Helsinki is the capital of Finland and was the base for our 4 day visit to Finland - the first time the Society has set foot in this country. Helsinki is a busy city, bustling with traffic and tourists, largely due to the Baltic cruise ships which dock on a regular basis throughout the season.
One could easily have spent our time discovering Helsinki. It has its fair share of important and imposing buildings, such as the Lutheran Helsinki Cathedral (Tuomiokirkko) at the top of the flight of steps in Senate Square. It also has some beautiful and very well-preserved Art Nouveau architecture. We found this doorway less than five minutes walk from Eurohostel, where many of us were staying.
But Helsinki is not just an "architectural museum", it is a busy modern city. Nordic design is world famous and Helsinki has its fair share of shops and boutiques offering clothes, jewellery and household articles, all stylishly designed and beautifully manufactured. One of the local specialities is Spectrolite, a stone found only in the south east of Finland and often set in a silver mount. A dark colour, it appears to glow with iridescent greens and blues when caught by the light.
Finland owes much of its cuisine to it's closeness to the sea and its fishing industry, and this is very evident in the food halls, cafes and the stalls in Market Square, on the quayside. This daily market offered fruit and vegetables, fish (sold from the back of this boat) and meat, clothes, hand crafted Finnish goods and food stalls where, slightly surprisingly for Helsinki, one could get very tasty and quite reasonably priced food. We couldn't pass by the bright orange Cloudberries, a local delicacy, though having tried them, I would personally describe them as an "acquired taste". However, if you like fish, you should definitely not miss the food stalls in the Old Market Hall, south of the quayside Market Square. Here you will find all sorts of delicacies, including Finnish sandwiches with cured white fish as well as gravalax. But enough of this, it's on with the event!
Due to the number of attendees and size of some of the private gardens we were to visit, we split into two groups and alternated between many of the gardens. My first garden was that of Airi Vaaranto. Set against a background of Finnish conifer woodland, it was immediately apparent that here was someone who loves plants - all sorts - and knew a lot about them. Yes, there were lots of clematis, but there were many others as well. The purpose of all of this, one could see, was to use whatever plants were needed to create the final effect.
There were two aspects of this garden that really impressed me. The first was structure and diversity within the garden. Beds of tall plants, beds of low growing plants, plants growing up and over lovely natural structures, plants growing through and using other plants for structure and height. And the second aspect was the use of colour and colour combinations.
A good example of both these features were these three clematis, C. × durandii, C. PETIT FAUCON 'Evisix'(N) and C. 'Rooguchi', growing together though low growing shrubs. The shades of blue really complemented each other, and the way they all scrambled through the low growing shrubs, with flowers suddenly appearing all over the place, was very eye-catching.
Our thanks to Airi Vaaranto (see right, in the centre) for allowing us to disrupt the peace and calm of her Finnish countryside.
Our second garden of the morning was that of Mrs Airamo.
In a totally different setting, this garden creates a particular challenge since it sits on a hill top and steep slope, some 20 meters above the level of the road. Everything required, plants, pots, stones, compost, hard landscaping, has to be carried up the steps to where it is required. Nevertheless, over the more than thirty years that she has lived here, she has created a little paradise of different plants.
One redeeming feature of the garden is that its situation creates a microclimate that allows many exotic plants to thrive. In spite of the obvious difficulty cultivating this garden, it contains a wonderful collection of different plants, including but certainly not exclusively clematis. And well it might, given the length of time Mrs Airamo has been collecting them.
A particularly pleasant place to sit and contemplate the surroundings was on the veranda of this sauna, previously the garden summer house, now converted to provide this Finnish necessity of life.
We also spotted this rather unusual semi-double form of C. 'Red Beetroot Beauty' (bred by Magnus Johnson and previously known as C. 'Betina'). Quite why it should have done this was unknown. Various theories were proffered, possibly the most plausible being that it was the effect of the climatic conditions at a particular time during the flower formation, but no one really knows. However the result was most attractive.
Two gardens done and it's barely lunch time. So it was onwards to the garden of Ritva and Erkki Koskinen, for lunch and the afternoon. Bordering the Finnish conifer forest, this is a large garden with many different areas, allowing some quite different planting.
Although it was lunchtime, as soon as we arrived, people disappeared into every corner of the garden, attracted by all sorts of treasures that could be glimpsed between the trees and shrubs. But they gradually drifted back to the summer house where home made soup was being served. Delicious, and there was sufficient for seconds!
The Koskinens have been retired for ten years and have probably spent most of their retirement working in their garden, to judge by the results. It is a treasure-trove of plants, beautifully blended into the natural Finnish trees and plants that also grow here. Their love of clematis is very apparent, judging by the number of different cultivars they have, but they have been skillfully combined them with the other plants they grow.
It was a beautiful afternoon for garden viewing (perhaps not quite so good for the photographers amongst us, the afternoon sun in such clear air was very strong and this usually results in rather contrasty results, but you can't please everyone, all the time!). And it was a garden with so much to see. According to the event notes, they have 112 different roses, 96 clematis, 259 perennials, 127 trees and bushes and 122 wild flowers.
Ritva and Erkki were very welcoming hosts, and with a little help from their friends, ensured we were "fed and watered" both at lunchtime and throughout the afternoon. They were always on hand to answer questions about their planting and obviously very knowledgeable on all matters horticultural.
Time passed quickly and all too quickly we had to leave to return to Helsinki and our hotels. Our thanks to Ritva and Erkki for their hospitality and for sharing their beautiful garden with us.
So ended our first day of visits. I think the thing that really surprised me (and probably others as well) was the number of clematis that we'd seen in full flower, and the size and quantity of blooms. Although the Finnish winter can be very severe (certainly relative to winters here in Great Britain) with quite low light levels, when the short summer does eventually arrive, the extended daylight hours each day mean plants grow at unusually fast rates, and this seems to lead to the very impressive blooms that we'd seen.
Please follow these links to go forward to Day Two or Day Three, or go to Part 2 - Estonia, Day One, Day Two or Day Three
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