Blomsterskuret, Copenhagen, Denmark

We still have a long way to go before we appreciate cut flowers as aesthetic necessities the same way as the Europeans do. The floral locavore movement that is currently running strong in United States has done much to elevate the beauty of cut flowers, as well as their seasonality, although we still import a large number of flowers from Central and South America. Cut flowers can dramatically animate and enliven an otherwise drab room – I purchased three dozen white tulips from Whole Foods last week, and watching them assume a different life in their fluidity towards light was an experience that brighten the dark mornings.

Perhaps the way the supermarkets and some florists market their flowers can use a styling revision inspired by the small floral boutiques in Europe. In warmer months, the floral bounty is let loose, flowing out of the storefront onto the street where the scents, colors, and shapes entice pedestrians to linger and even walk spontaneously into the store to explore more. It was a successful ploy I fell for several times in London, Paris, Stockholm, and Copenhagen.

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Wooden trays, wicker baskets, terracotta pots, and galvanized steel drawers are rarely without plants, and arranged at different levels in that seemingly haphazard, but attractive way. It advertises the shop well by letting the urban dwellers that small apartments need not to have naked windowsills. In addition, the dark grey front shows off the silver lettering of the store name well. The contrast of rusticity against the inherent chicness of its floral work sends a strong message about what the store is about.

Copenhagen was one city where the florist storefronts seduced me over and over, and the Danish Martin Reinicke’s Blomsterskuret (“flower shed” in Danish) may be modest in size, but seems larger  when spilling forth with container plants and cut flowers styled in that enviable Nordic way. Located in the hip Vesterbro district, Reinicke’s actual shop is a black shed adorned with gooseneck light fixtures.Stand alone shelving appears salvaged from different sources and placed around the shore, and every imaginable plant and container are crammed on the ledges as if the shed is literally growing.

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Gooseneck light fixtures illuminate the plants and accessories when it is dark. They have that unpolished patina, a disheveled naturalism not far from Martin Reinicke’s work. The shelves do not conform to one style, differing in material and height.

Once you step through the doorway of the store, the light-filled interior is lined with shelves of different containers and vessels, and a central table is crowded with tiers of cut flowers, each grouped in its individual vase for function and comparison.  Light is natural, and the artificial illumination produces a flattering cast on the flowers and plants. How many times do we see cut flowers in the lurid yellow light of the produce section in supermarkets here? It doesn’t help that the colored cellophane wrapping look garish. Lead by example of how the cut flowers would look at home in natural light, and sales then may begin to materialize. The female shop assistant, while preoccupied with making a bouquet, did not hesitate to smile and strike up a friend conversation. It is not simply adequate for a store to create a strong aesthetic impression, as friendly service helps heighten the initial interaction outside. I left Blomsterskuret, wanting to be a patron shall I boldly uproot my life and move to Copenhagen.  ~ Eric

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Assistens Cemetery, Copenhagen, Denmark

Assistens_Monument_ViewIn order to enjoy another softer, quieter celebration, I walked out one evening through Nørre Port (the North Gate) to the so-called Assistens Cemetery. It is certainly one of the most beautiful graveyards in Europe. Leafy trees, dark paths, bright open flowery expanses, temples shaded by poplars, marble tombs overhung by weeping willows, and urns or crosses wrapped in swathes of roses, fragrance and bird song, all transform this place of death into a little paradise.

Having woken up one morning and unable to sleep (adjusting to those long Scandinavian nights), I decided to have an early breakfast and enjoy a brisk walk to see Assistens Cemetery, which opened at 7 am. Except for the occasional early bird stroller or cyclist, I had the grounds to myself and enjoyed admiring the details of each individual monument and their plantings. My experience was an reenactment of Nicander’s pleasant stroll through Assistens Cemetery.
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Assistens Cemetery has much in common with Massachusetts’s Mount Auburn Cemetery, the first rural cemetery in United States. Both subscribed to the romantic notion of death and afterlife when previous cultural perceptions were otherwise melancholy and heavy. Their funereal monuments are set among leafy trees and shrubs and grassy swathes, not cramped uncomfortably in traditional graveyards. Assistens and Mount Auburn Cemeteries emerged at a time when picnicking was a popular recreational activity in these places of mourning. They were the rare tranquil greenspaces where urban dwellers could find respite amidst greenery. Both cemeteries have the privileged distinction of having celebrated individuals interred on the premises. One of Assistens Cemetery’s famous burials is that of Danish writer Hans Andersen Christian who wrote ‘The Little Mermaid’.
Hans_Andersen_GraveAssistens is partitioned into several sections organized by letters such as ‘A’ or ‘Q’; hedges or walls either signify the sectional changes.
Here a beautiful old wall divides two sections; behind one can see a beautiful weeping Fagus sylvatica and a Gingko biloba.
Here a beautiful old wall divides two sections; behind one can see a beautiful weeping Fagus sylvatica and a Gingko biloba.
A central walk made prominent with a poplar allee transects two-thirds of the cemetery’s length.
Poplar WalkEverywhere you walk, you cannot help notice how the cemetery’s serenity comes from the beautiful trees and shrubs, its charm from the hand-forged railings and monuments, and its atmosphere from the contrasting dark and light.

CollageMature trees are crucial to making Assistens a cooling buffer from urban heat and pollution, as well as filtering light to flatter the monuments.

Light over urnIn some areas, the greenery seems to swallow threateningly the statuary and tombstones, giving a natural and romantic mood.

Maiden among greeneryIn a modern culture that emphasizes youth over age, instant gratification over patience, and materialism over emotional fulfillment, Assistens Cemetery reminds us that death can be a peaceful experience because the mystery of one’s afterlife will stay a perpetual one, the outcome of which eternally feed imagination and speculation. It is a detour that will bring unexpected contemplation and introspection. ~Eric

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