Seaside serenity | The island farmhouse with English-cottage & modern-wild gardens

For Camilla, the surrounding environment of her home profoundly influences her, sparking a desire to transform the garden into a sanctuary of beauty and abundance.

Beautifully situated on Ærø Island in the southern Danish archipelago lies a farmhouse steeped in history, dating back to the 1890s. For Camilla Jørvad and her family, this historic abode is not just their family home but a canvas for their gardening dreams to unfold.

In 2009, during Camilla’s first pregnancy, the internationally acclaimed photographer and her husband embraced the stewardship of her husband’s family farmhouse — Sigridsminde. Its location, a blend of open land with sea views, offered a tranquil retreat, a respite from the hustle of mainland life, accessible only by ferry.

The transition to island life brought its own set of challenges. The island’s unhurried pace meant a recalibration of priorities, urging the family to embrace a slower, more deliberate rhythm. For Camilla, a deeply sensitive and visual soul, the surrounding environment profoundly influenced her, sparking a desire to transform the garden into a sanctuary of beauty and abundance.

Initially, the garden resembled the utilitarian landscapes typical of ‘functional’ rural Danish properties of its era, lacking in aesthetic and atmospheric appeal. But driven by a vision of enchantment and vitality, Camilla set out to breathe life into the barren expanse. Drawing inspiration from childhood memories of her grandfather’s whimsical garden, she embarked on a journey to craft a space teeming with life and wonder. With only a little help from her husband and father, Camilla is proud of her vision that has become reality.

“My surroundings have a direct impact on how I feel on a daily basis, so I knew I had to transform the bare paddocks and mown lawn with old fruit trees – everything open to the elements with no shelter – into a magical abundant space, encouraging exploration and joy.”

Over the years, the garden has expanded and evolved, stretching outward with wide hedgerows, meadows and wooded areas – making space for more life than just their own. Now, the garden is about 4,500 square meters, safely sheltered from the dominant west wind by trees, shrubs and tall copper beech (Fagus sylvatica). The garden includes an orchard with a big pond, an enclosed courtyard, a woodland garden, a rose garden, a mixed cut flower and kitchen garden. And, most recently, a greenhouse to transform the way Camilla is able to garden at both ends of the season. Most days, Camilla says it truly feels like paradise.

Embarking on the creation of a garden from scratch, particularly on the scale of hers, has been a journey marked by trial and error. With limited resources and just her own hands to rely on, mistakes have inevitably been made along the way. Countless shrubs, trees and plants have been uprooted and replanted, while even fully grown hedges have found themselves shifted more than once. Yet, the garden has continued to evolve, adapting to the changing needs of her family and the diverse wildlife that calls their land home.

Every corner of the garden has undergone numerous transformations, reflecting the shifting rhythms of their lives. As their children have grown; when they’ve introduced different animals into their sanctuary; and as her own tastes have evolved, each space has been repurposed, inching closer to an expression of their true selves. Yet, amidst this continual evolution, there exists a delicate balance between relinquishing control and asserting authority over the land.

Central to the Camillia’s ethos is a commitment to sustainability and biodiversity. Rejecting chemical interventions, she nurtures the soil and embraces a diverse array of flora, welcoming even the so-called “weeds” that contribute to the ecosystem’s richness. This stewardship extends beyond mere cultivation – it’s a tangible expression of her dedication to coexisting with nature.

“I never use chemicals in my garden – neither to kill nor to enhance/save anything. Instead, I focus on soil health (luckily our daughter’s two ponies help in that department!). I plant densely to avoid bare soil and use the ‘chop and drop’ method when weeding or deadheading. And I never cut back perennials until the plant shows new fresh shoots in spring.”
Irises in Camilla’s wild cottage garden.
Pathways through abundant floral plantings.
Roses planted alongside the house for fragrance and beauty.

Camilla describes her gardening style as a mix of English-cottage and modern-wild gardening. Her biggest influence on both the garden vision and practical approach is her paternal grandfather and his garden full of secret paths and passages, Snake’s Head Fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris) and self-seeded poppies in the driveway. A delicate but fierce Rosa Helena Lykkefund climbed a massive Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn redwood), while primroses filled the lawn in spring. 

“Those childhood impressions turned into meaningful conversations as I grew older, and when he passed away just last year at almost 100 years old I inherited his extensive library of gardening books. Other meaningful influences on my gardening include designer Jinny Blom‘s work at Rolf’s farm in Sussex, England, and Monty Don’s “Longmeadow” garden.”

Dahlias reign supreme in Camilla’s late summer and autumn cutflower garden, much like her many peonies do in early summer. Cultivating a diverse array of dahlias has become a labour of love, not only for her own enjoyment but also for her friend and local wedding planner, who has exclusive access to the cutflower garden.

This winter, she’s changing up her usual routine by leaving the dahlias in the ground. Sadly, with the island experiencing fewer prolonged or hard frosts due to the changing climate, Camilla is taking the opportunity to spare herself the annual task of lifting and storing the tubers. While the shift is depressing for humanity, she chooses to focus on the few silver linings.

Reflecting on her journey towards creating her ideal garden, she wonders: which garden room is her favourite? Each space has its own unique charm, and its own prime time where it feels just right – and yet, each still feel part of a whole. If pressed to choose a favourite, she admits a soft spot for the orchard. Throughout the seasons it exudes a wild, untamed beauty — April daffodils and May blossom, a golden sea of tall grass swaying in the high summer breeze, and heavy branches with deep red and yellow apples and dewy cobwebs sparkling in misty autumn light. 

“Moments like these are almost too beautiful to bear in my heart, which I guess is why I keep documenting them with my camera and sharing them with kindred spirits who also see the beauty of a wild garden.”
Verbena bonariensis standing tall.
Pink lupin standing out in the wild flower meadow.

As the garden has flourished, so too has the family. With each passing season, the space has adapted to accommodate the evolving needs of its inhabitants, serving as a playground for children and a sanctuary for wildlife alike. 

For this gardener, the journey is far from over. It’s a perpetual dance with nature, a dialogue between steward and land, each step bringing her closer to realising her vision. And as Camilla tends to her garden, she finds not just solace but profound connection — to the land, to her family, and to the beauty that surrounds her.

“At a time when the world feels chaotic and depressing, and one is constantly bombarded with heartbreaking news from every corner of the world, doing this work for and with nature continues to give me a sense of purpose and a very tangible way to influence the planet in a way that makes sense to me.”

White cosmos & borage.

Tulip beds.

Camilla’s wild cottage garden plant suggestions —

Camilla’s favourite dahlias:
Camilla’s favourite “weeds”

Camilla says that most “weeds” do no harm and are easy to manage. Some of her favourites include:

  • Red deadnettle (Lamium purpureum)
  • Clover
  • Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
  • Wild violets
  • Chenopodium
  • Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris)

Even nettles, creeping charlie (Glechoma hederacea), thistles, Epilobium angustifolium, creeping buttercups (Ranunculus repens) and Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria) are allowed to thrive in many parts of the orchard, meadows and woodland garden. 

(The ones Camilla keeps fighting are bindweed, dock, couch grass, dandelions and, in some areas, brambles.)

Camilla’s favourite perennials that add a “weed-like” carefree atmosphere
  • Aquilegias / Columbine (Granny’s bonnets)
  • Calendula
  • Valerian
  • Digitalis (foxgloves)
  • Echinacea (coneflower)
  • Cirsium rivularis
Tulip beds.