By Donna Dawson
Board the ferry in Stavanger at the pier festooned with flowers that has Flor og Fjaere on it– and in 20 minutes you pull up to an incredible scene that has WOW written all over it. From the moment you step off the boat and walk up the pathways lined with flowers until the time you leave, you will find yourself repeating that word many times over.
It all started in 1965 when Asmund and Else Marie Bryn bought this beautiful piece of undulating land on Sor-Hidle island as a summer retreat for the family. The retreat has grown over the years to a breathtaking show garden for everyone to enjoy. The Bryns’ son Olav and his wife Siri are now the keepers of this Garden of Eden and they are assured of its ongoing life by their son Endre.
Asmund planted thousands of trees here but not many could tolerate the climate; those that did are the bones of this garden and the reason why plants can be grown here in the first place. They have grown to form a barrier to the winds and shelter the plants below.
The family have discovered some awesome rockery here just under the soil and used it to further enhance the property with water features.
To fully appreciate this place from a gardener’s point of view you have to keep in mind that this is like having a garden in Alaska. The winds that can blow through the west coast of Norway are cold enough that most islands just have scrub and short bushes growing on them. That is part of the reason why seeing this garden does take your breath away. This piece of paradise has such a glorious microclimate and, with the further help of the water that surrounds it, miracles are possible. Standing here you understand why it was called Flor (flora) and Fjaere (breaking point or end point of land and ocean).
The other reason for being awestruck is the 40,000 to 50,000 annuals Olav and his crew of three plant each year – and grow themselves in their own greenhouses – with the colour combinations changing yearly.
You never see the whole garden at once…you discover it as you go: waterfalls, a totally natural stone table and chairs nestled against a rock garden, a couple of beach chairs facing an ocean that goes on forever, a little hidden area crowded with bright floral blooms, a small building with a most incredible turf roof. The daylilies, in full riotous colour, are screaming to be noticed as you walk by.
Over 30,000 people come between May and September to visit these gardens and enjoy a superb meal in a restaurant that overlooks one of the prettiest areas, where the tropical plants are grown. All food is prepared on site and as fresh as can be.
It is such a treat to sit outside with your cup of coffee enjoying the view of the water and seeing the small boats coming up to anchor here for a visit. It is truly a Garden of Eden. Although most of the people we saw on our visit that day were not “gardeners”. I could nonetheless imagine what they were saying as they stepped off that boat. Even an amateur knows when he, or she, has arrived in heaven.
Master gardener Donna Dawson owns the popular icangarden.com and gardeningtours.com websites, both a huge source of pleasure to gardeners and non-gardeners on this continent.