Sunday, August 30, 2009

Save the forgotten gardens of Pehr Kalm

Crabapples at Pehr Kalm's experimental gardens in Sipsalo, near Turku. The main house at the back is from mid-18th century.
An update to this post - an international appeal to save Pehr Kalm's garden - is found here.
To my great surprise, an old garden of Pehr Kalm, one of Carl von Linné's earliest and most important students, has surfaced near Turku (or Åbo, as it is called in Swedish), my hometown on the South Western shores of Finland. My sister notified me of an article in the local newspaper, and given how culturally interested my sister, her husband and the rest of my family are, it is incredible that none of us had any idea that this garden still existed (albeit in an overgrown state - how much of the original garden from the 18th century remain is an open question). Now, the owner of the garden and adjoining farm has died, and the descendants have unsuccessfully tried to offer the place for the local universities, the Swedish speaking Academy of Turku (Åbo Akademi) and the Finnish speaking University of Turku (Turun Yliopisto). Unfortunately, none of them has expressed interest in buying the place, stating bad economical times as a reason.

Pehr Kalm (1716-1779) was a naturalist, explorer, agricultural economist and priest, who despite a poor childhood showed such talent, that he was sponsored to study first at the Academy of Turku and later at the Uppsala University in Sweden, where he met Carl von Linné (Linnaeus). He became the superintendent of an experimental planting in Uppsala, and was sponsored by the owner of the planting to travel first in Sweden, Finland, Russia (1742–1745) and later to North America (1748–1751), visiting Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Niagara Falls, Montreal and Quebec. Kalm wrote a journal of his travels to North America, En resa til Nord America, which was published already during his lifetime in four different languages. A new American edition of the book was publised in the 1930's, and it still is an important reference to life in colonial North America. In Species Plantarum, Linné cites Pehr Kalm for 90 species of which 60 were new; the most well-known genus is probably Kalmia, named by Carl von Linné after him.

Pehr Kalm tried to grow mulberries and start a silk industry in Finland.

After his travels, Kalm worked in Turku as professor and was also involved with plantings at the botanical garden of the Academy of Turku. In 1752 he was given land for 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, Malus baccata and other Malus species. He also tried to grow mulberries, Morus rubra, in hope of starting a silk industry in Finland, which of natural reasons come to nothing as both the plants and silk worms suffered in the cold climate.

In what came to be his last letter, Pehr Kalm wrote in 1779 to Arch Bishop Mennander in Turku, expressing concerns about the future of his both gardens, the Botanical garden and Sipsalo's experimental plantings. Now would be a late but excellent opportunity to answer his concerns and do something about this possibility; despite probably being overgrown and neglected, Sipsalo represents an important piece of cultural and garden history in Finland, and is interesting for botanists, garden historians and culturally interested tourists even on a international level. Linné's Hammarby could hold as a model for a successful historical preservation and restoration of Sipsalo; then the life's work of both the teacher and his talented student would be appreciated and celebrated in a way they both so well deserve.

I looking into ways of convincing the city of Turku of saving Pehr Kalm's gardens. Stay tuned for more information.

Kalmin salaisen puutarhan kohtalo auki, article in Turun Sanomat August 28th, 2009. Both photos courtesy of Turun Sanomat.

See also Linnéträdgården, and the Botanical Gardens of Uppsala and Linnés Hammarby, Carl von Linné's charming home and garden in Uppsala, North of Stockholm in Sweden.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Californian Academy of Sciences

I love art and sciences, but sometimes I feel a bit wary about museums, these human-built environments made for people to entertain (or maybe infotain?) themselves, competing with each other in spectacular shows and exhibitions. Or maybe it is just that I have been spending the last year a bit in a “tourist mode”, scanning through all that Seattle and other cities on our trip lists have to offer. Anyway, there are both better and definitely many worse ways to spend ones time...
A glass globe inside the building, holding a complete Amazonian rainforest ecosystem; you can walk around four stories inside of the globe, researching the ecosystem from the fish below to the canopy above, all complete with living butterflies and birds).

Despite my pondering, I insisted in having the Californian Academy of Sciences located in the Golden Gate Park on our itinerary to San Francisco and I don’t regret this tiniest little bit. It opened in late 2008 and it really is a spectacular place for both young and old; an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum and research institution, all housed in a completely sustainable, high tech building encasing the old Academy building. It was designed by Architect Renzo Piano, who also draw the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, that famous “guts on the outside” building so avantgarde on its time. In the Academy of Sciences building, the “guts” are actually inside but outside at the same time, just look at the picture above with the glass globe to understand what I mean. K

Totally in tune with the times, the Academy of Sciences building is one of the biggest public LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum buildings, and has been reported and published by the press accordingly. The beautifully undulating roof of 2.5 acres with its rounded portholes did remind me of Teletubbies (being a mother of two children in that generation…), or maybe even of some kind of future space buildings. Looking at the over 1.7 million plants gently swaying in the wind, it felt like promise of better things coming, a time when commercial, public and private buildings will be better equipped for helping to save the planet.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back home

Gum trees (Eucalyptus sp.) towering over the rolling hills of Marin County, north of San Francisco.
Late yesterday, we arrived home from a trip to San Francisco and coastal California. It was my first trip to this part of the United States, and despite having heard of it countless times, it was still surprising to see how much it reminds of South Eastern Australia. The hills rolling down to the sea, the sun-parched nature and the arid flora of California made me quite homesick for Melbourne (can one be homesick for a place one was not born in…?), feeling like being almost there, but still thousands of miles away. I grew quite tired of myself repeating the mantra “…just like in Australia” over and over; what does it matter, when both places are so amazingly beautiful?
Australian plants at the San Francisco Botanical Garden in the Golden Gate Park.

It was lovely to see gum trees (Eucalyptus sp.) cover both parkland and forests, feel their scent and listen to the rattle of their tough, leathery leaves. Many of them were huge and old, certainly over 100 years, their bark and leaves shedding off and covering large areas around them. I read that they were introduced in California around the 1850’s, sold by nurseries for both ornamental and practical purposes as firewood and hardwood for building. They look so well-adapted that it is difficult to imagine the landscape without them. Unfortunately, being extremely easy to catch fire, they have increased the forest fire danger in California, which together with Victoria tops the bush fire statistics of the world.

Landscape with Eucalyptus trees, also in Marin County.

Another acquaintance from my time Australia, the Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa), was actually native to the Monterey and Carmel area where we were staying for a while. In Australia it was often planted by seaside roads, so now the trees form a strong visual accent in their environment; I especially think about the road leading to Apollo Bay by the Great Ocean Road, one of my favorite places in Victoria... I love the sculptural, dramatic form of Monterey cypresses; unfortunately, it has a bad habit of loosing its branches and dying suddenly, just when it gets to its most mature and beautiful stage. All these visual and botanical ties; plants travelling afar, connecting different countries and places…

Australian Kangaroo paw, Anigozanthos flavidus, thrives even in California.

Now, I am sorting out the over 500 photos I took during our trip; tomorrow I’ll hopefully be writing about the garden related highlights, which include the new Californian Academy of Sciences with its much photographed and published grass roof, the stately but intimate estate of Filoli and the mid-century modern Sunset Garden.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Quote of the day

I love borders.
August is the border between summer and autumn;
it is the most beautiful month I know.
Twilight is the border between day and night,
and the shore is the border between sea and land.
The border is longing: when both have fallen in love but still haven't said anything.
The border is to be on the way. It is the way that is the most important thing.
- Tove Jansson -
The days of summer are dwindling away frighteningly fast. Leaves are already turning yellow, albeit from drought and not from the lateness of the season. My parents are visiting us in Seattle for the first time; seeing them here feels like a confirmation for that we actually have moved away, again.
The Justitia carnea cutting that I got from Marian in June is flowering with flesh pink plumes. I have repotted it a couple of times to give the roots more room to grow; strong roots mean healthy, happy plants. But how many times can you repot a plant before doing it more harm than good? Am I on the right way?
Picture from "Who will comfort Toffle?", a children's picture book by Tove Jansson first published in 1960.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A scent of waterlilies

The shiny leaves and creamy, cup-shaped flowers of Magnolia grandiflora 'D.D. Blanchard' in my front garden, shedding their yellow stamens on the opening petals...
After a couple of hot and steamy days of over 90ºF (32ºC) and one reaching a record 104ºF (40ºC), I am totally content with a cool change that came in during the night, the clouds filling the sky and relieving us from the scorching sun. We have been sitting late into the night on our West facing deck, drinking white wine diluted with sparkling water and recalling with nostalgia the equally hot summer nights in Melbourne. There, we sat on our beautiful veranda with Victorian cast-iron lace and pillars covered in Wisteria, waiting for the cool change to sweep over from the Port Phillip Bay. And then, about 10 pm, you could hear the breeze rattle the dry Eucalyptus leaves as a sign of a coming relief from the heat.
Here in Seattle, it has been a record breaking year; first the coldest winter in at least 20 years and now this dry and hot summer. The results of this somewhat extreme weather can be seen in my garden: first, we lost about 15 good-sized plants of Spanish lavender, and now, it seems like we are loosing quite a many Azaleas, too. Of course, every lost plant can be seen as a possibility for planting something new, but there is a limit to how many mature things you can replace each year. Luckily, the lavenders have self-sown themselves generously leaving me with some good sized plants, even if I'm not quite sure if Spanish lavender comes true from seed. The only plants that seem to thrive in this heat (besides the lavender) are the five Magnolia grandiflora 'D.D. Blanchards' that adorn the street side of our garden.
New buds opening in the heat.
I have always been a bit uncertain about M. grandifloras in other than tropical or subtropical gardens; only last winter, they looked totally misplaced here in Seattle with their large and shiny evergreen leaves drooping and the snow snapping off whole branches and tops of these brittle trees. They look stately (but maybe a bit too stiff for most suburban gardens...) and are both evergreen and supposedly low-maintenance, even if they do shed their large and leathery leaves all the year round making them look quite messy underneath, their leaves being too hard to decompose easily (I might need to buy a shredder just to be able to include them in my compost...) And you can actually hear when the leaves drop, making a woodsy "plopping" sound when they reach the ground.
But there is a very good reason for including a Magnolia grandiflora in one's garden if you happen to live in a zone temperate enough to permit it: the large, creamy flowers emit a wonderful fragrance that is strongly reminiscent of waterlilies. For me, they evoke dear memories of swimming in the Finnish lakes filled with white, wild waterlilies when I was a child. So burying my nose into a one of the Magnolia flowers during the recent hot summer nights has been an experience that almost makes me forget about being so dubious of them during the past cold and icy winter here in Seattle...