Lush tobacco plants by the old Rettig tobacco factory at Luostarinmäki (which translates to 'Cloister Hill") museum in Turku, an old Finnish-Swedish university town where I spent my school years.*
As much as I love visiting castles and manor houses and their gardens, I find the history of ordinary, common people often more touching. Luostarinmäki in Turku (or Åbo in Swedish), offers a most fascinating glimpse to the homes and lives of the craftsmen and other professionals that lived in what was the capital of Finland in the 18th and 19th centuries.
These 18 blocks of houses, streets and courtyards are the only wooden buildings that were saved in the Great Fire of Turku in 1827. They were a living neighborhood until 1940 (I never miss to point out to my girls the house where my friend's grandfather was born and raised), when some far-sighted townspeople understood to preserve them to the future generations as an open air museum.
* The orange daylily, Hemerocallis fulva, is a hardy perennial often found in old gardens. I think its slender stems and long strappy leaves are more striking than many of the new cultivars...
The people who lived at Luostarinmäki were proud craftsmen and professional townspeople with their own homes and workshops: tinkers, tailors..., and while there were no soldiers, there was a sailor, whose touching little house was filled with blow-fish and seashells that he had brought from the seven seas.
Observing the meagerness of life here is always gripping, especially when thinking that the inhabitants were not by any means the poorest of the society. The houses are small, the rooms tiny and the amenities few, but there is a silent, dignified beauty in everything. Tools and things are well-worn and carry marks of a hard life, but they were made to last in the hands of their users, and to be mended, not to be thrown out.
*One of the narrow, quiet streets at Luostarinmäki, earlier full of life and sounds from humans and animals alike... Picture from Wikipedia Commons.
From a gardener's point of view there is not much to be seen, as most of the plants there were grown for their economical value like the lush tobacco plants above. An occasional bower of lilacs, a long-lived cluster of orange daylilies or other seemingly self-sown old-time perennials are some of the few ornamentals that bring colour into the tiny courtyards. Many roofs are covered with birch-bark and grassy, flowering turf, which shows that vegetative roofs aren't something invented by our generation.
In a way, it would be lovely to see more old-time plants and perennials at Luostarinmäki, but then, the museum would loose some of its authenticity, as ornamental gardening was clearly out of reach for the people who lived there. Instead, strolling through the narrow, grassy streets and small courtyards was a sobering lesson in times when "less is more" was not a choice, but a reality of life.
Very interesting and thought-provoking article. I enjoyed reading it. When I visited one Russian old-believers' village in Alaska, I was surprised to see that there were very few gardens there, almost none. Maybe, this was the way their ancestors lived - they worked hard and didn't have time to tender flowering gardens. Life, its priorities and values were different.
Thank you for this post on a tiny corner of the world I otherwise would never have known about. Your words capture another time and another way of living we should remember.
Hey Liisa, from Luostarinmäki museum you can see my windows, just across the Sirkkalankatu Street, I live in the attic of a 3-story wooden house. I wish I had known you were so close!
Hi Annamari, what a pity, i would have loved to have a cup of coffee with you while there! I'll promise to contact you next time I'm around. Have a lovely weekend, Liisa.
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