- Rosendals Garden was founded by Crown Prince Charles John in 1817
- At the time of its biggest glory, it featured thousands of exotic plants
- The orangery is the only remaining building from the 19th century
- Today, the garden is used to promote biodynamic farming
Recently, I covered the story of a bridge you likely cross when you go to the Stockholm’s island of Djurgården. Djurgårdsbron bridge is a connection between two city parts with very distinct atmospheres. While I mentioned the exclusive Strandvägen in Östermalm among the most interesting promenades you can find in the Swedish capital, Djurgården is a place where you can go for a little break in a calm environment surrounded by nature.
Rosendals Garden (Rosendals trädgård) is a location that exemplifies all qualities of the island – it is both tranquil and exciting, traditional and modern. Before I reveal what you can find there today, let’s have a look at how the garden became what it is in the present day and who there is to thank for it.
The story starts exactly two hundred years ago when then Crown Prince Charles John (Karl Johan) bought the property known as Rosendal. Almost immediately after the purchase, soldiers, gardeners and workers occupied the land which was meant to be transformed into a place where the Royals could enjoy their summers. To achieve that, many trees, shrubs and flowers were planted as well as the landscape itself was altered.
In about three months, the workers managed to build several artificial hills to allow realisation of the thought-through plan. Tallest plants were planted in the middle of the hills, whereas smaller ones occupied the space around them. The idea behind this concept was that this way all flowers would be easily visible and every single flower would appear as an individuality within the large area covered in plants. Since at the time flowers were still exclusive goods, this park with many walking paths was a place worthy of its royal owners.
Charles John, who became King of Sweden Charles XIV John (Karl XIV Johan) the next year, himself kept an eye on the progress of the works and also strictly monitored the budget. He required having a detailed report delivered to him weekly written in his mother tongue, French.
The main building which stood at Rosendal was destroyed in a fire in 1819, which created a possibility for a major reconstruction of the area. A new, larger park, designed by an unknown author, was built afterwards. Apart from being bigger, it was also better incorporated into the general landscape on Djurgården and since the new building was moved further south, the park was now also closer to the palace.
A great variety of flowers were used in the park to ensure that the blooming season would be as long as possible. Many of the plant species were entirely new to Sweden, which enhanced the exclusivity of the park even further. The chosen colour palette featuring blue, red, yellow, white, and pink flowers was created using gillyflowers, auriculas, cowslips, tulips, roses, dahlias, foxgloves and many more flower species. As you can hopefully imagine, the garden was beautifully colourful following the fashion trends of its time.
Thanks to that and to the addition of bronze sculptures adding a more artistic dimension to the park, Rosendal was turned into one of the most ground-breaking parks in Sweden and could compete with essentially any modern park in continental Europe and England in the 19th century. As it was later opened to the public, too, people could enjoy the park from the seat of their carriage, back of their horse or simply on their feet. It also became a popular place for social interactions between the citizens.
A winter garden, also known as the orangery, was built in the middle of the 1800s. It was used to grow approximately 5,000 different plants and today, it is the only remaining original building formerly used to grow plants in the 19th century at Rosendal. However, it is no longer a part of the park as it has been turned into a housing facility.
King Oscar I, the successor of Charles XIV John, and his wife Queen Josephine (Drottning Josefina) both had a great interest in horticulture which was a popular hobby among the upper class at the time. Partly thanks to their support, the garden provided the royal couple with fresh fruits and flowers during the largest period of the year.
Queen Josephine had also dedicated tables designed at both Rosendal Palace and the Royal Palace, that were meant to be always decorated with fresh flowers. Her passion for this field also made her take responsibility for Rosendals Garden after her husband’s death in 1859. However, she leased it to the Swedish Garden Association (Svenska trädgårdsföreningen), the first organisation of its kind in Sweden, a few years later.
The association took over the facilities whose condition was inadequate. This was also one of the reasons for their decision to repurpose some of the buildings including the aforementioned orangery. The former winter garden was turned into a teaching facility and accommodation for the 20 to 30 pupils who studied in the two-year horticulture programme offered by the Swedish Garden Association at Rosendals Garden.
They built a new winter garden instead a few years later where they did not only plan to grow exotic plants but also attempted to create an entire tropical environment. It is said that the Royals were tempted to host social encounters in these settings but it is unknown whether they actually did it since the humidity in such a winter garden would make the environment quite unpleasant for longer festivities.
After 50 years, the association’s lease expired and even though its representatives seemed to be pretty confident that they would be able to negotiate an extended contract, that was not the case. Although they had plans for a new winter garden ready, their request for an extension of the contract was denied and the garden was to be leased to a private organisation for commercial gardening instead.
At this point, the greatest times of the garden were gone as it was continuously being simplified. Greater and greater area of the park was covered by grass and the number of flowers and other plants was diminishing.
Whereas Rosendal Palace became a property of the Museum Foundation (Museistiftelsen) after King Oscar II’s death, the Djurgårdens Administration (Djurgårdsförvältningen) remained in possession of the park. This explains why the palace was turned into a museum of Charles XIV John and interior art while the park is still operated by a private organisation.
Today, Rosendals Garden is used by the Rosendals’ Garden Foundation to promote biodynamic farming practices. Aside from the tranquil garden, the organisation also runs a café, a bakery, and a couple of boutiques where you can find flowers, plants and seeds as well as fresh bread, cakes or vegetables. As history books note, the present-day concept attracts more visitors than the Swedish Garden Association showcasing thousands of exotic plants species could ever have dreamt of.
I hope you will get the chance to visit Rosendals Garden and discover its pleasant, cosy environment set in the beautiful landscape of Djurgården in central Stockholm. It is not going to take long before I bring you more interesting places to see on the island in the next episode of Places of Interest so that you can extend your visit to the island and enjoy it even more.
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Laine, Christian, 2003. Rosendals slott.