06 April 2008

The Master Gardener from Sweden

Peter Korn can’t get too much sleep during the gardening months. He puts in fifteen hour days on a regular basis at his garden in Eskilsby, Sweden, about 30 km east of Goteborg. But then, he has a LOT of garden to work in--and is increasing the plantings every year.

Peter has been on tour in North America under sponsorship by the North American Rock Garden Society (NARGS). Because the Nova Scotia Rock Garden club is an affiliate of NARGS, the club could get Peter’s visit to our fair province covered by NARGS sponsorship. A few days ago he spoke to the Atlantic Rhododendron & Horticultural Society in Halifax, where he was also a great hit.

For about 90 minutes this youthful, exhuberant gardening enthusiast showed us slides of his garden, which is only a few years old. His first garden, which he built over a few years at another house, no longer exists, bulldozed by the buyer of that house. But Peter is a philosophical type of gardener, who simply took all his plants (before they were bulldozed) and moved to the home of his new wife. On five acres (2 hectares) of what was “a green wall” of spruce forest, Peter has created a stunning vista of scree, desert, ‘cliffs’, and filled his property with thousands of plants, including many, many alpines from all over the world.

Peter propagates his own plants from seed and cuttings, (several thousand different SPECIES each year) and he’s certainly a patient gardener. He has had seeds that have taken years to germinate; I guess those of us who get impatient when something hasn’t germinated after a few weeks have a lot to learn about just relaxing and letting nature take her course.

His brother is a cyclist and botanist who travels all over the world on his bicycle, and collects seeds which he sends back to Peter. Stellan (I think that's his brother's name--his website is in Swedish, not a language I know any words in) travels with a GPS so when he collects seeds for Peter, he takes a reading so that Peter will know EXACTLY where the plant was growing.

I’ve never seen such a diverse collection of plants; many of the genera are familiar, but species I’d never heard of. The most intriguing thing we learned today is how Peter grows many of these plants in pure, coarse, sand. He piles heaps of coarse sand on top of grassy areas (not removing the sod) and then plants his alpines directly into this (shaking the soil from their pots off before he plants them). He then covers the sand with scree, or gravel, which helps to keep the sand in place. He waters once, and then, that’s it—the plants are on their own. There’s minimal weeding to do because the sand isn’t a desireable germinating medium for many non-alpine plants, and the alpines are provided that perfect drainage that they crave.

Some of his plants don’t live. Peter is philosophical about this; he’ll try again with some, or simply plant something else. That’s a good healthy philosophy to have!

As part of his presentation, Peter brought a small container of the sand he uses in his gardens. Running my fingers through it, I wondered if this is as close as I’ll ever get to Sweden. I hope not. Now that I’ve met Peter and seen his talk (these photos are from his website, with his permission), I need to add another garden to the gardens of the world I’d really LOVE to see.

It wasn’t Austin, to be sure. But it was an enjoyable, illuminating day. And I shan't tell you what followed me home from a department store I went into for cat food. Not another cat, to be sure. Something a little more stationary.

Photos, from top: Meconopsis rudis; Penstemon pulchellum; Calceolaria uniflora; Fritillaria pudica.


  1. his garden sounds fascinating, and i think if I moved there's alot of plants I'd have to take with me, pending buldozer or not!
    you need to pop into my blog to collect an 'award'

  2. It sounds like you had the best day being transported to Sweden. I just love alpine plants. It takes me a long time to walk (hike) through areas that have alpine plants. They are usually so small you have to take your time but so worth the effort because they are so beautiful. To have a cliff in ones own garden would be amazing. I would loved to have seen just his photos.

  3. Thanks for giving us a synopsis of your seminar. I am now motivated to get out and plan on this year's plantings for the rock garden. Oooh, I feel a blog post coming on now that the snow cover is gone and I can see the task at hand.

  4. Jodi, doesn't it do the winter- weary-soul wonders to be with out gardeners and talk about gardens? Did you find another orchid??!! I see the number of cat children has increased. This must mean rescue kitty is settleling in.

  5. Planting in sand and watering only once? That sounds very appealing!
    I can't imagine working to create a garden and then having it bulldozed; he has to be a very optimistic gardener.

  6. Jodi, this was a great post. I'm really interested in that sand type of planting. Now I do hope you aren't going to leave us hanging on the cliff with that last remark about your shopping trip?

  7. Very interesting, especially since I am taking apart my big garden this year. When I have more time, I will go back and look at more of his gardenblog.

  8. How interesting! I love that about the sand and the lack of weeds. I need to try more sand then, to see if some of this birdseed will stop germinating! I veered away to his website and will go back for more. Fascinating. Thank you for your remark on my blog. Made me more decisive about ranging "off-topic." Meant a lot to me. Love to hear feedback.

  9. It sounds like you had a wonderful day, Jodi! Such accomplishment for such a young man. :)

  10. Jodi .. just saw your message now .. long hard day .. pain issues as well .. don't worry about the e-mail thing .. I know you are stretched .. hope the handsome boy child is getting to know you guys better : )
    Emma .. rules the roost and such a naughty devil hanging on Sophie for all she is worth .. and Sophie just takes it all .. we are amazed ! : )

  11. Jodi, what a great talk that must have been... I think the little alpines are so cute--and since I have fairly well-drained soil, a good number of them do just fine here.

    Don't hold out on us re: the petstore find, though! Maybe a big pot of catgrass?

  12. Sorry you missed the spring fling but it sounds like your time was well spent. I love seeing slide shows and hearing the gardener was it all means. Waiting eagerly to hear about your surprise, too.

  13. Hi Jodi : It was a great afternoon, I found it very interesting when he was talking about germinating his seeds and the fact that also starts them in sand and just waters them all with a hose and his bulb house where all his bulbs are planted in the sand. How do you think ordinary NS perennials would grow planted in sand ? I'm thinking that I will try to build a small rock crevice garden , I love working with stone but don't want to take on a major construction. - Rosie -

  14. My father is taking me to Finland next year to visit family I've never had the chance to meet before. Sweden is just next door...hmm...I wonder if I can twist his arm...

  15. Great post and subject as well. New gardener and interesting garden to see. When I red about this thousands of new plants, cuttings etc. every year - I know now, that I do almost nothing...
    thank you for introducing this new gardener to us :)

  16. I can understand your joy at spring being there at last - after all you've had to wait so much longer than we have. We've had snow here over the weekend and today just to keep us on our toes. Nothing like Canadian standards though.

    Dexter - I can see where he's coming from on that one...

  17. Hi Jodi glad to here that you heard of Peter Korn isn't he terrific and of course his fantastic garden!

  18. It all sounds fascinating, Jodi. We planted in very sandy soil while living in Australia. I didn't try any alpines, but managed to grow lovely flowers. Most Veggies, on the other hand, were difficult.
    Great photos of some very interesting plants.

  19. Hi Jodi,
    Very interesting post. Peter Korn sounds like a wonderful gardener. I've not heard of NARGS before. I guess there's a specialty group for every type of plant!

  20. I always thought the Calceolaria was a unique and exotic looking flower one to rival orchids in color and shape. The one in the photo 'Walter Shrimpton' is especially nice but C. arachnoidea with silvery foliage and magenta blooms on tall stems looks quite nice too. Trouble is where do you buy the plants?

  21. Hi Jodi,Its great when we can find someone to inspire us.I will have a look at his website too soon.I admire his patience (I run out of it after a few weeks if a seed has not germinated).I love the photo of the Ladyslipper.They are gorgeous plants and I hope to have one or two soon from Hils.She bought a pack of eight!


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