Iceland may not seem the most obvious place to take inspiration for garden design, especially in winter, but inspirations for artists and designers come from diverse &, sometimes unlikely, places.
Although Iceland is warmed by the Gulf Stream, it is still at a latitude of 64.8 o N, and with the wind chill it can be very cold (when I was there in late February on some days it was down to approx – 6 o C which was -20 o C with the bitter wind chill factor). The cold winter temperatures and often cool summer, strong winds and thin soils do make cultivating plants & gardening there challenging. However, as Cleve West recently pointed out (in ‘into Gardens’, Winter 2013) when he journeyed there in September last year, perhaps with such a stunning and ever erupting landscape, garden design becomes irrelevant. Here I am not aiming to show that I know whether this is true or not, as I think garden design always has a place, nor to set myself up as an authority on Icelandic plants, design or anything more than a passing tourist with an artist’s eye. I offer you some strange and wonderful and quirky sights.
Like a friendly radio tuner offering warmth in the encroaching dark, this glowing slab is one of the glass houses where salads are grown. Most vegetables have to be imported.
Lava is a prominent & extensive landscape feature, with moss thick like snow gracefully cushioning the jagged surfaces. Moss acts like a sponge holding water that drips and freezes hence the icicles:
It reminds me of something:
No, this isn’t in Iceland! It’s a moss fountain I once saw in Provence. Inspirations can travel far.
The following images were taken on Snaefellsnes peninsula. A stunning and desolate place in winter.
Ytri-Raudamelur church on raised lava wall platform with birch trees
The ‘garden’ of this church is on a raised volcanic stone wall. Maybe to increase or create soil depth or to give the church prominence. There is no shelter, certainly.
The landscape is largely treeless (cut down many years ago by humans) although attempts to replant are now being made. Treeless landscapes are often hard to scale. These birches, which are generally more stunted than English ones, are an unusual and welcome sight.
Spot the white hay (sileage) bales in the distance:
Birch trees and sileage bales
Willow stems colour the rim of the frozen pool. Purple stems of shrubs on mountain behind.
The Icelandic horse seems to issue from the landscape Horses ..made of lava and willow stems?
Salix lanata: Willow with soft golden buds
The rough with the smooth: The enduring pleasure of cobbles
The wind blows whipping the dune grasses in endless circles and etching the sand:
Grass circles (with stray dog paws): wind blown grass forever circulating on the sand
Red lava, green moss
Never think of the Icelandic landscape as colourless.
Large stone triangles, a roll of barbed wire and angled posts disappearing into an ochre landscape. Rhythm and repetition personified:
A pleasing gateway installation
Hellnar Church (above). A lonely little church right on the clifftop. I love this simple but pointless gateway with the massive gatepost and wayward barbed wire.
Lava roundabout (below) : simple but effective and very low maintenance! Black is an under-used colour in garden design. This would be amazing with planting of orange flowers eg. Geum Prinses Juliana, or Eschscholzia .
Hot choc mini -landscape: sadly, non-sustainable
Icelandic hot chocolate really is the best!
Small rust garden
Landscaping on a mountain top, near Nesjavellir, courtesy of the geothermal energy company.
Nice use of Corten steel, sunburst design logo and clever use of real grass laid directly on lava chippings. Hmm. Could be up for an award?
(Below) A blue lagoon sandwich or is that the sky? Water features often serve to reflect the sky but in this case the water really is that colour due to the minerals in the power plant outflow and blue green algae. Lovely and warm for bathing in.
Blue lagoon sandwich
In Rekjavik: a frozen green wall. Wonder what it will look like next summer.
Shrub in a Reykavik park
Has this parkland shrub been coiffured or is it natural?!
And here, finally, is a genuine Icelandic garden, complete with whale bones and home for elves:
Curved benches in Reykavik
Reykjavik : A frozen lake, a flat battery, and some serpentine seats for.. when summer comes.
And here are another two vehicles forming a sculptural event in the landscape, or rather, taking a break from landscaping activities until the soil thaws:
Landscaping at Nesjavellir near Hotel Ion
RAGNA RÓBERTSDÓTTIR: Larva Carpet installation view, Reykjavik Art Museum – Kjarvalsstadir, Iceland, 2004
And lastly this is the work of Icelandic artist Ragna RÓBERTSDÓTTIR responding to the landscape. Check out her recent work at the i8 gallery in Reykavik http://www.i8.is