Many islands dot the fjords around the Norwegian city of Stavanger. Some are large and sport entire communities. Others are so tiny they are either uninhabited or have only a small homestead. Most are barren. You would not expect to find a tropical garden, complete with palm trees and sea views; but that is what is hidden away at Flor og Fjære, about five miles northeast of Stavanger.
In 1965 Stavanger residents, Åsmund and Else Marie Bryn bought a farmstead on the northern tip of Sør-Hidle island. Åsmund built a small cabin and began to plant pine trees around the edge of his property to protect his house and budding garden from the winds that whistle down the fjord.
In 1987, as Åsmund’s health began to fail, the couple moved to the island full time, hoping the fresh air and tranquility would help him recover. He expanded his two-acre garden, making it bigger and more elaborate every year. Then, he and Else began to invite friends to enjoy their little hideaway.
By 1995 the garden was so impressive, Åsmund’s son, Olav Bryn, opened it to the public for garden tours, culminating in a fancy meal at the restaurant, which the family created. The garden is truly a family affair with the third generation of Bryns now also fully involved in their management.
Today, the Fjor og Fjære is one of Stavanger’s most popular summer attractions with several hundred people visiting the twenty-acre gardens during the five-month season (May to September).
The name, Fjor og Fjaere, is a play on words with “Flor” referring to the flora and “Fjaere,” which in Norwegian means the boundary between the ocean and the land.
VISITING THE GARDENS
We board the flower-painted MS Rygerfjord in Strandkaien Stavanger harbor on a perfect summer evening for the journey to the island. As we sail out of the harbor and into the Gandsjord, several of Stavanger’s famous attractions, including the Petroleum Museum, slip by.
Once we arrive on the island, we are divided into two groups – Norwegian-speakers and English-speakers — for an hour-long tour of the gardens, led by one of the Bryn family who describes the history of the island and provides information on how they keep them looking so perfect.
The varieties of plants are unexpected: palm trees, cacti, perennials, roses, bamboo groves, and a Tuscan garden are interspersed with waterfalls and sandy beaches. A koi pond is filled with flashes of orange and yellow as the fish dart here and there near a bonsai garden. Everywhere is an explosion of color.
Our guide explains that Olav Bryn designs the gardens year after year, spending the winter combining colors and seeking out new plants and flowers. These are grown in greenhouses in Stavanger before being transplanted to the gardens in the spring. Once, when someone asked him where he finds his inspiration, he replied, “In the colors of the rainbow.”
Fifty thousand annuals are planted each spring, chosen because they bloom all summer. Our guide tells us that they are put in very close together to smother the weeds, leaving behind a carpet of color. Only four gardeners tend to the flowers on the twenty acres. At the end of the season, the 50,000 plants are pulled out, and preparations made for the following spring. Shortage of water is a constant problem on the island; rainwater is collected for irrigation.
At the end of our tour through the garden, we spend about an hour in rambling at our own pace, photographing areas that caught our attention or watching the sun setting over the North Atlantic.
Included in the visit to Fjor og Fjaere is a dinner at the end of the tour. Before proceeding into the dining room, Chef André Mulder, who lives and works on the island throughout the season, explains, in his humorous way, what we will be eating, stressing that everything is made from local produce and ingredients. The starter, he tells us, is Fjor og Fjaere’s famous fish soup, a rich concoction of heavy cream, mussels, salmon, shrimp, hake, cod, celery, and carrots. It is a meal in itself.
Then, he leads us inside the glass dining area where the food is served buffet style, including lamb cooked with Mexican spices, fresh hake from northern Norway, creamy mashed potatoes, and so much more.
After dinner, we re-board the flowered boat for our return trip to Stavanger, where the harbor bar-scene is hopping in the land of the midnight sun.
PHOTOGRAPHING FLOR OG FJÆRE
Photographic opportunities abound in this magnificent garden.
The light is best in the evening when the soft colors of the sunset make the garden glow.
As you are part of a group that moves through the grounds at a reasonably fast pace, your ability to set up a particular shot is limited. As a result, tripods are impractical.
Our Nikon 810 DSLRs with a 28-300mm and 14-24mm lens give us the flexibility of shooting both landscape and detailed images of the plants. A macro lens would have been fun if there had been more time available.
There are multiple locations where you can capture the sunset over the ocean through the different gardens.
IF YOU GO
Advance reservations are required, and they sell out very quickly. Go to firstname.lastname@example.org or call +4751110000. Departures are set for 1200 for lunch and 1700 for dinner. It is a total package experience that lasts about five hours from departure to return to Stavanger harbor. For 2019 the season runs from 4 May to 21 September, Monday through Saturday. The gardens are closed on Sunday. Be sure to check arrangements in the event of inclement weather. To see more images, visit Allegria Photos.