This week my work took me to Stockholm to visit a potential supplier. I always look forward to visiting the Swedish capital since the public transport is efficient, the city is small and the air is so clean that it makes one’s nostrils tingle. What’s more, there’s an all-pervading air of quality which is common to all Scandinavian cities. The architecture, unsullied by the devastation of war, is pretty special too. As luck would have it, my hotel was situated directly opposite Humlegården, a large public park anchored by the imposing Swedish Royal Library. Between sunrise and the start of the working day I went to explore.
Humlegården was originally a royal garden, founded in 1626 by King Gustav II Adolf for the cultivation of hops (Humulus lupulus). Whilst today many of us enjoy the occasional beer, in the Middle Ages people could not get enough of it (in London it was deemed safer to drink than water, which was probably true). Beer consumption in Sweden was so high that according to King Gustav Vasa in 1530, one-ninth of the value of iron produced in Sweden was spent on importing hops in order to sate the nation’s incredible thirst.
Unfortunately the chosen site did not prove especially productive and so after ten years plans were hatched to redesign the garden in the French style. That plan never came to fruition, but fruit did come in the form of hundreds of apple, pear, cherry and plum trees. Once again there were problems, ones that all gardeners will relate to: Stockholm’s wildlife failed to acknowledge the garden’s royal status and pillaged the kingly produce at will. As a result the gardeners spent most of their time shooting birds and rodents rather than tending to their trees.
In the 1680s Queen Ulrika Eleonora began the slow transformation of Humlegården into an ornamental park by commissioning Nicodemus Tessin the Younger to build a spectacular summerhouse. This was later replaced by a rotunda used for theatrical performances until that was also demolished. In 1885, a few years after the imposing new Royal Library building was completed, a statue commemorating esteemed botanist and zoologist Carl Linnaeus was erected in roughly the same place as the queen’s summerhouse. By now the garden had been greatly simplified and relaid in the English style with avenues, serpentine walks and a collection of specimen trees.
February is almost certainly not the best month in which to enjoy the pleasures of Humlegården, but it is excellent if one wishes to study its layout. The park is now surrounded by elegant streets and tree-lined avenues housing shops and businesses. In the winter everything appears bare and parched, although I spied a few clumps of snowdrops thrusting bravely through the frosted ground. The picture in summer is very different and reminiscent of London’s Green Park, one of eight Royal parks in the British capital. There are open lawns and shady groves thronged with city folk and tourists looking for somewhere to relax and pass the time.
Tucked away in a quite corner you’ll find Omnipollos Flora, an establishment serving craft beer during the summer months. As customers quaff their chilled öl (ale) beneath the trees, I wonder if they realise they are maintaining a tradition which has had its roots in this place for more than five hundred years. TFG.