GARDENING IN THE ARCTIC CIRCLE - Greenland




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For those who do not already know, Greenland is the world’s largest island. It is also a mountainous country situated between the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, and while its name suggests a land covered in dense alpine woodland, it is in fact largely covered by Arctic Tundra.

The Arctic Tundra is considered to be the youngest biome in the world, having been formed a mere 10,000 years ago. To clarify, a biome is a large geographical area characterized by certain types of plants and animals. Located in the latitudes 55 degrees to 70 degrees north, this vast and treeless territory covers approximately 20 percent of the surface of the Earth, as well as encompassing the North Pole. Of all the biomes in the world the Arctic tundra is considered to be the coldest, and with less than 10 inches of rain in a year it is strangely, also the driest.


Southernmost Greenland averages about 10 degrees Celsius which is just warm enough to support some trees including the silver birch, European birch, balsam poplar and mountain-ash. With temperatures dropping the further north you go it’s not surprising that the majority of human and wildlife populations cling mainly to the ice-free shorelines of the sea and fjords. Of course, where there are human populations there are inevitably gardens of some description, and Greenland is no different. In fact Greenland is host to both ornamental and vegetable gardens even though the soil here is low in both minerals and nutrients.

Obviously, cool-season crops dominate with lettuce, cabbage and radish being the most popular choices. One brave soul has attempted to grow potatoes out of large portable cold frames. They would start the tubers under glass at the beginning of the Arctic summer (24 hours of light means they stayed warm at all times). Then once the plants reached the glass, the lids were removed and the potatoes were allowed to continue their upward growth unimpeded.

Fast growing annuals have also found their way into many of the gardens of Greenland, the most popular being pansies, violas, alyssum, stock, cornflower and calendula. Greenland gardeners are also known to take risks with more ‘exotic' plants. Perhaps the most popular is the common Iceland poppy, Papaver nudicaule. These do so well here, that they actually grow as garden escapes along suburban roadsides.

Also common in many of the gardens is the globeflower (Trollius europeaus), leopard's-bane (Doronicum orientale), orange avens (Geum X bourisii), columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris) and polyanthus which are normally considered to flower in the spring – for the gardeners of Greenland however, they will be in full glorious bloom in August!

If you keep your eyes open you may even come across the odd specimen of fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium), monkshood (Aconitum napellus), angelica (Angelica archangelica) and lady's-mantle (Alchemilla sp.)

The importance of using native plants as garden flowers is not lost on Greenland gardeners either as floral display of riverbeauty (Epilobium latifolia), Arctic poppy (Papaver radicatum) or harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) can be every bit as attractive as many of our far warmer ‘exotic' ornamentals.

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Main photograph care of Constantine Alexander

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