A garden depicting harmony of Finnish identity and biodiversity

Story 25.8.2021 0:00 EEST


Taina Suonio, an environmental biologist and landscape designer, returns to the Chelsea Flower Show with a new Finnish-themed garden. This time she wanted to bring Finnish nature and cultural heritage to the fore. "The garden especially represents Finland's biodiversity," says Suonio. The garden celebrates last year's UN Plant Health Year and the 40-year history of the protection of the Baltic Sea. UPM Plywood is a sponsor of The Finnish Soul Garden.

As its name implies, The Finnish Soul Garden designed by Suonio for the Chelsea Flower Show has many elements related to Finnish identity.

“In Finland, we have the opportunity to enjoy nature even in an urban environment. Nature is closely linked to our culture. For example, when thinking about different European capitals, it is quite rare to be able to enjoy a sauna right in the centre of the city,” Suonio explains.

Taina Suonio (Image: Aleksi Niemelä)

Wood and wood-derived materials are featured prominently in the garden. UPM Plywood is a sponsor of The Finnish Soul Garden.

“Half of the garden will be wood in different forms. There is wood in the sauna and the furniture in the seating area. The garden is also surrounded by a fence coated with tar.”

Among the tree species in the garden are birch, alder, crack willow, apple tree and rowan. Of the other plants, Suonio mentions snowball trees, herbs, the sauna’s plant roof, and three different rose varieties. The Midsummer rose is accompanied by ‘Tove Jansson’ and ‘Tarja Halonen’. The diverse garden also includes a bug hotel.

The Baltic Sea and Finnish art on display

The Baltic Sea can be seen in the garden too. “There is no life without water. The Baltic Sea and other waters are the sources of our lives, home to many species and an integral part of our culture. The purity of the waters and the protection of the sea are essential to us, and the Baltic Sea is also part of the Finnish soul landscape,” explains Taina Suonio.

In connection to the Baltic Sea, the garden will also feature a work of art designed by Finnish painter Johanna Oras. The role of art in the diverse garden that exudes Finnishness is significant overall.

“In the garden, our cultural attachment to nature is strongly displayed through art. There are four different artists involved. The sauna will have rag rugs woven by textile artist Anneli Salo, and a dimmer with a small twist made by Pirjo Väisänen will be hung in the sauna’s dressing room. The garden will also feature a sensitive work of art made by Pirjo from straw,” says Suonio. Finnish-English artist Alex Gough has made a three-part copper work of art from pictures taken by Suonio of Helsinki and forests. This will also be on display at the sauna.

The Finnish goldsmith and silversmith couple Johanna Väänänen and Jari Tynkkynen from Nagual have designed themed silver jewellery, which Suonio will wear at the event. RATIA's marine-themed fabrics printed for the occasion as well as other examples representing Finnish design have been placed in different parts of the garden.

“A little Finnish girl, Anna, has drawn a rose, which will be presented as art, for example in the garden brochure,” Suonio adds.

Rescheduling of the event to autumn brings out the four seasons

Held on the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea in London since 1913, the Chelsea Flower Show is the number one horticultural event in the world. The exhibition has traditionally been held in the spring, but due to the corona pandemic, the event was moved from the spring of 2020 to autumn 2021. How does the change in timing affect the plants and appearance of Suonio’s garden?


“Some of the plants are no longer in bloom in the autumn. I don't think it hurts. If we consider birch, for example, Finns usually think it is at its most beautiful in spring with fresh green leaves, but it is equally beautiful when it turns brown in autumn. In Finland, autumn and autumn colours are very beautiful, and the autumn exhibition gives us the chance to present Finland's four seasons. We should always remember that we have not only a beautiful spring and summer but also beautiful long autumn and an even longer winter. Winter can also be seen in the works of art that will be displayed in the sauna,” Suonio reflects, adding that with the pandemic, the importance of gardens and nature for people has increased too.

What has been most rewarding about The Finnish Soul Garden project?

“I am terribly proud of the artists in this garden! Perhaps the best part is that when we have created this garden together with entrepreneurs and different parties from many fields, everyone has participated as real people and with all their heart. Great teamwork has been done here and all the participants exude a love of the homeland, Finnish nature and traditions – and a love of the garden.”

Read more:

A Finnish career-change inspired by the British passion for gardens

UPM Plywood sponsors The Finnish Soul Garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2020