Where the Rainbow Hit Earth - A most beautiful, colourful Norwegian garden, on an island with a white sandy beach and my ultimate garden visit of 2019.
I had been wanting to visit Flor & Fjære for many years so one sunny day in early August, tickets were booked as part of my Norwegian holiday last year.
Coastal Stavanger (and really the entire Western coast of Norway) is dotted with all sorts of little islands - some are inhabited, some are not - making driving along the coast often very long with ferries, bridges and underwater tunnels yet also breathtakingly beautiful. Larger islands are home to small communities and smaller islands are home to many Norwegian hytte (cottages).
Then: In 1965, Stavanger residents Åsmund and Else Marie Bryn bought a farmstead, named Magela, on one of these small islands near Stavanger where they built a small cabin. In 1987 with Åsmund's health ailing, the couple moved more permanently to the island in hopes that the fresh air and peace and quiet would bring better health. The island featured little shelter from the strong winds known to the area and so he planted pine trees. With something to break the wind, Åsmund resumed gardening, a hobby he had previously enjoyed. As time went on, the garden expanded and became more and more elaborate and impressive. In 1995, Olav, Åsmund's son, and his wife Siri welcomed their first guests to the island to view the gardens. In their first year, they welcomed several hundred visitors and soon realized that the destination could easily become a top attraction in the region. By the second year, Flor and Fjære had 10 000 guests and now, several hundred people visit every single day from May through September.
And Now: The third generation of the Bryn family now care for the gardens and it's become an entire career. In the off season, new plants are sought worldwide and they're constantly envisioning new directions to take with the elaborate gardens.
The excursion started with a pleasant, short boat ride along the coast of Stavanger. Upon arrival, we were split into groups - One for Norwegian speakers and another for English speakers.
All of the tours are run by the family who owns the island and I found it endearing to have Åsmund's granddaughter telling us the story of the island.
She walked us through the garden pointing out the different areas - Palm Tree Garden, Bamboo Garden, Perennial Garden, Rose Garden, and white sandy beach area etc. - giving us insight into how the garden runs.
Due to the island's position, it continually maintains a temperature that is 3-4 degrees Celsius higher than the rest of the region making it the perfect location for exotic plants.
There are over 50 000 annuals planted every Spring and several thousand plants that are transported between their greenhouses in Stavanger and the island when the season is right. Water is also a hot commodity on the island.
There is no potable water and of course, the sea water would kill the plants thus, every year, rainwater is collected in order to keep the gardens looking so lush and vibrant.
We were amazed at the effort and work that must be put into keeping this garden as lush as it is.
We went down a hill toward the sea past a natural group of birches and then towards the cloister garden where the herbs used in the restaurant are grown.
They have a Japanese garden, complete with bonsai trees and a koi pond. The fish winter in a big tank at the mainland greenhouse and are returned in May to their island home.
There is an area of succulents on a hill facing the sun, and some low espaliered apple trees that were in flower.
What you see above as you arrive by their own boat that ferries guests to and from the port of Stavanger although guests are free to sail to the island themselves.
We had a few minutes after tea and biscuits to wander in the gardens, take photos, and enjoy the vibrant colours and the warm sunshine, then we were off again on the ferry toward Stavanger.
The restaurant serves fresh and seasonal food and I wish I had the chance to try but there is always next time.
Paradise really can be on a cold island in the North Sea, after all.