A Conversation with Kamma

By Cecilia Westerberg

Outside of Bakkehuset stands a big chestnut tree. It is aged. If I Could, I would ask what it has seen, if it remembers Kamma Rahbek? Does it remember when she stepped out of the house and into the garden? Did she wear gardening gloves, an apron perhaps to protect her clothing with? How did her hands appear? 

My fingernails are blackish brown, hands fissured after digging in the garden. I don’t own any special clothes for gardening. I forget to change. How many hours did she spend in her big garden, in the kitchen garden, in the flower garden?

There is time for collecting seeds in my garden. I collect seeds from Kamma’s garden as well. I brush the flowers with a gentle hand, so that the seeds will spread. Did Kamma’s hand do the same? We keep a lot of the same plants: wood violet, windflower and phlox.

In front of Bakkehuset on Rahbeks Allé grows a wood violet. It grows out of the asphalt without any visible sign of dirt. A little purple flower with green leaves lifts itself up and spreads itself across the black asphalt. Kamma was very good at fostering the wood violets in her garden. If only she knew how it would sprawl in the town’s streets and gardens, that her wood violet probably is the stem flower of all the wood violets I still watch shooting up in the town’s neighborhoods? If I could, I would ask the wood violet if it remembers its stem plant? If it has any remembrance of descending from Kamma’s garden?

In Raadvad, where I live, wood violets grow everywhere – between the houses, in the gardens and in the beech forest in Dyrehaven. The wood violet was amongst the very first I planted in my own garden. I dug it out of the forest edge and carried it home. In the garden earth I replanted it alongside phlox and windflowers, with them, my affiliation with the garden grows. Which motives were behind Kamma’s choice of plants?

When the wood violet shoots up from the winter earth’s depths then I know spring has come. Which face did the wood violet meet when Kamma’s gaze fell upon it? There are no existing portraits of Kamma and her facial features. Only a black contour drawing. Did the look of her favorite flower change her facial features?

Wood violet, windflowers and phlox. All are flowers that grow in mine and in Kamma’s garden. Windflowers grow wild in the Swedish forests, just like in the Danish beech forests, where they come up every spring. I pick a bouquet with my daughter like I used to pick a bouquet with my mother. She introduced the bouquet of windflowers as a spring ritual. Spring is forward bending bodies whose hands tear up windflower stems from the earth. Spring is a bouquet of handpicked windflowers. Spring is to carry the bouquet home. Did Kamma pick spring bouquets for the tables and windowsills? What turned on the windflowers arrival in her and the rest of the guests at Bakkehuset?

In my garden in Raadvad phlox were also among the first I planted myself. Phlox grew in my mother’s childhood garden in Sweden. They grew wild there as well. Phlox is the smell of summer with its sweetening scent. She planted phlox in my childhood garden in Denmark as well. Phlox does not care about our man made land borders. The smell of summer travels along with them. In my garden, phlox grows as a mirrored image that opens the sense of smell with its memories. Anchors my roots in the garden earth. Did Kamma sense the smell of phlox as summer in her lungs? Did she also feel how her roots anchored deeper in the earth year after year?