Monday, November 3, 2014
Looking Over Moss Covered Walls in Reykjavik
My recent three week trip to Iceland was a big change from visiting warm countries in recent years and the bleak but beautiful landscape of Iceland was very different too. Much of the island is rock covered in moss or heath with a few birch forest areas that grow low because of the cold winds. The Viking settlers who arrived in the 900s cut down much of the native birch forest for firewood while their sheep nibbled down the low growing ground covers. It is only in the last few decades that there has been a dedicated effort to grow new forests and stop soil erosion.
The weather is too cold for fruit trees but potatoes and rhubarb were introduced to sunny slopes behind houses over the last few centuries. In the mid 20th century the Icelanders also began harnessing the heat from the hot water springs to heat glass houses so that now they can grow a lot more vegetables and flowers on island. Still, like Hawaii, much of their food is imported apart from the local dairy products, meat and fish.
Iceland is a country that has changed remarkably since WW II gave them airports and opened up their world. A hundred years ago, most of the population still lived on farms and lived off the land and sea. Half of the population was still living in sod covered houses. Now, most of the population lives in the modern city of Reykjavik.
In Reykjavik I really enjoyed just wandering around the streets of the older parts of town looking at all the styles of houses with their lace curtains in the windows. Gardens were usually simply done with lawn, trees and shrubs. There were lots of red berries and rose hips to celebrate the end of summer and everywhere there was moss growing.
Actually, I think my favorite garden in all of Iceland was a simple one that I saw in the town of Hveragerdi. It was a very ordinary square house set in a landscape composed of three kinds of plants....a grass lawn, native birch trees and clumps of the native angelica. It was so very simple and bare that it gave a delightful natural feel to the garden as well as being very simple to maintain. It made me think how one could replicate a similar feeling in a tropical garden. I could see it being done with lawn, Ohia trees and ferns in upland Hawaii but I am not sure what I would use here in the sandy lowlands. Maybe Beach Heliotrope trees but what would go with them? Anyways here is a picture of my favorite yard there although it does not show the whole effect of the place well.
And just to finish off my post on Iceland: Here is a picture of the native Iceland Poppy that was growing next to the footpath just down the road. This is the native original that all the commercial garden varieties were developed from.