The beautiful, clear blue Tibetan blue poppy from the Himalayas, slipper flowers from the Falkland Islands, apricot-coloured lewisiera from the Rocky Mountains, strongly coloured Greek cushion flowers: the most northerly botanical garden in the world is in Tromsø and presents blooming beauty that no other botanical garden can match.

A unique collection

The Tromsø Arctic-Alpine Botanical Garden is home to thousands of plant species from all parts of the world. The emphasis is, however, on plants from the polar regions or the high mountains, which have difficulty surviving in the milder climates where most botanical gardens are located. With its long, snowy winters and cool, moist summers, the Tromsø climate is ideal for these plants, providing the perfect conditions for tough little plants that are a little sensitive to heat. The garden also features rock formations and areas of gravel that recreate the conditions where the hardy plants grow wild.

Meconopsis – the blue favourite

A variety of species and hybrids of the Tibetan blue poppy are to be found in the garden’s Himalaya section. The best-known – the giant Tibetan blue poppy (Meconopsis “Lingholm”) starts to bloom in late June, standing proud with metre-high stems and giant flowers of an intense shade of blue. There are also white, Burgundy and yellow species. There are few other botanical gardens in the world where Tibetan blue poppies thrive as well as they do here.

Rhododendron valley

In June, the Rhododendron valley is a palette of reds, purples, yellows and whites, with a spectacular collection of small rhododendrons. Previously, the common perception was that it was not possible to cultivate rhododendrons so far north. However, there are a number of small species that grow high up in the mountains and actually thrive in these conditions. The garden has around 60 different species as well as many hybrids and cultivated types, making the collection an absolute riot of colour. Most of the plants are originally from China, with some from the Caucasus and the Alps. Our own Lapp rose (Rhododendron lapponicum) which grows in the mountains of Inner Troms needs slightly different conditions to grow and is currently being cultivated in our Arctic collection.

Arctic landscape

The most impressive rocky landscape in the garden is our Arctic section, with a moraine-like ridge of huge, heavy stones. This section is reserved exclusively for plants that grow north of the polar treeline. Many species of Mountain Avens (Dryas), Narrowleaf Arnica (Arnica angustifolia) and Northern Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium boreale) dominate in June, while the Large Pink (Dianthus superbus) from East Finnmark appears in July. Cold-loving species from Svalbard are positioned on the north-facing slopes, and the collections also comprise “rescue cultivation” of species that are endangered in the wild. For example, this year the garden is working to cultivate a collection of Wilander Buttercup (Ranunculus wilanderi). This fragile flower is only to be found in one location worldwide – on Svalbard, and only 51 examples were registered at the last count.

Lewisia – a flashy American

In June–July the large flowers on the Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva) from the Rocky Mountains start to open. The plant grows a rosette of succulent leaves in the spring. These leaves whither in the summer, making way for the rich pink flowers to appear straight from the sturdy stem. To visitors, it looks like someone has planted a large bouquet directly in the gravel.

From Russia with love

Previously, Kirovsk on the Kola peninsula was the site of the northernmost botanical garden in the world. When Tromsø Botanical Garden was opened, Kirovsk presented the garden with a number of plants. These are now collected in the friendship section at the top of the garden, along with other plants that arrived subsequently. The Scilla rosenii and the Siberian Fawn Lily (Erythronium sibiricum) – both bulbous plants – have formed delightful colonies that are now 17 years old.

Around the pond

The pond in the garden is surrounded by a south-facing stone “amphitheatre” as well as tall perennials and plants from the buttercup family. Opposite the pond, there is a stone landscape with primulas. This section presents a host of colourful species in the spring, most suited to a cool climate. Later in the year it is ablaze with other tall, sweetly smelling species that bloom in the summer and autumn.

The southern hemisphere

The slipper flowers (from the Calceolaria species) and the Antarctic Beech (Nothofagus antarctica) come from the southernmost tip of South America. The thorn-like leaf tips of the Aciphylla species from New Zealand (incredibly, a type of parsley) were developed by the plant as protection against being eaten by the large numbers of birds that previously fed on the grassy meadows there. New Zealand has no indigenous mammals, nor marsupials. Animals do graze the grasslands today, but the flightless moa bird and its descendants have unfortunately long since become extinct.

Africans in the north

In the southernmost part of this area, you can also see surprisingly many species from South Africa, including the White-eyed Ice Plant, (Delosperma basuticum), which thrives as long as it is planted in dry mountain cracks.

Traditional garden plants of Northern Norway

One of the purposes of the garden is to preserve the garden traditions of Northern Norway. Well-known, traditional decorative plants make up large collections, including Wolf’s Bane (Aconitum napellus), old species of rose, and White Bachelor’s Buttons (Ranunculus aconitifolius).

Herbs, medicinal plants and love

A nearby collection features herbs, medicinal plants and plants used in sorcery. A heart-shaped bed is home to the most important plants of all – plants for love.

When is it best to visit the garden?

The garden is open all year round, but is naturally best to visit when it is not covered in snow. The garden posts up-to-date “bloom alerts” every week on the Tromsø Museum website. The Botanical Garden website, at the same location, presents all the bloom alerts from the previous year’s season. In a normal year, the flowers will bloom roughly as follows:

  • April: The first saxifrage collections
  • May: The saxifrage and primula collections, cowbells (Pulsatilla)
  • June: Rhododendron, primula, Arctic flowers, parts of the saxifrage collection, Spring Gentian (Gentiana verna)
  • July: Tibetan blue poppies (Meconopsis), many medium-height perennials, Large pink
  • August: Tall perennials by the lake, Giant cowslip (Primula florindae), traditional Northern Norwegian plants and the herb collection, twinspurs (e.g. the Upturned Twinspur) in the Africa section.
  • September: The gentian collection, traditional Northern Norwegian plants and tall perennials
  • October: Autumn-flowering gentians, autumn colours and the small rowan species with white and pink berries.

Practical information

A small cafe is open in the mornings in summer. Admission to the garden is free, and there is a car park below the garden. It takes around 40 minutes to walk up, but bus route 20 from the town centre to the Northern Lights Planetarium runs regularly. From there, it is a delightful walk through the woods to the garden. The cruise harbour in Tromsø is just below the garden.

For more information, please contact www.visittromso.no.