Tommy Tønsberg gardens in chilly Norway. The former editor-in-chief of Norsk Hagetidend, Norway’s largest gardening magazine, now writes about and grows plants. He also photographs and broadcasts about them. He lives on a property about 30 minutes north of Oslo with his partner Kenneth and three cats, Big Cat, Little Cat and Grey Cat. When not gardening, they propagate herbaceous perennials and some tender plants for their small nursery. I asked him about growing a garden in his Zone 7 climate and the jungle of houseplants inside his house.
You have a large beautiful garden on your property outside of Oslo, Norway. Can you tell us about the various sections of the garden and how you approached designing it?
With both my partner and me being passionate gardeners and plants people, we wanted different areas where we could explore different garden styles and create different environments. We wanted to grow as big a range of plants as possible. The different areas are: a perennial garden around the house, a rock garden, the exotic garden, pond garden, herb garden, the white garden, the vegetable garden, and the woodland.
What is your favorite area of the garden and why?
I love the woodland garden because it has a wild and free feeling with lots of the woodland plants that I love. For example Trilliums, Uvularia, primulas, rhododendrons, and magnolias. This area is also more shaded so in the middle of summer, when it can get quite warm, it’s nice to spend time with shade loving plants here.
What are the best shrubs and/or perennials to grow in colder climates like Norway?
When it comes to trees and shrubs, we have a more limited range of plants to use as it gets so cold in winter (Zone 7). Especially amongst evergreen trees and shrubs. But when it comes to perennials, our planting palette is very large as many of them like the cold dry winters. Also, the snow insulates so they are nice and snug in winter. We are lucky to be able to grow a wide range of perennials from small alpine plants to taller American prairie plants.
I imagine houseplants must be popular in Norway as the country is frozen for a considerable part of the year. Are houseplants popular and if so, what are some common favorites of Norwegians?
Yes, houseplants are definitely popular. And though there has been a rise in the selection of houseplants we can get now, they’ve always been a big part of the Scandinavian home. Because of social media and trends, what is common here is similar to what you see in other European countries. But every houseplant shop will have Monstera, different Calathea, a large array of succulents and cacti, and many different orchids.
When did you begin gathering houseplants and how big is your collection now?
I have always been very into houseplants, but I stopped when we moved to our current house because it was so badly insulated. I lost a lot of my plants because they froze on the window sills. Now the house is better insulated and I have had a chance to make a collection again. My total number of houseplants is around 300.
What are your favorite plants and why?
In the garden, it has to be the Himalayan Blue Poppy (Meconopsis) but indoors, I have a passion for Hoyas, but also different aroids (Anthuriums and Philodendrons) and orchids.
Are there any particularly rare plants you love? If so, can you tell us about them?
What is a rare plant? ;-) Some plants that may be very hard to come by here are common elsewhere, but new species are constantly being discovered and described. I used to be more interested in plants being rare. But as I grew, I realized it’s more important that they grow well and are easy to maintain. I’m quite fond of the little Hoya kanuakumariana and Hoya curtisii though.
Do you have advice for the beginning houseplants gardener?
Use your finger. So many plants die from overwatering. Its difficult to give a good rule for when plants need water as it depends on temperature, time of year, and potting medium. But if you use your finger and feel the compost, you’ll know if its too moist or dry. Also, most plants will tolerate a short period of being too dry, but overwater once and the roots can rot.
You’ve authored a few gardening books in Norwegian. What’s next for you? Will you write another book? Any chance they will appear in English?
I’ve written about 10 gardening books and more are to follow. Currently there are none in English, but that might change, so watch this space ;-)
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