Norway’s public gardens
Beauty abounds from north to south
Although Norway has a short growing season, it is not short on its love of flora, whether in the abundance of the country’s well-tended home gardens that enchant all passersby or the many public botanic gardens scattered throughout the land. Each charmingly their own way, they will bring out the anthophile in you, drawing you in with their enchantment.
Tromsø Arctic-Alpine Botanical Garden
Norway boasts the world’s northernmost botanical garden, the Tromsø Arctic-Alpine Botanical Garden. Hearing that there is a public garden in Tromsø may have you scratching your head, but how wonderful! What grows in this climate requires you to experience the flora from a different perspective, one that has you gazing low to the ground. The institute describes the environs as “small plants among large stones.”
The space between the boulders serves as a nest, where small flora species can thrive, and it is not limited to preserving and sharing Norwegian foliage. Flora collections from other cold climes include, but are not limited to, South Africa, Lebanon, the Patagonian region of South America, the Himalayas, Chile, and Turkey. In fact, the garden is organized around 28 themed assemblages.
Here you will have a chance to see some of the most unique foliage in the world, such as the polarnyresoleie (Ranunculus wilanderi), which only exists sprawling in one other place: Cape Thordsen in Svalbard. The variety, distinctive colors, and voluptuous shapes of the flowers found in these remote places are simply astounding.
Take a break at Hansine Hansen’s Kafé, whose building dates from about 1850, and enjoy a cup of strong Norwegian coffee paired with a golden waffle. Raise your eyes and inhale the beauty of this place. This garden is on the Hansen’s farm site. You will wonder how the family was able to keep their noses to the grindstone with all the surrounding distractions nature flaunts.
The organization’s northern geography puts it in Sámi country, so you will also have a wonderful opportunity to explore this rich culture. The garden is part of the Arctic University Museum of Norway, the country’s oldest scientific institute established in 1872, which includes exhibitions on the Sámi, as well as MS Polstjerna, a seal ship, and the Polar Museum.
King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden gave a royal endorsement, describing the garden as “a fantastic achievement,” after he visited in 2013. Because of the short growing season, you can visit this garden from May through October, or the first snow.
Oslo Botanical Garden
Norway’s oldest Botanical Garden is in Tøyen, dating back to 1814. It was established by the University of Oslo, with its roots in the past. It includes two greenhouses, which feature exotic foliage: the Palm House, dating back to 1868, and the Victorian House from 1876.
The garden contains 7,500 varieties of plant species, including threatened species and specimens of Nordic climes for us to enjoy. The Aromatic Garden has raised beds for guests who use wheelchairs.
There are two unique sections I’ve never encountered in a botanical garden before, and both opened relatively recently, in 2014. One is the Viking Garden, where “you can learn about the plants, rocks, and animals that were important in daily life during the Viking Age,” while in the other, the Willow Garden, is a place where “children can play in structures made out of living willows.” Another garden worth noting was created for those with dementia, Great-granny’s Garden, a “living archive of old ornamentals from gardens in the eastern part of Norway.”
This lush treasure with its long history; breadth of collections, and innovation to ensure a multisensory experience for all, takes the garden experience far beyond being just a place of enjoyment to a place of preservation, education, and study.
If you’d like to linger longer in a verdant embrace and not have to vacate at dusk, you may wish to visit Ramme Gard, an organic farm with beautiful public gardens about a 40-minute drive from Oslo in Vestby. Its location set over the Oslo fjord inspires and delights.
Ramme Gaard has been growing organic produce since 1986. Besides the garden, it has an amphitheater, where contemporary music and Shakespeare are performed, as well as an art gallery, Ramme billedgalleri, which is really more of a museum. Its impressive collection includes works by Christian and Oda Krohg, Frits Thaulow, Theodor Kittelsen, Paul Fischer, Oscar Wergeland, and Edvard Munch.
Built on a country estate, many of the original buildings remain, with astounding architecture. The cafe and farm shop have an elaborate, three-tiered wooden domed steeple with a quaint turf roof. Luckily, this enchanting cultural treasure is in the hands of Peter Olsen, a well-heeled benefactor, so its preservation and enhancement seem a certainty.
You can stay overnight at the Havlyst Park, which offers a choice of two places to lay your head: Herberget, built in 1780s style, and Brenneriet, built in 1880s style. The rooms are like something out of a Carl Larsson interior, with Scandinavian-Victorian decor, light and bright, elegant, yet comfy.
One can also stay at Edvard Munch’s house, Nedre Ramme—if you are lucky enough to score a reservation. This is where Munch lived from 1910 on, remaining there until the end of his life. There is a restaurant in the hotel, where you can sample the bounty of your surroundings, featuring its organic food.
These are only three of Norway’s many public gardens. We shouldn’t be surprised that Norway would tend its gardens so exquisitely. After all, it considers friluftsliv essential to its well-being. Its beloved artist Nikolai Astrup was also a farmer and botanist, and its famous playwright Henrik Ibsen also wrote a poem about carrots. I plan to explore them someday and implore you do to the same.
This article originally appeared in the May 27, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.