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Heidi Palmgren Puts Her Money Where Her Mouth Is

Green plants, decorative grass and some eye-catching highlights. Heidi Palmgren lives by her own principles of gardening: structuring, grouping, minimizing!

Self-built wheelbarrow in happy colors.

Self-built wheelbarrow in happy colors.

A door leads into Löddeköpinge Nursery, which Heidi started almost forty years ago.

A door leads into Löddeköpinge Nursery, which Heidi started almost forty years ago.

It is the last Sunday of May, and Mother's Day. At Heidi's, the Chinese wisteria is in full bloom. The pale purple bunches practically burst over the garden wall. She lives next door to the nursery she started on a windy field between Lund and Landskrona almost forty years ago. Today, Löddeköpinge Nursery is a protected oasis with tall trees, with her sons Jonte and Daniel having taken over. They run it their own way - but many of Heidi's favorites are still in the assortment and her words of wisdom are often quoted. She herself designs gardens on a full-time basis and tries to avoid nursery business as much as possible.

“What I value most in a garden is the structure. Winter value is most important”

It is from the nursery that the photographer sees the Chinese wisteria rise up —and that leads us further— into Heidi Palmgren's private sphere. We immediately recognize the blue gates and the trimmed greenery from the cover of “Space of the Garden”, the book that Heidi wrote with Christel Kvant around the turn of the millennium.

Their book is now a modern classic and talks about how to create structure in the garden. Throughout the book, they discuss various issues: patina or clean-scrubbed, wall or hedge, linden or chestnut. Especially when it comes to the summer flowers things get heated. Summer flowers in the beddings? Out of the question! Such are the thoughts of the structured minimalist Heidi Palmgren.

- We learned from each other, she says, summarizing the discussion which became a rather fun, educational one.

And Heidi really lives as she preaches. Her garden is more like a graveled courtyard - but a green and structured one with walls, floors and ceilings as basic building blocks.

- It's only when the garden wanes that the structure reveals itself, she explains, and goes inside to get something to drink and her cigarettes, ready to show and tell. Her farm is surrounded by green walls with climbing plants such as Ivy, Clematis and Hydrangea. But there are also smart inner walls of a more temporary nature.

“You don't always have to use hedges”, Heidi suggests, and shows how she separated the courtyard's dining area through some trimmed boxwoods in baskets and boxes. The dining area also has a roof and is shaded by a couple of gracious Southern Books (Nothafagus antarctica). Other small trees that screen the light are the Carmencita-rowan tree and an amber tree with fine autumn colors. The floor consists of coarse seastone and aggregates of various hues. A good material, Heidi thinks, because it is both easy to maintain and to change. Just dig a hole for new plants when you feel like it.

She has always preferred green plants to flowering ones and her own garden is no exception. Along the gable, various kinds of sages grow, both variegated, lime green and dew blue. Ferns, bamboo, and hedges are other examples of green. The hens are both highly vivid and curious, of the Orpington variety.

In the center she has grouped pots and boxes of spice plants and bushels, which the hens happily pick at before they are chased away. In addition to the lavish Wisterias, the flowers are so downplayed that they are almost difficult to detect, such as Gaura and Kotula.

And then she tells how she scratches off the red coat on secateur handles. How she puts her cigarettes in a nice tin box - because it disturbs her aesthetic sensibilities. She was even more extreme when Jonte, Daniel and their brother Robert were small. 

“Ugly milk packages were not allowed on the dining table and the ketchup bottle was covered in foil”

The sons have been happy to poke at their aesthetic mother over the years. One year they gave her a horrendous garden gnome as a Mother's Day gift. Another time, the boys hung up plastic throughout the garden - just to tease. Heidi laughs heartily at the memory and is joined by Jonte who has stopped by during a break from the nursery.

She has made herself known as a rather strict and laborious garden personality, characterized by her German upbringing and growing up in the shadow of the Second World War. The old men in the nursery thought she seemed manly, lifting heavy bags herself, but Heidi has never been afraid to stand out. She does, however, have another side to her that loves the garden's more subtle essence, the changes of light and the feeling of walking barefoot.

She was one of the first women in the gardening industry to get a spot in TV-shows. Heidi was on shows such as “Sköna Söndag”, with the presenter Bertil Svensson talking about “the lady in Lödde” that cultivated grass.

- People wondered what I was going to do with those weeds, it wasn't that common at the time. I started with four square meters of the variety Miscanthus Nishidake and gradually expanded.

Decorative grass is still an important feature of the gardens she designs. At her own place she has them mostly in pots. Ideally, there are various Molina varieties such as Heidebraut and Transparent or the striped Hakonechloa Aureola, although they belong more to the high summer, barely having had time to sprout in May. “The grasses are the ballet of the garden beddings,” says Heidi, quoting Karl Foerster, the German gardener whom she admires.

“Ulla Molin wondered if Heidi could create a garden grove for her after her death”

Another gardener who has had a decisive influence on Heidi Palmgren is Ulla Molin, the garden designer and influential editor of the autonomous-living magazine “Hem i Sverige” in the years 1944-66. Despite an age difference of over thirty years, they became close friends.

- Ulla was my role model, my friend, my teacher. Ulla looked like a little cotton pad, but she was an iron woman who always stuck to her ideals, even when it cost her. She always cheered me up, though we never worked together.

Somewhere during all their talking, Ulla Molin wondered if Heidi could create a garden grove for her after her death – and so it was, though it was not the original intention. For the Cultural Capital of the year exhibition in Stockholm -98, Heidi was asked to contribute a muse garden for the large exhibition at Rosendal. She chose to pay tribute to her friend and called it “Hommage à Ulla Molin” with all the plants and details that were typical of her: a plum grove with forget-me-nots and as a contrast, a more tempered part with trimmed greenery.

- We met when the sketches were finished but she didn't want to look at them, not wanting to influence them. She trusted me and I hoped she would come up to Stockholm and see my tribute but she passed away just a few months before it was built. I hope she's smiling down from heaven at what I did.

Inadvertently, her homage became the memorial Ulla Molin had envisioned - and it still exists, or at least the remains of it. After the success at Rosendal, Heidi bought the leftover materials and re-opened the tribute at Lödde Nursery, where it lives on behind a delimiting hedge. Here are the plants preserved: plum trees, various ground cover, sage and lamb's ear, the passage of French pine bark and Signe Persson-Melin's cement slabs “IVÅG”. Only the little gazebo, designed by Mats Theselius, is missing. The plants are Ulla Molin's, but interpreted in Heidi Palmgren's way. The relation is very clear. They share the same feeling for modest, simple plants, clear structure and the contrast between hard and soft.

For a moment, Heidi disappears indoors, but comes right back with a small, orange brocade bag. It looks like a fancy evening bag, but inside are Ulla Molin's bonsai tools. Heidi got to inherit them, along with some slides and a small Japanese fire pot that still adorns the courtyard.

- I still hear her wise words that have affected me so much, “never renounce your ideals”. And those words I have tried to live by.

The green plants dominate. Climbing hydrangea, Ivy and huge book hedges frame the courtyard.

The green plants dominate. Climbing hydrangea, Ivy and huge book hedges frame the courtyard.

Orpington hens.

Orpington hens.

Chickens in front of a wall.

Chickens in front of a wall.

Heidi with son Jonte Schlenz under the blue rain.

Heidi with son Jonte Schlenz under the blue rain.

ARTICLE CREATORS
Photographer
Garden
Garden and portrait photographer from Sweden.
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Writer
Cooking, Garden
Passion och nyfikenhet är två viktiga ord för mig. Jag har arbetat som journalist i drygt tjugo år, både inom press, radio och TV.
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