Trading the cold, damp climate of Denmark for the sun-drenched environs of Queensland is quite a change for a landscape gardener, but Nikolaj Ekelund embraced the challenge and has learned to thrive in Toowoomba.
Known as The Danish Gardener, Nikolaj is passionate about “letting nature be nature” and loves designing gardens with natural borders and features that provide a peaceful backdrop for the flowers, bushes, and trees his clients love best. “I like doing projects that last for years and years that people can enjoy,” he said.
Nikolaj was not always a gardener. In fact, for several years he worked in an office employing his skills in marketing and design. Such an inactive life made him restless. “I was just wheeling around on my office chair, really,” Nikolaj said. “After work I raced off to the fitness place just to keep in some kind of shape.”
One day, he watched craftsmen building a new office across the road and thought, “I bet they don’t have to go to a gym to get in shape.”
From that moment on he was determined to get a job that allowed him to be outside doing the physical work he loved.
He did an apprenticeship for 3.5 years while he went to school for landscape gardening, and in 2001 he was ready. He designed gardens, trimmed and tidied yards, and during the winter pruned trees at one of Denmark’s royal castles.
Nikolaj jokes that he loved being outside to experience all three days of sunshine that Denmark gets each year. Moving to Queensland in 2012 provided more sunshine than he could have imagined. “Here it’s a full year of gardening,” he said. “It’s nice.”
He bought a landscaping business off a friend and built The Danish Gardener from there. He now has 45 to 50 regular clients. One of his favourite types of projects is an overgrown garden. “I like to prune it back to square one to rediscover the garden, to shape it, and find the hidden picture.”
While he has had to adjust his choice of plantings to suit the climate of southern Queensland, Nikolaj also draws on the experiences and traditions of his homeland. “I bring some of what I did in Denmark down here,” he said. “Big rocks or boulders you can plant things up against and some sort of water feature where you can hear that running water. Living in the city, it takes away some of the background noise.”
He also likes playing with fragrance in unexpected places. “Like clumps of herbs in the grass that release scent as you walk,” he said.
Nikolaj is a strong believer in designing a garden that suits the owner. As the father of two young children, his own garden is delightfully simple with a fabulous treehouse, perfect for family games, campfires and rambles.
He loves his work and only pines for the airconditioned confines of his office on those sweltering hot Queensland summer days that send all of us scurrying for cover.
Words by Krista Bjorn | Images by Cory Rossiter.