Friday, December 10, 2010

Saving Sipsalo, one small step at a time...

The main house of Sipsalo farm, where Pehr Kalm grew his North American plants in the 1750s.
It is almost a year ago that I last wrote about Sipsalo, the forgotten gardens of botanical explorer Pehr Kalm.
A student of Carl Linnaeus, Pehr Kalm was one of the lucky few who managed to return alive from his plant collecting tours, having visited the relatively safe target destination of North America in 1748-51. Back in Finland, he worked as a professor at the Turku Academy, dutifully propagating in Sipsalo his admirable collection of seeds of over 400 plants. Many of them failed in the harsh climate - for example, the utopian idea of establishing silk industry in Finland failed miserably as both the silkworms and mulberry trees soon froze to death - but some of them, like Parthenocissus vitacea (syn. P. inserta), Rubus odorata and Crataegus grayana, are now a common part of the flora of Finland.
A small copper sign tells quietly about the fascinating past of Sipsalo.
As I wrote a year ago, Sipsalo will be sold during next spring (2011) and its future remains uncertain. Since last November, many contacts have been taken on both sides of the Atlantic ocean. Many leading researchers, scientists and historians have taken a keen interest in Sipsalo and agreed on that Sipsalo has an inestimable value as a place where botanical, horticultural and scientific heritages of three countries, Finland, Sweden and the United States of America, touch each other.

During the past year, several Finnish organizations with potential capacity for owning and managing Sipsalo have been contacted. The local universities, the National Board of Antiquities and the Finnish Cultural Heritage Foundation have been some of the suitable candidates. The tough economic times have certainly played in as great interest have been shown by many, but so far, none of them has had the courage and money (a long time commitment like this demands a great deal of planning and resources) to buy Sipsalo, and secure its future for the coming generations. Understandable, but at the same time, very sad and disappointing.

A south-facing meadow and old apple trees in front of the buildings of Sipsalo.

For a while, I almost lost my hope for Sipsalo, and felt that maybe nothing will came out of all work that I and many others have done to rescue Sipsalo (for example, an article that I wrote about the international interest for Sipsalo was published in Turun Sanomat in June 2010 - all response was very positive, but there were no other immediate results). Then, last week I was told that Katri Sarlund from the city council of Turku had made an initiative that the city should purchase Sipsalo.

After contacting Katri, we agreed on that an international petition by the community of researchers, scientists and writers would be highly desirable, and probably effective in promoting the cause. So I wrote one, and so far, I've been very happy to receive great response from everyone I've contacted. In January, Turku City Council will receive an international petition letter for Sipsalo with a handsome list of supporters from three continents.

So no happy ending yet, but I do have high hopes for one. And even if the work in not quite done, I already admit that I have learned a lot during the process. Like that next time I try to save an old garden, I will go and take a lesson in community organizing first. Nevertheless, I am very glad that I've tried and I sincerely hope that Sipsalo at last will be saved to the coming generations. I will keep you posted.

An old oak tree planted by Pehr Kalm in the 18th century by the Aura river in Turku. The Botanical Gardens that surrounded the oak were destroyed in the 1960s. If Sipsalo is lost to new housing development, this old oak tree will be the only remaining evidence of and memorial to Kalm's work.

My three earlier posts about Sipsalo: Save the forgotten gardens of Pehr Kalm, August 2009. Sipsalo, again, December 2009. Late November in Sipsalo, December 2009.
Unfortunately, my article in Turun Sanomat is not available on-line, and I haven't found a way to download the pdf here on my blog.

Please leave a comment if you need more information about Sipsalo.


1 comment:

Ruben said...

Tack för att du håller oss underrättade - och tack för att du engagerat dig! Jag har faktiskt gått och undrat lite hur det har gått med Sipsalo.
Ha det gott!