The Story of Tor’s Park

In 1976, Tor Nitzelius returned home from the final journey he made in his position with the Gothenburg Botanical Garden with suitcases and pockets full of seeds he collected in Japan and South Korea. That same year, Tor also retired early from his position and retreated to his summer residence in Fladalt, outside Våxtorp, which gradually became more of a permanent home for him. Here, he continued to work with his passion for cultivating plants from his travels and carefully observing their development to find beautiful and hardy plants that can enrich our gardens. So it’s not hard to imagine the joy Tor felt when he suddenly had the opportunity to create what he referred to in a diary entry from 1977 as “great opportunities to establish a horticulturally, scenically, and dendrologically appealing woodland garden.” In April 1978, he arrived for the first time at Norrviken with his car full of plants, and many more times would follow.

The significance of his term “woodland garden” is rooted in several things. The idea was to create a landscape that formed an ecologically harmonious unity by bringing together plants originating from distant regions. Many of the plants come from Japan, China, North America, the Balkans, and Turkey. Here, Tor put already proven plants together with many untested plants and novelties from his own collecting trips. In a way, Tor used this place as a field experiment, which he eagerly followed through all seasons and weather changes.

Another aspect of his “woodland garden” was a thought that Tor sometimes returned to, a relic plantation. Before the Quaternary glaciation, i.e., about 2.6 million years ago, before the last three ice ages, the species diversity was much greater in Europe, as the climate was more favorable. If one could have wandered in Europe’s forests at that time, one would have seen species like walnut, magnolia, tulip tree, sequoia, ginkgo, bald cypress, and more. These are plants that today only grow wild in China, Japan, and North America because these areas were not as heavily affected by glaciation. That is why Tor planted these particular species in Tor’s Park, to reflect a lost landscape.

Finally, Tor’s Park is also a collection of plants with high ornamental value; here, he gathered some of his favourite plants. He planted many different species of magnolia, which he considered the aristocrats among flowering trees and shrubs. Several mountain cherries were planted along the way to enhance the walk. Both groups and solitaires of Katsura were planted; the Katsura is a tree he considered one of the most important additions to our parks and gardens. The Nikko fir was also planted, a fir he considered as belonging to the elite of noble firs.

In this context, rhododendrons should also be mentioned. This is a genus that he held dear and which he crossed extensively at home in Fladalt. Overall, Tor’s Park is a place that represents Tor Nitzelius very well, a man’s professional career with all that it entails. In this case, this includes all the trips, all the knowledge, all the striving and passion to enrich our gardens and parks with hardy, beautiful plants. Come and experience the legacy of Tor Nitzelius, a legacy of beautiful plants and a result of great dedication, knowledge, and passion.

X-ray image

Tor Nitzelius was a meticulous and dedicated man who did not settle for “good enough,” neither in terms of plant hardiness nor in accuracy in graphical representation of plants. Tor authored quite a few books and scientific articles, and graphical material of plants that illustrated the text was often needed. Tor believed that both drawn and photographed plants had both advantages and disadvantages. Among the disadvantages were that he found it troublesome to copy them and that they often lacked the necessary details in their depictions.

To Tor’s surprise, very few before him (in 1963) had attempted to use X-rays in botany for this purpose. Its unparalleled depiction and detail are also completely impartial and sterile compared to a drawing. These were aspects that Tor found very valuable when studying plant morphology and anatomy. This technique also resulted in graphical material that could be reproduced countless times instead of handling herbarium sheets (pressed and dried plants), which were often very fragile.

In 1963, with the help of Professor Sven Roland Kjellberg at X-ray Department 1 at Sahlgrenska Hospital in Gothenburg, Tor started working in the X-ray rooms, and at night he placed the plants in the X-ray machine. This resulted in about one hundred X-ray negatives, an image archive that is extremely visually appealing.

Diary Excerpts
Wednesday, October 9, 1957
Diary Excerpts from Tor Nitzelius

Start at 7:00 a.m. for Karanlik mesa. First down the streets and roads in and around Artvin and crossing the Chorokh River, which apparently increases in the rains and becomes yellow-brown. Then followed a breathtaking spectacle of gigantic mountain masses, sometimes forested, sometimes apparently less whole, at least from a distance, and reminiscent in its grooved face of West China or the Andes. In the middle of the mountainside ran, like a narrow band, the road hewn into the rock. Far below the Chorokh River. Many mountain corners were rounded at wild speed and mostly without signaling. At a place called Harken, where essentially the abyss was below, there was a slope with some bushes and trees, and here the ground was covered with Colichium, which I collected. The level was somewhat below 1000 m, and along the roadside, many interesting plants: Coriaria, figs, walnut (near the villages), Clematis, Paliurus, Celtis, Salix (by the shores), and scrub oaks. At a slightly higher level, Pyracantha appeared by the roadside, somewhat like our blackthorn…”

Cupressus semperivirens var. horisontalis,
The Cilician pass, southeastern Turkey, 1957.

… As we approached Karanlik mesa, the terrain became heath-like, and Picea orientalis began to appear. Essentially, this entire mountain is occupied by Picea orientalis, which reaches its optimum at 1800 m but still at the border at 2000 m is large and beautiful. Abies plays a subordinate role in a narrow belt around 1800 m. Between 1800 and 2000 m, giant Pinus silvestris appeared. Rhododendron was completely absent in the undergrowth, which at this time was meager in herbs. Of bushes, Ilex and Daphne pontica (sterile) were noted, but also Prunus laurocerassus was said to be there. We saw giant trees of Picea (40 m) but without cones. Around 2000 m, they were covered with snow, and snow also lay on the bare top of the mountain…”

Pinus nigra subsp. pallasiniana – Crimean pine

Behind the sign grows a specimen that Tor raised from seeds he harvested in Kizilcahamam in northern Turkey, at 1000-1250 meters above sea level. About 50 km from Ankara.

Excerpt from Tor Nitzelius’s diary entries
from Turkey 10/9 1957

… It was cold, and we went into one of the loggers’ houses where we were treated to hot tea, Turkish vodka, fried chicken, bread, and grapes. One of the loggers sang to a guitar-like instrument for our entertainment. He had his legs drawn under him, and his face looked at once weathered, lyrical, and humorous. The song was the usual tremulous oriental sort, but his treatment of the strings was skillful and evoked visions of dancing Turkmen at some caravanserai somewhere in eastern inner Asia. Then he sang and introduced songs, including humorous ones about the apparently respected Müdür Bey, who entertained the audience while all the loggers showed radiant eyes and laughed. Some of them had pure blue eyes; one looked entirely like an English worker from London. Then we went down and returned home. At 1800 m, an Abies was felled so the cones could be reached. In the evening, we invited Sabit Bey to dinner and prepared for the next day’s departure to Trabzon.”

Excerpt from Tor Nitzelius’s diary entries
from Turkey 10/9 1957