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.


Ruben said...

Spåren finns fortfarande kvar! Pehr Kalms ande vilar fortfarande över platsen. Hoppas att allt går att rädda innan det är för sent!! /Ruben

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Visst finns spåren där. Det är väldigt vackert, jag har många fina bilder, men ville skydda dem lite ifall det fortfarande blir någon artikel om detta... !

ChilliRose said...

Beautiful site, very inspiring. I love the photos, especially the Arbetus menziesii with red berries in the snow. Would you allow me to use this photo in the December 2009 issue of the Northwest Native Plant Journal which I am writing today? I would like to put it on the front page with credit to you, of course. Please advise. Contact me at


The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Hello Chillirose,
thanks for your comments. Yes, you could use the Arbutus picture if you mention that it is from my blog. I tried to email you, but the address bounced back, so please let me know your plans.