Get some European inspiration

August 1, 2012 

If you’ve been traveling this summer, be sure to take note of great garden ideas from around the world. We’ve just returned from visiting great gardens in Russia, Sweden, Denmark and other parts of the Baltic region.

The plant material and garden designs of northern Europe are easy to adapt to Western Washington as the cool summers and long days make gardening in the north a celebration of long days but short summers – just like at home.

Inspiration from Russia

Grand vistas and clipped yews

You may not have the expansive estate and army of gardeners that Peter the Great enjoyed but you can add a bit of Russian grandeur to your home landscape by choosing the same plant material as the tsars. Long, cold winters did not stop the royalty from turning St. Petersburg into one of the most magnificent cities of Europe.

Use yews as upright evergreens in your own garden and you won’t have to worry about deer, winds, drought or freezing winter temperatures. The English Yew (Taxus baccata) comes in many varieties, some with new foliage that is a golden yellow (look for the variety “Aurea”) and a column-shaped yew (“Fastigiata”) that both grow well here in Western Washington. Yews can tolerate full shade and wet winter soil. Create your own grand garden vista by framing a mountain, sea or woodland view. Just place a yew on either side of the scene – like columns framing a piece of great art.

Inspiration from Sweden

Linnaeus and the Twin Flower

Carl Linnaeus was Sweden’s native son and the genius that came up with the binomial system for naming plants and animals that we still use today. His home and garden is a beautiful example of a living museum with his favorite plant and namesake “Linnaea borealis” or the twin flower still blooming in early summer. Western Washington gardeners are lucky that this woodland ground cover plant is native to our region. The secret to getting the double-flowering, delicate blooms to spread under rhodies and vine maples is to mulch the top of the plants with leaf mold each autumn. Swedish gardeners also enjoy fuchsias, ferns and hydrangeas in their beautiful country gardens because these are the plants that do best when there is a lack of summer heat. Do try this at home.

Inspiration from Iceland

Dianthus and Daisies

What a wonderful surprise awaited us in Reykjavik, Iceland. The “white nights of summer” mean endless daylight and planters filled with fragrant but cold-hardy dianthus and snow white daisies. From the thermal pools of the blue lagoon to the modern vibe of the vibrant downtown, Iceland is the new hot spot of adventure-seekers. Friend me on Facebook is you want to see photos of Icelandic trees wearing knitted scarves and a church that looks like a rocket ship.

Inspiration from Denmark

Tivoli Gardens and It’s a Small World After All

If you’ve ever enjoyed Disneyland, you need to thank the Danish. Walt Disney was so inspired by Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens that he flew home from Denmark and designed his famous theme park with Tivoli as his guide. This amusement park includes beautiful flower and water gardens and at night, only old-fashioned, incandescent bulbs are still used today to avoid a neon glow. Tivoli has the look of a fairy tale kingdom – because after all it was Hans Christian Anderson who wrote his famous tales from Denmark – long before Disney turned them into movies.

Americans visiting Tivoli gardens will recognize the well-lit faade of an India-inspired temple – the backdrop for Walt Disney’s first ride It’s a Small World in a nod to Tivoli.

It’s a Small World should play in your head every time you travel – because gardens and traveling encourages us all to keep growing.

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