ICELAND Landscape Inspirations from 64 degrees North

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.

Tune in

Tune in.

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:

Pathway. Lava is a prominent and 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.

Pathway.

Mossy larva & icicles 2

It reminds me of something:

No, this isn’t in  Iceland! It’s a moss fountain I once saw in Provence

Moss fountain

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

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:

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.

Birch trees and sileage bales

Willow stems colour the rim of the frozen pool.      Purple stems of  shrubs on mountain behind.

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?

The Icelandic horse seems to issue from the landscape Horses ..made of lava and willow stems?

Salix lanata: Willow with soft golden buds

Salix lanata: Willow with soft golden buds

The rough with the smooth: The enduring pleasure of cobbles

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

Grass circles (with stray dog paws): wind blown grass forever circulating on the sand

 2

Grass circles

untitled 14

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

A pleasing gateway installation

Gateway church and posts

Hellner Church

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 . 

Lava roundabout

Lava roundabout

Hot choc mini -landscape: sadly, non-sustainable

Hot choc mini -landscape: sadly, non-sustainable

Icelandic hot chocolate really is the best!

I digress…

Small rust garden

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

Green-ice-wall

In Rekjavik: a frozen green wall. Wonder what it will look like next summer.

Shrub in a Reykavik park

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:

Grindavik garden

Grindavik garden

curved benches

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:

untitled 61

Landscaping at Nesjavellir near Hotel Ion

RAGNA RÓBERTSDÓTTIR

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

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About Kathy Taylor

I design gardens of all sizes, from small town courtyards to large country estates. I am happy to be involved in simple planting plans through to complete redesigns. Colour, texture and form are essential in my designs, which blend contemporary and traditional elements. I believe that the smaller details make a garden what it is. The garden is now regarded as an outside room to be enjoyed as an extension of your house.
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3 Responses to ICELAND Landscape Inspirations from 64 degrees North

  1. teresa farnham says:

    Beautiful photos Kathy. Would you like to re-open for the NGS next year. I tried restricting to home cooked lunch last year because the garden is so small and it was very successful. We still managed to raise £400 towards the £130,000 London Gardens total so I am repeating the lunches this year. regards Teresa Farnham

  2. Julia Goodlife says:

    Enjoyed looking through these! The horses made me laugh. Both photos with gates in are great and that lagoon looks amazing. Very nice 🙂 x

  3. Thank you for sharing these. The colours are striking. I like the idea of black as a colour for the garden. It reminds me of fisherman huts. Though a red shed would be fun. All I need is space for a few Icelandic horses to graze…

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