A visit to a Norwegian garden manor farm

The past lovingly restored with a look toward the future

The beautiful gardens at Hovelsrud Storgård with their symmetrical patterns were laid out by Nils Hoel in the 1840s. The gardens have been restored as closely as possible to Hoel’s original plans.

If you are traveling to Norway to explore beautiful gardens and good food, you may want to plan a stop at Hovelsrud Gård on the island of Helgøya in Lake Mjøsa. The island is located in Ringaker Municipality in Innlandet County in eastern Norway. It is the largest freshwater island in all of Norway and home to 32 farms.

But out of all of them, the farm at Hovels­rud is, without a doubt, the most beautiful. It was awarded the national cultural landscape prize for 2012, and then in 2014, it received the Europa Nostra Award, the prestigious European Unioncultural conservation prize. With its mid 19th-century manor house and gardens, it is nothing less than a Norwegian national treasure.

The garden at Hovelsrud has been restored as closely as possible to its original splendor. In the 1840s, its planting was laid out by Nils Hoel, the second son  from a neighboring farm. The family was prominent, his father a member of the Storting, as was Nils  himself for a period of time. His uncle owned Hoel, another of the large farms on the mainland. All of these homes had sophisticated landscaping, which  helped shape his vision. Nils was educated in Christiania (today Oslo) and traveled to Denmark, where he also took inspiration from the grand houses and gardens of the day.

Hovelsrud Farm

Each summer at the Hovelsrud farm, you will be greeted by an array of colorful flowers.

Hoel’s plan for Hovelsrud was strictly symmetrical, with a strong main axis running through its center, which allows you to walk the precisely laid out paths between fruit trees and bushes, set against the stunning backdrop of Lake Mjøsa. The documentation he left behind for his plan was extensive, which made it possible to restore the garden to the original specifications. Most important is a garden drawing, most likely made in the 1880s, and the farm has its own history book, Hovelsrudboka, which outlines how everything once was in detail.

Not only a talented landscape architect, Hoel was a skilled farmer and gardener as well, which also drove his plans for the garden. Today, as in Hoel’s time, Hovels­rud is about what is cultivated there. When you visit, you will also find a large kitchen stocked with plants, herbs, berries, and fruits popular in the 1800s. There are even edible flowers, and everything is, of course, organically grown. Hovelsrud gård is still an active working farm.

Investment in the future

While Hovelsrud looks back on the past with Romantic nostalgia, today the farm is at the same time looking ahead. Its investment in ecology is an investment in the agriculture of the future, with the belief that agriculture in Norway should be turned toward more sustainable production. There is the belief that “we need to eat more local food, in season, and with better animal welfare.”

Hovelsrud gård believes in making clean food. As their website states, “We run a sustainable farm according to ecological principles, with the best possible animal welfare and a high ethical standard. Our animals and plants are treated with care, respect and with the environment in mind. It provides better quality. Our products are therefore valued by conscious consumers and the best restaurants in Norway.”

Happy chickens

With animal welfare high on the list of priorities at Hovelsrud, the proprietors carry the belief that animals who have had a good life taste better. The farm is famous for its Ranger Gold chickens, who are given plenty of space and fed with natural organic food. For all of this, Hovelsrud was the first chicken producer in Norway to be awarded Norway’s animal welfare label. The farm is well known for its gourmet recipes (available on their website in both Norwegian and English), and their chicken is available for purchase at selected stores throughout Norway. Frozen chicken is available to purchase directly at the farm during the garden’s opening hours. Juice and jams from the farm are also for sale.

Beautiful buildings

Even though Norway lay on the periphery of Europe when the main house at Hovels­rud was built, it followed the European ideals and currents of the 19th century, and it has been meticulously restored down to every last detail. Decor and wallpaper were uncovered and reconstructed by skilled craftspeople, using  traditional materials and techniques. A visit to the manor house is a journey back in time.

Hovelsrud Farm

A visit to the lovingly restored 19th-century manor house at Hovelsrud is a journey back in time.

During the summer, other houses on the farm are available to rent for those who want to fully experience Hovelsrud and Helg­øya. A small barn, an idyllic cottage, and an old farmhouse have been fully restored and adapted as overnight accommodations.

The summer barn is perfect for an overnight stay for a couple or a family with up to three children. Breakfast with local flavors is delivered to your door in the morning, and a simple outdoor kitchen with a simple barbecue is available for cooking. The beds are cozy and comfortable (you will stay warm, even if there is no heating at this property), and guests are provided with towels, soap, and toilet paper. But be prepared to use an outdoor water closet, as you experience true country living here.

Offering more luxury is Villa Leonore, a vacation home built for the wife of a tramway director, Leonore, in 1908. The setting is gorgeous, with a garden that leads down to a separate beach by Lake Mjøsa. There is a small kitchen, a bathroom, a porch, and a long table for long dinners on long summer evenings. With its own bathroom, two bedrooms, and a sleeping loft with two beds, it is a perfect family accommodation.

Husmannsplassen Havrebakken is a log house from 1864. With a beautiful view of Lake Mjøsa, it is located at the entrance to the forest, near  a network of paths that will take you all over the island. The house has a nice living room, a kitchen on the ground floor, a bathroom, and two bedrooms on the upper floor to sleep a total of six.

All three rental properties can be booked via Airbnb.com. Please note that dogs are not allowed at Hovelsrud, which is home to its own St. Bernard, who guards the farm.

Hovelsrud Farm

Marianne Olssøn lovingly works the garden at Hovelsrud Gård, located on the shores of Lake Mjøsa. All farming and gardening there is carried out to organic standards.

When to visit

Hovelsrud Gård is a summer destination and opens to the public on June 4. Groups are required to book appointments; email gardspost@hovelsrud.no.

To learn more, visit Hovelsrud’s website at hovelsrud.no, with information in both Norwegian and English.

All photos courtesy of VisitNorway / Tom Gustavsen / Hovelsrud Gård

This article originally appeared in the May 27, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

Avatar photo

Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.