My name is Maria. Many of my earliest memories are to do with nature and plants. I remember travelling along a road through a forest in the middle of winter in Sweden and every time the moon glimpsed through the trees I would shout out in wonder “Look at the moon”. This annoyed my big brother after a while and then it was, of course, even more fun to spot the moon and shout out again and again. I was two or possibly three at the time. When I was four my family moved to an old cottage that had been in the family for generations, on the remote Swedish Island of Fårö and my bond with nature grew stronger by the day.
Author aged five.
Old cottage on Fårö.
The Swedish island of Fårö.
I was mesmerized by the wildflowers and could spend what seemed like hours looking at them and inventing stories about all sorts of natural creatures that might live amongst them. I learned the names of them all, and treasured my time amongst the juniper bushes, wildflowers and pine trees. Trees and shrubs twisted by the wind and gnarled from lack of nutrients growing on the thin soil above the limestone rock. I made a playhouse in my favourite juniper bush and planted a flowerbed outside, full of native wildflowers.
The cottage, built in 1914, was very primitive and for the first couple of years we did not have a washing machine or an indoor toilet. Our washing was transported by car and ferry to my Grandmother’s house where I would enter the door, run into the living room and ask my grandmother to bring out the “Cata-flower-logue” as I used to call it. It was a manual on indoor flowers and their care from Bakker and for the next hour or so; my five year old self would sit in a comfy armchair, dreaming about all the possible flowers I could grow. Then it would be time for a bath in Grandmother’s bathtub before travelling back home on the ferry to hang the washing up outside the cottage.
The “Cata-flower-logue” forty years on.
As I grew older I loved going for walks in the surrounding pine forests and moors, visiting ancient long boat stone formations and possibly spot a golden eagle, circling high above the treetops in solitary majesty.
Back home I would build miniature gardens indoors on a big tray and plant them up with cress, grass seeds, tops of carrots and beetroot and anything else that would sprout. I would make paths out of sand and gravel, add sticks for fences and dream of the day I would have my own garden. Outside the cottage I loved to spot butterflies in our herb garden.
We used to grow a lot of vegetables and berries in the garden and it was a special feeling going out with a basket to collect some salad, herbs and carrots for dinner. I also loved my Grandmother’s garden. There were roses planted before the Second World War and lovingly tended and pruned each year. Trees full of apples and cherries, currant bushes, strawberries, potatoes and flowers. My love for snapdragons and sweet Williams were born in that garden. In the summer time the “Cata-flower-logue” would be abandoned and I would spend my time studying the plants in the garden or eating a few gooseberries over by the fence.
The natural world continued to fascinate me. I remember my class at school going on a nature walk with our biology teacher, who was amazed that a fifteen year old girl, dressed all in black and with lots of makeup would know the name of every single tree species in the forest. For many years after that my love of nature stayed strong, as I went mushroom picking in the forest, fishing in the Baltic Sea and grew whatever plants my circumstances would allow. I lived mostly in rented accommodation and it was not always possible to grow as many plants that I would have liked.
I left Sweden in 2004 when I moved to Ireland. Even here I started out living in a rented house with a small garden, but I dreamt of the day I would be able to buy a small piece of land and planned for it by growing many things in pots, ready to be planted someday into the fertile, moist soil of my new country. One of my earliest growing endeavours was putting up a small metal framed, plastic covered greenhouse in the back garden of my rented accommodation. I spent a whole spring weekend together with my two small daughters, planting seeds in pots and dreaming of a summer full of vegetables and flowers. That Sunday night a fierce storm blew across the West of Ireland and the next morning, sadly, all that remained were a few twisted metal stakes in the ground where the green house had stood. I never saw it again, despite searching around the neighbourhood. After that I relied on containers of all sorts for my flowers and culinary delights.
Carrots grown in a bucket by my daughter. 2008
It was not until late 2012 my Partner Paul, I and our combined four children had the opportunity to buy a small cottage built in 1924 with a bit of land. Since then I have to say my life has been transformed. We moved in, in January 2013 and started planting trees that same spring. As the trees took root in the soil, I felt a closer bond with nature than ever before. One of the reasons I wanted to move to Ireland was the climate, with much higher temperatures than Sweden in winter, and a lot of rain, benefiting lush green growth. I now live in a place where all my horticultural dreams can come true, I can work with nature and not against her, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Maybe the love of trees and other plants comes from my genes. On my Father’s side I come from a line of gardeners, who planted many of the trees still growing in the beautiful botanical gardens, DBW, in Visby, the town where I was born. My ancestors had a plant nursery next to the botanical garden, and I always feel a special connection with the many beautiful specimens of trees found growing in and around this area. On my Mother’s side I had my Grandmother who spent most of every day she was not working, in her treasured garden. I have both my parents to thank for moving to the country side when I was four, so that I could grow up amongst all the beautiful trees and plants. I have never felt truly at home with too much concrete around me.
Botanical gardens in Visby.
My Mother and my Daughters in the Swedish forest. 2008.
This blog is my way of sharing my love for nature with the wider community. The posts are almost always written from a “we” perspective as our garden and cottage is very much a joint endeavour between Paul and myself, with some help from our four teenagers. It is also an exercise for writing in English, as I wish to have a greater grasp of my second language. It forces me to think about grammar and spelling on a regular basis. I hope you enjoy it.
First ever meeting with a hedgehog. Aged three.
First ever meeting with an Ancient Yew tree. Aged forty-four.
Our cottage in the West of Ireland.