Garden Travel

The Dowager Queen looks out over Copenhagen's King's Garden.
The Dowager Queen looks out over Copenhagen’s King’s Garden.

My husband just completed a five month teaching assignment at Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden. While work and family obligations kept me from joining him, I did manage to visit a couple of times, and we did a lot of travel around Scandinavia and the Baltic. For me, travel often means visiting gardens.

We saw several wonderful gardens and it will probably take a few posts to digest it all. You can learn a lot about a country and its history and culture by visiting public gardens. Take Copenhagen, for example. Just walking around, it seemed clear that Copenhagen was a vibrant, artsy city with lots of bike traffic and trendy dining (expensive, to0). But it’s also a city that loves its gardens — after all, it is home to Tivoli Gardens, the park that inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland.

We didn’t make it to Tivoli, but loved walking through two side-by-side garden refuges in the city center. King’s Garden is essentially the front yard to Rosenborg Slot (Rosenborg Castle), the 1606 fortress built by King Christian IV of Denmark. The park is meant for strolling, but it has several elements of interest to gardeners, especially the large formal garden, anchored at one end by the statue of the Dowager Queen Caroline Amalie, who was carrying a bouquet the day we visited.  For someone whose home garden is casual to the extreme, the boxwood hedges, perfectly aligned in a diamond pattern, with lavender and roses inside them, was impressive indeed. Sometimes order is relaxing.

The views are magnificent in the Copenhagen Botanical Garden.
The views are magnificent in the Copenhagen Botanical Garden.

Just across the street from King’s Garden  lies the Copenhagen Botanical Garden. This garden is part of the University of Copenhagen and functions as a research garden as well as a display garden. It also had a cute garden shop, which sold plants. (Unfortunately, you can’t bring those home on a plane!) Inside the garden gates are three museums and an enormous conservatory for tropical plants. The grounds are expansive and include a large rock garden, a pond, a variety of test and display gardens. The paths took you through sunny areas and deep shade and a wide range of soil types. The rock garden was especially impressive and I recognized many of the plants there as ones that would grow in our climate as well.

Below is a gallery of photos from the two gardens. Do you visit gardens when you travel?





Dried Bean Philosophy

What follows: A rambling discourse written over several days about dried beans, home gardens, and the creative impulse. I was honored when this essay received a Silver Award for electronic writing from GWA: The Association for Garden Communicators.

purple beans in shell
Cherokee Trail of Tears beans

The Cherokee Trail of Tears beans I planted this summer tasted great green, but also can be used as a dried bean. I’ve never grown dried beans before so I left a few pods on the vines late this summer to get a harvest of dried beans. These are exceptionally handsome beans. I loved the bright purple of the beans in their pods before they dried out, and the shiny black pearl look of the beans after the pod has dried.

My harvest was small — only about 4 cups of dried beans once I’d taken the pods off, but they will make a delicious black bean soup some cold winter day. As I was cracking open the pods and collecting the beans a couple of weeks ago — one of those repetitive, contemplative tasks we don’t get enough of anymore — I couldn’t help thinking how important a harvest like this would have been 100 or more years ago. Dried beans were an accessible, cheap form of protein then — the kind of food people depended on in difficult times. To grow enough beans for a family, how many rows would I need — and how many hours would it take to shell and clean and store all of those beans?

There are many books out now about growing your own food, both of the how-to and we-did-it variety. And, I love both kinds, though I know that I’m unlikely to ever adopt anything remotely close to a “back to the land” lifestyle. So, what is the lure of the idea of growing your own?

Some of it may stem from the natural anxiety people feel about the world today. It seems a scarier place than it has been in the past, and that’s understandable, what with superbugs, global warming, food contamination, wars, terrorism, and the endless stream of gore and violence against women and children that passes for entertainment in our culture. Being self-sufficient — or at least reading about it — may give us a sense of protection against those anxieties; something along the lines of, “If it all falls apart, I can grow my own food.”

But I also think the desire to be self-sufficient and capable, through gardening, is a desire for a more creative, hands-on, day-to-day life than many of us have. Recently, I re-read a book of essays by the late Paul Gruchow called Grass Roots: The Universe of Home (Milkweed, 1995).

One of the extraordinary privileges of my youth was that I worked for a few months at the Worthington Daily Globe in southwestern Minnesota, where the late Paul Gruchow was then managing editor. Though the Globe covered the same kinds of mundane and exciting issues other small papers did, Paul’s tough editorial eye and gentle prodding ensured we wrote with as much grace and empathy as each of us young, green writers could muster. Working at the Globe was like attending an MFA program in writing, and I got paid $200 a week besides.

In Grass Roots, Paul has an essay that is both about preserving tomatoes and about his mother, a rural housewife. Here’s the paragraph that got me thinking:

Until I sat thinking about her in my own kitchen that Saturday, I would have said that my mother was a plain country woman with few ambitions, but I realize now how wrong that perception was. When she was not canning, she baked her wonderful bread, or wove rugs from scraps of discarded clothing, or made crazywork quilts, or brewed wines….or sewed elaborate wedding and christening gowns and prom formals on consignment, or made clothes that we ourselves wore. Scarcely a day of her life passed in which she did not create something intended to be beautiful or delectable as well as practical.

I don’t want to romanticize what was a very hard existence, but the ability to create something people need that is also lovely or tasty or amusing or inspiring — this is a source of satisfaction I think most people want and need. Happily, it is a satisfaction available in things as simple as shelling dried beans or planting a few tomatoes.

Impulse Gardening

I don’t know what came over me, really I don’t. Saturday night, I had no major gardening plans for Sunday, except maybe to walk around picking weeds. Then Sunday around noon I started to think about one of the back flower beds–how lousy the old black-eyed Susans looked and how I really should do something to about that poor little peony that I stuck between two beds. An item on the web noted that dogwoods and azaleas do well together, and that got me mulling over the azaleas in the front and how they have never performed the way they should and how the single weigela I planted there looked fabulous.

Before I knew it, I was at Knecht’s buying weigelas and veronica, and a couple stray pots of milkweed just for fun.  Then I was in the back, first just planning to remove the black-eyed Susans and replace them with the azaleas and planting the new weigelas up front. Then suddenly, hoses were being moved into a shape that expanded the bed by more than a third, and I discovered the grass in the back was remarkably easy to peel off and, heck, I could dig the whole thing up in no time flat. Before I knew it, turf was flying, and daisies and daylilies were getting moved and divided, and another peony that I had been holding in a pot while figuring out where to plant it suddenly had a home, and I was on my way to Menards for cheap mulch.

It was 7:30 at night before I came back in the house, dirty, tired and sore. I’m not sure what my impulse garden will look like next year, though I’m hopeful it will be bright with bursts of color all summer long. But as my husband said while surveying the scene, “Good. Less to mow.”

September Slump?

“Why is it so much easier to weed in June compared to September?” asked my friend Julie, who gardens in St. Paul. I hadn’t thought about it, but I also haven’t weeded that much lately. And, now that you mention it, the raspberries I picked yesterday were going soft because I had not been out there as often as I should be to pick. And it’s true that while my flower beds do look pretty good this week that has more to do with recent rains than gardening effort. And, last night when given the option of gardening or taking a bike ride, I hit the road. Carol of May Dreams Garden in Indiana describes the September Slump as “someone oughta” syndrome, as in someone oughta do some work out here.

Anyone else suffering from the September Slump?

The Grief of Peonies

peonies flopping
A hard rain and the peonies collapse.

During my recent vacation, I read Helen Humphreys’ novel, The Lost Garden. It’s a story about the Women’s Land Army in Britain during World War II. “Land girls,” as they were called, were sent to the countryside to raise food, particularly potatoes, for hungry Britons during the war. Humphreys has a lyrical style and the novel is a beautifully written story of love and loss.

I was reminded of the passage below by the many collapsed peonies in Minnesota gardens this week.

The blooms are white and pale pink, grow upright for now, giant buttons of brilliance festooning green leafy tunics. But soon their heads will become too heavy for the thin, reed-like stalks on which they rise with such hope, and the peonies crash to the ground in a wave of grief. They are too much for themselves and soon they know it… There is something almost heroic in their reckless collapse. And there is nothing sadder than a crowd of stricken peonies, their heads full of rain.