Well hidden in a backlot in Lund, we find the garden of Helmtrud Nyström. On second thought, it is very similar to her paintings. Not that they depict each other. One cannot even say that her art is inspired by anything in particular. Yet the depth and lines are easily recognized. An exciting double perspective!
Helmtrud Nyström originally planned a career as a garden architect in Germany - but became a visual artist in Sweden. Behind her street house in Lund she has created a garden that seems to unite her double identities. And the inspirational bridge to her paintings does not feel very long.
Already on the pavement outside one suspects that a green-thumbed person lives here. The bright 19th-century façade of brick is completely covered in climbing hydrangea, framing windows and doors. And once on the back of the kitchen stairs, one looks out over the courtyard, almost overwhelmed by the greenery.
The vegetation continues up walls, along facades and cobblestone, and creates its own division of space in the one-hundred square meter yard. Different shades of green, and here and there reflections from water. The ground covered with gray limestone. It takes a while, but soon enough you see that the site is skillfully constructed from a number of bearing surfaces and materials.
“I wanted to create a small formal garden with Renaissance blocks of boxwood, but the plants messed it up”
- The most important thing is that the plants thrive. And I am also happy with the surprises that they contribute with, says Helmtrud, almost a little apologetic. Just as in art, you sometimes get a hint and a sprinkle of inspiration for free, something useful. Then, you have to put in the effort to be flexible.
“The garden’s green body consists of some square-shaped cut boxwoods, various kinds of plantain lilies, parasol leaves and ferns”
You also have the large pots with hydrangea, agapanthus, bugbanes and woodland sage. And then the farm's only tree - a weeping pear. In between, the other plants spread out, effectively bunched together by the surrounding facades and palings, an old storehouse and the red firewall in the west.
From all different directions the dormers of the surrounding houses stare down at you, probably populated by Lund's researchers and students. The university is just a stone's throw away. This is a garden of contrasts where hard surfaces and bushy plants complement each other.
- My favorites are the blue-green sags and the weeping pear. I like shades of gray and like to break up them up with flowers in pink and white.
But it's also true as Helmtrud says; things don't tend to go as planned. The wind and the birds carry all sorts of varieties. For example, the yellow Coridalis and a poppy similar to the Siberian one. Of a fallen tree, only a small hill, overgrown with ivy, remains.
The astilboides leaves that Helmtrud saw in front of her in a fancy metal urn did not thrive at all in the wet and warm climate. The autumn anemones, on the other hand, completely exploded with vitality when they got more light. And so it goes.
- A living garden is always devoloping, that’s just how it is, she notes.
Helmtrud Nyström was born in 1939 and grew up in Hannover, Germany. At 21, she came to Sweden with the aim of becoming a garden architect. She arrived having just interned at the historic Herrenhäuser Gärten. Now, she was on her way to the garden Bergianska, in Stockholm.
But then she met Mats, the man she is still married to, and stayed in Sweden instead, training herself as a visual artist. Her images are now found throughout Europe, including the British Museum in London and the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm, but also in the USA, South America and Asia. She has won many international awards and artistic accolades.
But she never lost her green thumb. In her inspired oil paintings, graphics and photo etchings, they are almost always present. With different techniques she designs different forest landscapes, organic plant forms and people in relation to surrounding nature.
In the preface to the book “Helmtrud Nyström. Paintings” from 2004, art critic Thomas Millroth describes her landscapes as “evasive and somewhat nebulous” with elements of distinct objects and figures. I myself am drawn to all the trees in her paintings. They are slender and young; coarse and weathered by age; forest groves, parks, birch woods, wooded islets, shrubs, fruit trees, dark conifers... Her interest is hard to miss. Millroth describes her painting eloquently:
- Colors flow and turn into fields, lines compress the stems, sometimes making them so frail that they seem to float. With black and white she creates clear accents of rattling twigs and dazzling lights. [...] Her colors and rhythmic nerve of obsessive repetition are completely intertwined with the painting’s narratives.
It is in this rhythm between light and darkness, space and lines that you recognize her garden in Lund. It's like she's painted with the plants! Changing plant types, leaf shapes and different shades of green give a great sense of nuance and variance. And just as in her paintings, she has a penchant for hilarious figures that populate both paintings and flower beds. Under the rose bush lives a lady with concrete hair and solid breasts. On the remains of a gingko tree, a life-size hare is resting.
Perhaps a mermaid is squeezed in among the carved limestone figures. And in the middle of the greenery, a bright green iguana looks up. The figures give the yard a special sense of humor and the beddings a slightly surreal tone.
“I like to collect arts and crafts to have in the garden”
- Among other things, I am very fond of a Sjöbo-naivist and his concrete figurines. They’ll make for a good balance between nature and culture, points in the greenery to rest your eye upon.
One’s gaze also stops at bird baths, shells, all sorts of travel souvenirs and grand urns among the plants. Like the magnificent brown-glazed giant urn; it rises like a monolith from blossoming lady’s mantles and sages.