Saturday, August 13, 2011

Still not giving up on Pehr Kalm's Sipsalo...

A large oak stands in the far end of Pehr Kalm's experimental garden in Sipsalo; supposedly, it formed the end of the central axis of the garden. A long vertical scar runs through its trunk, so it was propably struck by lightning when young.

As some of you might know, Pehr Kalm's Sipsalo, the farm where he cultivated seeds from his botanical voyage to North America in 1748-51, was sold in late July for a new owner who wants to remain private. The Green Party has made an appeal for the city of Turku to use its pre-emptive right to buy the property, which is now being examined further. However culturally interested the new owner might be, in private hands we do lose a major opportunity for research and cultural exchange that otherwise could have taken place in Sipsalo. (To read about our passionate effort to save this 18th century garden for future generations, please start here.)

The main house at Sipsalo where Kalm worked; Siberian crab apples, Malus baccata: a large old Malus baccata that Carl Linnaeus loved still stands on the grounds of his farm called Hammarby in Sweden. He got the seeds from Finnish natural historian Eric Laxman, who served as a clergyman in Siberia in 1765. Could Kalm's trees be of the same origin?

Just before Sipsalo was sold, I made a summer excursion there with Katri Sarlund and Kalle Euro, who have both been very much involved in the project. During our short visit, we managed to find many plants directly connected to both Linnaeus and Kalm in the lush, jungle-like gardens. Only a plant detective with proper DNA-analyzing equipment could tell if these plants originate from Kalm's American seed collections or from Linnaeus' botanical gardens in Hammarby, but with their botanical and historical connections, I found it extremely exciting to find them growing in the middle of the neglected Sipsalo. 

The stables just outside Kalm's garden are from the 1930s and could be used as an excellent space for research and exhibitions; Amelanchier canadensis was on Kalm's original list of seeds that he brought from North America in 1751. Could these struggling self-seeded whips that we found in the garden be great-grandchildren of those seeds?

An old thicket of Siberian pea tree, Caragana arborecens, grows near the house in Sipsalo; Linnaeus had some growing in Hammarby, too. He was concerned about the large amount of trees cut down to build fences, and preferred living fences planted with these thorny shrubs.  

Crataegus coccinea (now C. flabellata var. grayana) was also on Pehr Kalm's list of seeds he imported from North America. Small plants grow abundantly in the woods of Sipsalo.

Musk strawberry, Fragaria moschata, and sweet cicely, Myrrhis odorata, are two plants that were commonly grown in gardens in the 18th century. Musk strawberries grow into large plants with hairy leaves, but they need both male and female plants to produce their delicious fruit, so they were replaced by new hybrids of the garden strawberry (F. x ananassa) in the 19th century. The scented leaves and stems of sweet cicely have been used for medicine and cooking. Musk strawberries and sweet cicely thrive also in the glades of Linnaeus' Hammarby, and maybe Linnaeus used them to treat his gout, as both plants were used to cure it in his time.

Roseroot, Rhodiola rosea, grows wild in Lappland, and Linnaeus used its Swedish name 'rosenrot' in 1755. It was used as a cure for arthritis and headache, and got its name after its roots, which could be destilled to produce rose-scented oils and waters.

Several huge old Salix purpurea and Salix viminalis grow in Sipsalo, planted in a similar manner as some Salix bushes at Hammarby. There is evidence that Kalm got cuttings from Linnaeus in 1771 (mentioned in a letter), and these bushes could be those same cuttings that have survived the time.

As you understand, I want to remain optimistic about the city of Turku acquiring Sipsalo, even if I feel that there might be little hope for it. Seeing what a national treasure Linnaeus' Hammarby is in Sweden, it would be highly regrettable to miss the chance of creating a similar monument for the history of botany, culture and science in Turku. I hope the decision makers will wake up, now.

1 comment:

Sophia Callmer said...

Låter spännande att gå runt i denna gamla vackra trädgård och inventera växter. Hoppas man förstår att man måste ta hand om en sådan plats!