How does your garden grow?
How does your garden grow?

How does your garden grow?

Paul Connolly talks to newbie gardener, Elle Vanes, who moved to Skellefteå in 2020, about her experiences of growing flowers and vegetables in Norrland – how did she cope with the short growing season? Portrait by Donna Richmond.

PC – Were you a keen gardener in the UK?

EV – No, not at all. The most I would do was plant a couple of hanging baskets each year. Our garden was a rectangular lawn, small by Swedish standards. There wasn’t really the space to grow vegetables. We had thought about getting an allotment, but the waiting times were very long.

How does your garden grow?PC – What were your plans for Norrland?

How does your garden grow?EV – It was always a dream to have more outside space so as to be able to grow vegetables. When we moved here, we knew we didn’t want to live in the city, so the houses we looked at tended to have space for a vegetable garden.

Our plans are evolving as we go. This year we are extending the vegetable garden so we can grow a wider variety of vegetables and have the space to plant in succession. This is something I failed at last year because everything tended to come at once. This year we hope to have part of the garden dedicated to cut flowers, and next year I hope to get some beehives. I would also like to enter the garden for Tusen Trädgård (a biennial event where thousands of private gardens are opened to visitors from all over Sweden), so locals can visit the garden and enjoy it as much as I do.

PC – How did your first planting season go?

EV – Very good. It must have just been luck, though, because I just guessed a lot of the time. Obviously the seasons and climate are different to the UK, so everything I was reading in English had to be adapted. We had an abundance of salad, vegetables and fruit throughout the season. Apparently, the soil is very good where we live, which clearly helps a lot.

PC – Which vegetables did better or worse than expected?

How does your garden grow?EV – Carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, radishes and spinach were all very successful. Corn was not very successful but I think that was because I didn’t plant them in clusters. We had a lot of broccoli as well but, unfortunately, the slugs liked my cauliflowers – so I only really got one full cauliflower head. We also had a lot of strawberries. Every day I could collect a huge bowl and my children really enjoyed the fresh fruit on hand.

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How does your garden grow?Flowers were very successful, though. All season we had lots of beautiful blooms that could be used for hand-tied bouquets. This year I am going to plant 15 different types of dahlia and more flowers that could be used for bouquets. It was nice to be able to bring friends a bouquet when we visited and, of course, nice to have them in the house.

PC – What impact did the midnight sun have?

EV – The midnight sun was an added benefit. I was out in the garden until very late and often didn’t realise the time, so I got more done than I would have otherwise. Obviously the extra sun helped, but even so I was surprised at how quickly everything grew.

PC – Do you have any tips for first time (or even second-time) gardeners?

How does your garden grow?EV – Start small. I think I took on a bit too much at once, which meant our house was overflowing with seedlings and I had to replant almost every day. Vegetables that take longer to mature and summer flowers should be started indoors under plant lighting to ensure they’re ready for the season. Start with the things you definitely know you will eat, and do your research about what conditions your chosen vegetables thrive in. Gardening doesn’t have to be expensive but I found our green house very handy, so it would be really ideal if you could manage to invest in one of those.

PC – Did any locals give you advice? If so, did it work?

EV – I have a couple of Swedish friends who are keen gardeners and I was constantly asking them for advice – they’re worth following on Instagram (kallholmens_tradgard). We would also swap plants if we had too many. There is also an excellent gardener in Klutmark. I followed her Instagram (gardsliv_kvarnvagen) for tips and advice about growing in the Nordic climate. Her garden is incredible and I have taken a lot of inspiration from her.

PC – What’s your lasting impression of the whole process?

EV – I find gardening so relaxing. As the nights got longer there was nothing I enjoyed more than coming home from work and getting started in the garden. It has been hard work to do all the digging and weeding, but the satisfaction of eating your home-grown food and looking at all you have accomplished feels good. I also love that my children became involved in the process – they loved to cut rhubarb for cakes and their joy simply from digging for potatoes was such that it was like they had found hidden treasure. We still have a long way to go, though. I saw last year as a trial run. This summer I am doubling the amount of vegetables we grow and, already, some are proving more tricky than others.

PC –  Did you become self-sufficient in anything?

EV – We didn’t need to buy any salad ingredients at all, last summer. During the autumn we also had a lot of vegetables. We also froze a lot of vegetables and made soffritto mix, so pasta dishes and soups were easy to make, which is great when time in the kitchen is short. We also froze some brussels sprouts and carrots for Christmas. We’re on our final bag of potatoes (we have a food cellar where we keep them) There was really a lot of chillies, which we’re still using. We also made a lot of chutney and preserves. I took apples from one of our two apple trees to Klutmarks Musteri ( They gave us back 15 litres of the most delicious juice. Next year I definitely intend to take apples from both trees.

How does your garden grow?


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