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Lystigardur Garden, Iceland

Just 60 miles from Bardarbunga volcano, in the ‘Land of Ice and Fire’, is the serene Lystigardur Botanic Garden, writes Lesley Bellew.

Lystigardur Garden, Iceland
Lystigardur Garden, Iceland

Old favourites fill the borders at Lystigardur Botanic Garden, in Akureyri, in the north of

Iceland.

Phlox, campanulas, asters and hollyhocks can be enjoyed until 10pm where, 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle, the Icelanders take full advantage of the long days.

Mountains across the fjord shield the garden from harsh winds and despite its northerly

location, the temperature rarely drops below freezing.

Lystigardur is more park than garden. It is quiet but children splash about by the old fountain and play hide ‘n’ seek along the paths. There is a particularly fine café which is a popular meeting place for locals.

Planting, though, is the biggest treat. Here alpines thrive and bees smother the dazzling collection of vivid blue gentians. Blocks of cobalt septemfida, olivana and the Japonica Royal Blue gentian, like huge piles of indigo dye, stop visitors in their tracks.

Lystigardur Garden, Iceland
Lystigardur Garden, Iceland

Blue and yellow are a striking combination throughout the garden with tall Echinops blue glow’s distinctive round thistle heads, the 1m tall ultramarine Aconitum napellus and Eryngium maritimum, the sea holly, which as it says on the tin is found in coastal areas. 

Alongside are the golds of ligularia and dozens of late-flowering daisies from Rudbeckia to Heliopsis hellianthoides (Benzinggold).

The gardens are more organised than manicured with plants carefullly staked, grouped and labelled - continuing the ethos of the original garden when in 1912, the ladies of the town put forward an idea ‘to make a park in Akureyri for the adornment of the town as a place of recreation for the inhabitants’. 

Lystigardur became the first public garden in Iceland and is now home to 7,000 species and subspecies including 400 Icelanic plants. In this native flora section, much to the amusement of the UK gardeners, are many of our not so popular and often invasive plants including cow parsley, ground elder, yarrow and vetch.

Icelanders love a story, or saga as they call it, and dotted round the paths are signs containing verses of songs and poems. What a shame they were not in English, too, but the locals will happily stop at any time to relay the sagas which are an important part of their culture.

Alureyri Girls play by the pond at Lystigardur Garden
Alureyri Girls play by the pond at Lystigardur Garden

The Icelanders are a night-time community and the botanic garden is open from June 1 to September 30, weekdays from 8am to 10pm and at weekends 9am to 10pm. There is no admission charge.

www.lystigardur.akureyri.is

Lesley Bellew travelled to Iceland with Fred. Olsen Cruises on 800-passenger Boudicca. The botanic garden is a short walk from Akureyri port (but uphill on the way there). 

A similar 11-night cruise on sister ship Black Watch departs from Liverpool on July 12 2015 and includes an overnight stay in Reykjavik, before cruising Latrabjarg, Haelavikurbjarg, Hornbjarg and Drangaskoro, arriving in Akureyri. Following visits to Seydisfjordur and Torshavn, Black Watch arrives back in Liverpool on July 23.

Details at www.fredolsencruises.com

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