Emma Lundberg was a pioneer in the Swedish art of gardening, who became known for her life’s work, the Bullerbacken garden on Lidingö, and for her books.
Emma Lundberg was born in 1869 and grew up in Kristianstad, where her father worked as a bookbinder. After a brief period of training as an artist with Fredrik Krebs and Karl Aspelin in Lund, she married the furniture salesman Carl Lundberg. They settled on the outskirts of Malmö and had four children together. Emma Lundberg continued to paint all her life, and her main motifs were nature, gardens, her children and grandchildren. In 1904 the family moved to Stockholm and in 1910 they bought a plot on what was then a new “garden city”, the island of Lidingö. Whilst their family villa was being built, a garden, which had been planned and constructed following Emma Lundberg’s ideas, was also laid out at Bullerbacken.
Emma Lundberg was a self-taught garden designer. Her inspiration came from the Scanian gardens of her childhood and from the garden designs of the English Arts and Crafts movement. The Studio, a fashionable art and furnishing journal, exposed her to influential architects like Baillie Scott, who had contributed to the Garden City movement, and William Robinson, author of The Wild Garden, 1870. Another role model for Emma Lundberg was Crown Princess Margareta, who had applied her English gardening heritage to the Sofiero castle gardens.
Emma Lundberg combined artistic form with the skill of a gardener in her garden design. She was meticulous when laying her own garden on Lidingö. She had foundation walls cast and carefully cultivated the soil. The southern inclination of the plot facing Kyrkviken was utilised for terracing. Instead of erecting the family home in the middle of the plot, as was the norm, it was built in the upper corner, where it was best situated. Emma Lundberg divided her garden into spaces and areas for specific functions, in parallel with the rooms of the house. She planted a large tree in the inner garden, and built a semi-circular dam around the tree. There was a rose garden and a peony area, which contained 88 varieties of peonies. In an area of just over 2000 square metres there were no less than 60 fruit trees, both freely growing alleys of apple trees and a pergola decorated with 28 trained pear trees. At one end of the plot there was a field of perennial flowers, seamed on one side by cherry trees. The spaces became increasingly informal the further away they were from the house, which was intentionally done to connect with and allow for the surrounding nature. A lot of seating areas were created in order to allow enjoyment of the garden and the views, both in the open and in the shade. Emma Lundberg and her family referred to their home and the garden as “Målet” (the goal). This denoted both the symbolic and practical goal of their plans and efforts.
In her book Min trädgård. Några akvareller med åtföljande text, which was published in 1932, Emma Lundberg gives a month by month account of the tasks and enjoyment a garden entails. “But remember that a garden is never finished, it is a living thing, which changes constantly”, is her final advice. The title of her next book Trädgården. En länk mellan hemmet och naturen, 1936, reflects her understanding of the role of nature in the garden.
Emma Lundberg did the planting and tended the daily work in the garden together with her family. Her children had a comparatively liberal upbringing, in the spirit of Ellen Key. They all lent a hand in the garden and gained a genuine interest in nature and art, which influenced their career choices. Emma Lundberg’s daughter Barbro Nilsson became a textile artist and weaver who specialised in tapestries, and she often used nature and flower motifs. She succeeded Märta Måås-Fjetterström as the artistic leader of the weaving workshop in Båstad. Emma Lundberg’s son Erik Lundberg was an art historian and architect and became a professor of architectural history. Mother and son undertook garden restorations together and produced a co-authored book entitled Svensk trädgård – dess förutsättningar i tradition och natur, 1941. They highlighted what they considered to be the most important sources of inspiration in Swedish nature for the art of gardening, namely, fruit trees, hedges and leafy areas.
During the winters of 1939-1940 almost all of the fruit trees at Målet were destroyed by frost. This led Emma Lundberg and her son Erik to undertake a radical resetting of the garden. It became more open and more suited to the changing needs of the family. She was not resistant to the new ideas in gardening which had been introduced through functionalism.
Emma Lundberg was a source of inspiration for Ulla Molin, who was the editor of the influential journal Hem i Sverige from 1944 to 1967, and who published the book Årets trädgård 1: “Målet” i Bullerbacken in 1951. Emma Lundberg also helped Estrid Ericson, the founder of Svenskt Tenn, to choose the plants for her garden at her summer house Tolvekarna on Tyresö. The author Lotte Möller has described Emma Lundberg as Sweden’s answer to Gertrude Jekyll, the leading figure of English gardening at the turn of the twentieth century. Like Gertrude Jekyll, Emma Lundberg was artistically educated and self-taught as a gardener, and like Jekyll, she collaborated with a younger man, her son Erik.
Emma Lundberg died on Lidingö in 1953. After her death her gardening ideas became forgotten. In 1997 her gardening art was displayed in an exhibition at Millesgården on Lidingö. The Emma Lundberg garden – a garden inspired by her – was laid out at Millesgården and was opened during the year that Stockholm was the European capital of culture in 1998. The Bullerbacken garden remained in family ownership until 2006.