arborecens was one of plants Kalm recommended for hedges. Native to Siberia, it survives well the tough climate of Finland.
Kalm died in 1779 and gardeners appointed by the Academy took care of the plantings until 1820's. After the great fire of Turku in 1827 the Academy was moved to Helsinki, and Sipsalo was rented out until the family that still owns the place bought it in 1903. While I visited Sipsalo, a few of the original plants were still alive, and some had self-seeded happily around the area.
Overgrown Salix viminalis plants in the Southern edge of the experimental plantings; these were also on Kalm's lists about plants he grew in Sipsalo.
If Sipsalo will be protected and ends in right hands, there will be many discussions about how to manage this historical and sensitive environment. There are several alternatives of treament of a historical site: restoration portrays accurately the landscape from a period of historical significance; reconstruction seeks to re-create the features of a vanished site in order to depict its appearance during a period of significance; rehabilitation calls for identification and preservation of the "historic character of the property', while adding necessary repairs or alterations so that the property might be used in a new way. In Sipsalo's case, preservation would probably be the right way to go, as it seeks to identify, retain, stabilize and provide continued maintenance of the historic features of a property, while nothing is added and little is taken away. Of course, this is a huge historical and scientific project in itself... and we are still far from any concrete results. But some day, it would be wonderful to be able to stand in Sipsalo and know that this living testament for the botanical, cultural and scientific connections between Finland, Sweden and the U.S. is both cared for and well preserved for the future generations.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sipsalo, again

Visiting Sipsalo with Arno Kasvi. Photo by Jori Liimatainen, Turun Sanomat.

The most difficult things to write about are always the things closest to your heart. So almost for a week, I've been pondering what to write about my visit to Sipsalo, Pehr Kalm's experimental gardens near Turku in Finland. Sipsalo was all that I had expected, a first rate cultural, historical and botanical site that should clearly be protected and saved to the coming generations. I cannot thank enough Arno Kasvi, the retired head gardener of the Botanical Gardens in Turku, for taking me there. Arno is a national celebrity within gardening in Finland and I can understand why; he is like a fireworks of botanical and historical knowledge and ideas, and I truly enjoyed my day of discussions with him. Thank you once more, Arno, for a wonderfully interesting day!
Intentionally, I haven't been writing about Sipsalo on my blog even if it has taken a lot of my time since mid-September. I have contacted experts and professionals both in the US, in Sweden and in Finland, trying to give and get information which would lead to Sipsalo's protection. My parents and especially my architect sister Hanna have been working all their contacts for getting more information and details, and delivering these to persons concerned with saving Sipsalo. There has been a lot of interest for this, and now, there might be (and hopefully I am not all too optimistic) an excellent candidate for buying Sipsalo, a cultural organization that I think would give a safe future for this sensitive, historical environment.
The main newspaper of the South Western Finland, Turun Sanomat, source of the first article about Sipsalo which I included in my previous post, promised to publish an article about Pehr Kalm that I wrote for them. I spent a lot of time researching it, and included comments from some leading Linnean and Kalm experts in the US and in Sweden. Then the story took an unexpected turn: instead of publishing my article, Turun Sanomat took some of my materials and made their own story of them. In addition, they interviewed me while I was visiting Sipsalo with Arno. In the positive side, Sipsalo got a full page of media, and it hopefully was a small step forward in saving Sipsalo to the future generations, but I feel a bit sad for 'losing" my story and ending up on the pages as some kind of a curious, international garden traveller. I am still hoping that my original article will be published as promised, but haven't heard anything from Turun Sanomat for some days now.
For the moment, I am not sure what step to take next, but I strongly feel that I am not quite done with Sipsalo yet. There are so many possibilities to explore. First I have to sort out all my pictures from there, and show at least some of them here on my blog. After that... I don't know. But give me a couple of days, and I'll be back with some beautiful images and hopefully some well chosen words to complement them...
Check out the Turun Sanomat article with Arno Kasvi and me here. I am not a keen media person and 'self promoter', but I just thought that publishing this link had its place here and now as the Sipsalo project is developing further.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tipsy tazettas

Narcissus tazetta, photo by Richard Bloom. My tipsy bulbs still only have tiny green shoots on them...

Paperwhites, Narcissus tazetta, are one of my favourite flowers to force indoors; I love their exotic scent announcing that Christmas is just around the corner. Last year, an unusual way to grow them in a mixture of alcohol (preferably gin) caught my eye somewhere in the cyberspace and this season even more bloggers seem to be spreading the message. With this method, paperwhites should end up roughly a third shorter than usual.
I've never heard about growing anything in alcohol, but as my paperwhites always tend to grow very tall and flop over, I thought this would be an interesting thing to try. The bulbs should be started in water, and only when roots have formed and the green shoots are 3 to 6 centimeters long, the water should be poured off and replaced with a mixture of 1 part alcohol to 7 parts water, if using 40 percent alcohol like ordinary gin. Beer and wine are not suitable, as their sugars can damage plants. Behind this method is the Flower Bulb Research Program at the Cornell University, where a study confirming the results was conducted already in 2005. More detailed instructions can be found on their web pages.
So now five fat and hopefully happy paperwhite bulbs are sitting on a bed of washed gravel imbibing gin and getting ready for the holiday season. And I am following with great curiosity how they respond to their new regime of Tanqueray on the rocks...