Shared vision

On the shores of an is­land in the Stock­holm ar­chi­pel­ago, land­scape ar­chi­tect Ulf Nord­f­jell has cre­ated a gar­den shared by ad­ja­cent houses that both com­ple­ments and con­trasts with the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment


The ap­proach to Villa Nor­rnäs, two con­tem­po­rary houses on the shores of Vär­mdö – an is­land within com­mut­ing dis­tance of Stock­holm – is through mixed forests of ash, oak and hazel in­ter­spersed with clear­ings of rocky grass­land. It is this land­scape, and the swampy shore­line at the bot­tom of the two-acre plot, that pro­vided land­scape ar­chi­tect Ulf Nord­f­jell with the key el­e­ments for his thought­ful de­sign of this five-year-old gar­den. “We wanted to pre­serve this lovely nat­u­ral area and to cel­e­brate the chal­leng­ing to­pog­ra­phy,” he ex­plains, as we de­scend the slop­ing drive­way. The drop from the top of the drive to the gran­ite park­ing area is three me­tres, and it’s the same again from here to the main gar­den where the land con­tin­ues to fall gently down to the sea.

See­ing the view for the first time – the open sea in front with wooded is­lands on the hori­zon, an ex­panse of marshy grass­land giv­ing way to forest trees, and the vast arc of sky – makes me won­der how you start to make a gar­den with such a dis­tract­ing out­look? Ulf’s clients built both houses, de­signed by ar­chi­tect Hans Blomqvist, and still live in one (the house on the right as you look up from the sea), but they share the gar­den with a col­league who owns the other. They love the wild­ness of the land­scape and wanted to en­sure the sea view wouldn’t be ob­scured, but other­wise gave Ulf free reign to ‘do some­thing nice’. He de­cided to make a sym­met­ri­cal frame­work that would con­trast with the flow­ing lines and con­tours of the nat­u­ral ter­rain but would also cre­ate a vis­ual link to the sur­round­ings by in­cor­po­rat­ing dif­fer­ent forms of the plants (trees, shrubs, grasses) and ma­te­ri­als (pri­mar­ily gran­ite) found there.

The plant­ing bor­der­ing the lawn is kept low, and is punc­tu­ated in the space be­tween the houses by a clus­ter of ele­gant oaks – Quer­cus robur ‘Koster’. Although each half of the gar­den has its own iden­tity, the rep­e­ti­tion of plants and ma­te­ri­als cre­ates co­he­sion – the over­all ef­fect is one of tran­quil­lity. “It’s very lovely to have a piece of land that’s free of clut­ter,” says Ulf.

The shared en­trance to the gar­den, via a gap in a cir­cu­lar clipped horn­beam hedge, cre­ates the first of many framed views. Pre-grown mats of Wald­steinia, cho­sen for its fo­liage, form a green apron be­tween the houses. In front of the left-hand house, this ground-hug­ging

ev­er­green ac­cen­tu­ates the changes in level on ei­ther side of gran­ite steps that lead down to a sunken ter­race. From an in­door pool room a sculp­tural com­bi­na­tion of stag­gered slate steps and gran­ite cobbles lead the eye up to the lawn and on to the two tim­ber guest houses, sep­a­rated by a fish­pond, on the shore. A meadow of Cala­m­a­grostis x acu­ti­flora ‘Karl Fo­er­ster’ in­ter­spersed with Be­tula utilis var. jacque­mon­tii an­chors these build­ings and ref­er­ences the swamp grasses that were cleared when this part of the land was built up to make the gar­den. On the far side of the meadow is a board­walk made of the hard-wear­ing hard­wood ipe, where boats can tie up and sun­sets can be en­joyed on summer evenings.

The bound­ary on the left side is a high horn­beam hedge, screen­ing a large, neigh­bour­ing house. The 4m-wide bor­der in front of this is a multi-lay­ered com­po­si­tion of trees, shrubs, peren­ni­als, grasses and bulbs se­lected for their ro­bust­ness, and in­clude Pyrus sali­ci­fo­lia, Crambe cordi­fo­lia, Stachys byzantina and Ses­le­ria ni­tida. Some glau­cous-leaved species, in­clud­ing Hip­pophae rham­noides (the dwarf formH. rham­noides ‘Hikul’ is used as an un­der­storey) and Elaeag­nus an­gus­ti­fo­lia were cho­sen for their as­so­ci­a­tion with the seashore. The warm tones of Chaenome­les x su­perba ‘Crim­son and Gold’, Eu­phor­bia grif­fithii ‘Fire­glow’ and the new growth of Ame­lanchier lamar­ckii fire up the bor­der in spring. Rib­bons of ca­mas­sia, Cala­m­a­grostis x acu­ti­flora ‘Over­dam’ and Iris ‘Sil­ver Edge’ in­tro­duce grey tones at ground level.

On the right-hand side, the plant­ing near the house is in blocks of cool blues and whites. In the deep bound­ary bor­der that leads

down to the sea the plant­ing is multi-lay­ered com­bin­ing the small tree Ame­lanchier lamar­ckii with Hip­pophae rham­noides, and fruit trees in­clud­ing Pyrus com­mu­nis and heir­loom ap­ple trees, with a band of Philadel­phus ‘Mont Blanc’. This bor­der blends seam­lessly into the tree canopy of the sur­round­ing forest. Li­gus­trum hedges frame a small kitchen gar­den where as­para­gus, pota­toes and cur­rants are grown. In an open-sided glasshouse, peaches and grapes get enough pro­tec­tion to pro­duce fruit.

Re­mark­ably, with­out the use of a sin­gle fence, wall or screen, Ulf has given each house its own unique gar­den and yet also cre­ated a har­mo­nious shared space. USE­FUL IN­FOR­MA­TION You can con­tact Ulf Nord­f­jell at ulf.nord­f­jell@ham­mar­ and find out more about his work and prod­ucts at nord­f­jell­col­lec­


Main im­age

Massed plant­ing of the grass Cala­m­a­grostis x acu­ti­flora ‘Karl Fo­er­ster’, links the mown lawn to the marshy grass­lands of the orig­i­nal site. Low-level plant­ing af­fords both houses a stun­ning view across the shared lawn to the sea and be­yond to the rich forests on neigh­bour­ing is­lands.

Bot­tom row left to right

At the rear of the houses, Ulf has used gravel for the nar­rower, more in­ti­mate path­ways that lead through the rock gar­den. Shrubs and small trees, such as Malus sar­gen­tii and Chaenome­les speciosa ‘Ni­valis’, form an in­ter­me­di­ate layer against the back­drop of soar­ing na­tive pines. Gran­ite step­ping stones lead across a rec­tan­gu­lar pool to a cir­cu­lar ter­race that forms the en­trance to the gar­den. A gap in the frame­work of clipped horn­beam hedges of­fers a tan­ta­lis­ing first glimpse of the sea. Crisply cut gran­ite steps, de­scend­ing at right an­gles through ground cover of Wald­steinia ter­nata, pro­vide a sculp­tural so­lu­tion to the change in lev­els from the gar­den en­trance to a sunken ter­race.



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