Cultivating Roses in Iceland

Lára Halla Maack found the perfect spot for her love of gardening
  • Mosfellsbær is the town where the psychiatrist Lára Halla Maack finally settled in
    Mosfellsbær is the town where the psychiatrist Lára Halla Maack finally settled in
  • Mosfellsbær is the town where the psychiatrist Lára Halla Maack finally settled in
    Mosfellsbær is the town where the psychiatrist Lára Halla Maack finally settled in
  • Mosfellsbær is the town where the psychiatrist Lára Halla Maack finally settled in
    Mosfellsbær is the town where the psychiatrist Lára Halla Maack finally settled in
Saturday, 17. October 2015

Mosfellsbær is possibly the strangest town in Iceland. Located just north of Reykjavík with a population of approximately 9000, it is a sleepy and quiet community where nothing ever seems to happen. It doesn't have a shopping street, a buzzing centre with restaurants and cafés, nor a vibrant nightlife. But, year after year, it is voted the best place to live in Iceland.

Mosfellsbær is the town where the psychiatrist Lára Halla Maack finally settled in a beautiful yellow house with a big, colourful garden where she cultivates her roses.

Raised in Denmark until the age of twelve, during an era when women were homemakers, Lára Halla was happy to skip three school years. When she was 8, again when she was 10 and, finally at 12 years of age. "My parents were broad-minded enough to realize my brothers, and I wouldn't learn anything of worth at school," says Lára Halla. "Instead we would pick apples and give to the other kids during their breaks. Then we would climb our three-storey house and jump from the roof, hanging on to a parasol. It was a huge parasol to slow us down. We were just ordinary, out-of-control Icelandic children.”

From pranks to protests

After spending some years in Iceland, this time attending school, Lára Halla moved to California to study psychology. "It was an excellent college and quite posh. We even had waiters serving our tables. It was during the middle of the Vietnam protest era and, true to form, I attended all protests in the Oakland area. It was part of a thrill because I was terrified. There were soldiers placed on every street corner, the atmosphere had a feeling of semi-terrorism with constant news of murders. But, marching with the millions protesting the Vietnam War, was a terrific experience that left a life-long impact on me. I also loved the college with its broad syllabi. Apart from psychology I got to take courses in music analysis and art history. It changed my listening and observation skills forever.

During my year in California, I came to realize I'd never known the difference between psychology and psychiatry. What I wanted to do was psychiatry. So, I returned to Iceland to study medicine. Later I moved to the UK for my chosen field of study, psychiatry."

Back home

After completing her psychiatry studies where she specialized in child psychiatry and forensic psychiatry, Lára Halla decided to return home. She'd spent eight years in the UK and didn't find Iceland welcoming at all. "In my field we talk about the "glass roof." In the UK, when you have reached a certain professional seniority it disappears. In Iceland, it doesn't. Instead, you have to strive and struggle. You are nothing, you don't know anything and are quite worthless until you have proven yourself. To add to the problem, returning home fills one with a feeling of worthlessness.

You see, in Iceland, it is of the utmost importance to have witnessed history in the making. It relates to both personal and impersonal matters. It can relate to as insignificant matters as a street being asphalted. You were away and didn't know who said what, why and when. Everything is history in Iceland. If you were away, you are not part of it. You missed out on "everything." Coming home and clashing with this atmosphere was simply too much. I took a U-turn back to England.

Two years later though Lára Halla was back in Iceland and this time for good. She started working at the Landspítalinn, University Hospital, at the psychiatric ward's alcoholic unit. There she counted herself lucky to get an opportunity to coach medical students. Though not a lecturer at the University, she got to impact their training on the job – and her contribution was much appreciated. And, she liked her job.

The cit y centre

During this period in her life, Lára Halla lived in the center of Reykjavík in a tiny house with an asphalted lot being used as a car park. She had the asphalt removed and in its place created a garden. "Gardening runs in the family," says Lára Halla. "My mother loved plants and flowers, both indoors and outdoors. She spent a lot of time tending to her gardens, and I would join her at any given opportunity. All my aunts and cousins were the same."

Lára Halla's house in the city center was a mere few steps from the National Theatre and the Opera House. On the spur of a moment, she would decide to attend a performance. Obtaining a single ticket at the last minute was always an option. The Center seemed to be the perfect setting for a perfect lifestyle for Lara Halla. Still, in the year 2000 she upped and moved to Mosfellsbær. Why?

The dedicated hoarders​

"Well, my husband and I are both dedicated hoarders. The house in the center of Reykjavík was too small to accommodate all our stuff. We decided to search for a new house. Altogether we looked at 99 houses, spanning the area from Keflavík to Kjalarnes. Like true hoarders, we created a file for our search, documenting pros and cons. My husband wanted a house with a view. I didn't understand why but decided I had to adapt to being a broad-minded wife. He is English and has his English standards and taste. My taste is more central Europe, rather old fashioned. 

This house was number 99, and it ticked all our boxes. It is a beautiful house with large windows in every direction. It had a wonderful view that, by the way, has disappeared due to the trees in the neighbourhood. They have grown about 15 meters since we moved in. As we didn't care which part of the larger Reykjavík area we would end up in, we realized this house ticked all our boxes – and it was large enough to accommodate all our stuff. We didn't need to throw anything away.

We love living here in Mosfellsbær. Being cradled in the bosom of Mount Esja defies words. Reykjavík has a tendency to claim Esja as their mountain, but it is ours. We can practically touch it.”
Tropical climate
“Mosfellsbær has changed a lot in fifteen years. The man-made environment has improved immensely. Nowadays we have beautiful playgrounds, small bridges crossing banks and rivers, bird observation shelters. When we moved here, we realized the whole area was great for outdoors recreations. Today, it is even much better. You can go hiking from your doorstep. Into valleys and mountains, for miles and miles. Even a short stroll takes you into beautiful nature with exquisite flora and marvelous bird-life. Moving here required a change in lifestyle. Nowadays, if I want to go to the theatre or the opera, I have to plan for it. Instead, I get to live in an environment where everything can be turned into a fairy tale when my grandchildren come to visit. And then, there is my garden.

My house is located on a hillside. And, curiously enough this hillside, facing south is some tropical pool. You can grow just about anything here. I had never cultivated roses before moving here. When I realized how tropical the climate was in my garden, I decided to try for the roses. I love their colours, their fragrance and beauty. My roses have thrived in my garden. They are a great joy to me.