- Humlegården was founded in 1626 to grow hop
- It was gradually turned into a decorative garden in the following centuries
- In 1878, the National Library of Sweden, located in the park, opened
There is no shortage of pleasant, green places in Stockholm. Even in the city centre, you can find a plenty of beautiful, diverse parks where you can enjoy the warm, sunny days when they arrive in the Swedish capital. Humlegården is one of the largest parks in central Stockholm, which has been in its place long before most of the places that surround it and even places that can be considered inseparable from the park today.
Before we get to the story of the park itself, we should understand why it was founded in the first place. Long story short, it was because of beer. While today beer is indeed a popular drink, in the Middle Ages it was more than that. The consumption was in fact so high that according to King Gustav Vasa, in 1530, one-ninth of the value of iron produced in Sweden was spent on imported hop solely used to produce beer.
Long before Gustav Vasa became the king, in 1442, a law was introduced that required every farmer to harvest at least 40 bars of hop. Everyone who did not meet the quota was fined 3 öre. The importance that was put on the domestic production of hop is only highlighted by the steep increase of the quota to 200 bars by Gustav Vasa during his reign.
All of these were also reasons why a royal hop garden was established. However, until 1619 the garden used to be in the countryside, outside of Stockholm. It was Gustav II Adolf who decided to found one directly in the city. That is when Humlegården (“The hop garden”) was created in Ladugårdsgärdet, today known as Östermalm.
An area of 450 by 600 ells was chosen bordered by the present-day Karlavägen on the north and Humlegårdsgatan on the south. The original borders of the garden were chosen naturally following the shape of the hill on which it resided. Consequently, the western boundary is not parallel to the eastern one even though that was the original plan.
Things changed slightly when large parts of Ladugårdsgärdet, previously owned by the Crown, were transformed into the ownership of the city. In the late 1630s and early 1640s, when these changes occurred, the area of the garden shrank a little and more residential buildings were constructed in the neighbourhood of Humlegården.
However, the yield from the garden at Ladugårdsgärdet was rather modest compared to the ones on the countryside. In the first harvesting season, in 1626, it produced hop for 120 daler and the following year the yield increased to the worth of just over 180 daler. As these numbers were not very impressive, hop was grown in the garden only for about a decade.
A few years later, the first proposal to turn the garden into a decorative one was presented by Queen Christina. The intention to create a French-style garden at Humlegården proved to be too difficult to realise, though, because of the terrain on which the property resided.
Despite the failed plan, big changes were made in the garden around the middle of the 17th century. Hundreds of fruit trees including apple, pear, cherry, and plum trees were planted. This resulted in a somewhat strange problem. Since fruit trees were considered valuable at the time, it was unacceptable to let animals and birds damage them. Therefore, those responsible for the garden were often shooting at the animals to protect the plants.
In the 1680s, another significant change was made in the garden. Queen Ulrika Eleonora, the wife of King Charles XI (Karl XI), had a summerhouse built in the middle of Humlegården, roughly where the statue of Carl von Linné stands today. It is likely that the house was designed by Nicodemus Tessin the Younger and to finish the house according to the queen’s wishes, at some points, there were as many as 50 people working on the construction simultaneously.
In the 18th century, the state of the garden deteriorated somewhat. At the time, fewer fruits and more herbs and vegetables were grown there, normally yielding between approximately 220 and 330 daler every year. The maintenance of Humlegården had become too expensive though, and a decision was made to lease the garden out to the highest bidder.
At the end of the 18th century, Humlegården was gradually turned into an English-style garden and park with promenades. The new concept of the park and many new plants and flowers were appealing to a large number residents as the place became the most popular promenade location in Stockholm in the following decades.
More life was brought to the park with strict rules by Petter Stenborg who founded a theatre that performed at Humlegården regularly. For a certain period, the theatre performed in the Rotunda which was, however, later demolished. The statue of Carl Linné was placed in the middle of the park a few years after Rotunda’s demolition.
Also around the same time, the National Library of Sweden was built, which is the most prominent construction in the garden today. A proposal to name the park after Linné was discussed, too, but did not get much support and the park kept its original name.
The last large change in the park occurred when a large number of trees were cut in the 1950s as part of the preparation for the celebrations of the 700th anniversary of the foundation of Stockholm. Today, Humlegården remains to be a popular place for promenades and families with children thanks to the large playground in the northern part of the park.
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Ehrensvärd, Ulla, 1970. Kungl. Humlegården.