SVANTE OLSSON (1856–1941)

Designer of the parks in heart of Helsinki

Swedish-born Svante Olsson served as Helsinki's first regular City Gardener from 1889 to 1924. He arrived with solid experience in the royal gardens and the parks of Stockholm. In Helsinki, Olsson's professional skills were prized, and he was virtually given carte blanche to implement his ambitious plans. On the other hand, his grand designs were criticised for their cost and budget overruns. Olsson, a stubborn man, threatened to leave a couple of times, but the city persuaded him to stay until he retired.

Olsson unstintingly aimed to achieve the same standard as the finest parks of Central Europe. He knew how to exploit the terrain and views when designing parks. Olsson was also a skilled with plants, even though the climate put up some resistance to the native of Skåne in southern Sweden.

Olsson achieved a great deal. The number and area of parks in Helsinki increased many times over during his time in his post. All of the parks in the centre of the city at that time were either designed or renewed by him. During his period as the City Gardener, park design changed from a traditional gardening to a part of modern urban planning.