Garage+ peg board and lower cabinet from Elfa for storing gardening tools. Garage+ peg board and lower cabinet from Elfa for storing gardening tools.

"The garden doesn't have to be perfect"

She changed from an administrative banking job to working with creative garden inspiration as an successful influencer. Meet Carin behind the Villa Sjövik account, who shares her tips for a beautiful garden!

Text Charlotta Flinkenberg  Photo Lina Arvidsson

Carin sitting and holding her dog.

Carin Kiebasinska Norberg

Age: 49 years old
Home: Villa in Åkers Styckebruk
Family: Husband Michael, 53, and children Lucas, 25, and Linnea, 18
Profession: Garden influencer/inspirer
Instagram: @villasjovik

Carin sets a table with white flowers in the vases.

At home with the garden influencer

Carin is an inspiring garden enthusiast who has been a success on Instagram with the account @villasjovik. Her love of nature and sense of aesthetics and interior design impresses the more than 160,000 followers. Carin has been very inspired by gardens in southern Sweden and has visited several of them. 

"I had seen that many people in the south continuously open their gardens to visitors," says Carin. 

Carin’s yellow wooden house and large garden.

Carin’s parents own a property consisting of a large, 4,000 sqm plot of land with a 100-year-old turn-of-the-century house. A couple of years ago, the plot was divided up and Carin and her husband built their house on one part.

"However, we wanted the gardens to be connected, without being separated, so you can say that our garden today is two pieces that have been merged into one. Five years ago, I told my husband that it would be great if we could sign up for Tusen Trädgårdar, an event that takes place every two years."

Join us in the dream garden

Pots and plants in different sizes in front of the house.

Tusen Trädgårdar is Sweden’s largest garden show where people open their gardens to the public, inspired by wonderful environments. 

"My daughter helped bake for the show and I expected maybe 20 visitors, but 112 people came to see our garden!"

Wooden decking with plants and lounge chairs overlooking the lake.

Carin started her Instagram account shortly before the event to promote her garden and had modest 40-50 followers at first. But the experience with Tusen Trädgårdar gave her an appetite for more. When her Instagram account had reached 5,000 followers, Carin and her husband decided to open their garden to the public once a month and, in connection with that, open a small garden shop.  

"I bought flowers from the flower market, pots, some decor and garden tools for the shop." 

Upside down pots stacked on a wooden decking.

However, it wasn't a given that Carin would go all out on this entrepreneurial step. She had been working in a bank since she was 16 years old. Subsequently, Carin asked to take part-time leave from the bank in order to devote herself to the visitor garden and be a digital creator.

"In parallel to my studies to become a behavioural scientist, I worked extra in the bank. I enjoyed it and then got a job. Life went on, we had children, I got new roles in the bank. Yet there was an itch and I felt the banking world was too rigid. Something in my life was missing."

Carin takes a picture with her mobile while she arranges flowers on the garden table in her greenhouse. Carin takes a picture with her mobile while she arranges flowers on the garden table in her greenhouse.

White flowers in the evening light.

What was the turning point when you felt you needed to make the change?

"My body reacted to stress and fatigue when I was just under 40. I had palpitations when I was going to bed and thought I was going to have a heart attack. That's when I felt I had to change things."

Pots in different sizes arranged on a garden table.

"I actually worked more than ever, but this time my extra job gave me so much energy." 

Do you regret not making the change sooner?

"No, everything happens for a reason. The time wasn't right then. It wouldn't have been good if I started this when the children were young. When something is offered to you in life, you need to be balanced in order to seize the opportunity."

Carin has her foot on a shovel in the garden.

Carin pulled the brake and started writing down everything she does, but also what she wanted to do. 

"I’ve always had a lot going on at the same time, which is obviously not good or sustainable in the long run. It eventually resulted in brain fog."

Like many others, nature became a refuge for Carin where she finds peace. As the children got older, there was more time to nurture the interest in gardening.

Four people having a toast in the garden at dusk.

For six years, Carin alternated working part-time at the bank with the visitor garden and running her Instagram account. For the past year, Carin has been running her own business full-time, and it’s not just the garden that is flourishing, but also the business.

"I’ve always liked beautiful things and enjoyed doing art and crafts at home. Because I’m so messy in my head, I need the calm. I love going out in the forest and picking mushrooms. Or just walk around the garden, preferably alone, in the quiet of an early morning or late evening when everyone else has gone inside. It’s so peaceful and gives so much strength."

White flowers in a basket.

The aesthetics are striking when you see the beautiful images and meticulous arrangements on Carin’s Instagram account. It is therefore a relief to hear that even her life is not perfect, but sometimes has elements of killer slugs and hopelessly messy storerooms...

"Killer slugs come in huge quantities and I fight them with Slugger, a type of pellet I sprinkle into the beds. We have three deer walking around the garden every day. I protect my tulips from the deer by brushing the flowers with blood meal."

Finally there's order in the storeroom

Storeroom with Garage+ storage from Elfa with wire shelves, peg board and drawers for storing baskets and pots.

You have had a major makeover of the storeroom by Elfa’s storage team. Tell us about it!

"Oh my goodness, you could hardly get into the storeroom before! Although we had deep storage shelves, everything was full with large pots, cardboard boxes for the recycling centre, slug repellents, blankets and lots of mish-mash. You stuff everything inside and then you don't find anything. I'm not exaggerating when I say we started clearing out the storeroom in January and weren't done until April..."

Storeroom with Garage+ storage from Elfa with wire shelves and lower cabinets for storing baskets and pots.

In April, the Elfa team arrived and their storage expert, Christine Dalman, analysed the storage needs of garden enthusiast Carin.  She made a drawing of how the storeroom could look, with clear tracks, hooks, mesh baskets, shelves, peg boards, drawers and cabinets in a uniform, stylish dark grey shade. 

"I almost cried with happiness when I saw the drawing of the storeroom. I would never have been able to draw this solution myself, this is very professional."

Storeroom with Garage+ tall cabinet from Elfa surrounded by baskets.

How did it feel when the storeroom was fitted with Elfa’s storage?

"Fantastic! I can breathe now when I go into the storeroom. It's even possible to stay here and tinker for a while. Christine knew exactly what our needs were in terms of gardening tools and the like. A compact living feeling. Sure, it’s still small, but the overview makes things a lot easier. I used to throw things in and slam the door shut."

Garage+ storage track from Elfa for hanging garden hoses.

Garage+ storage tracks from Elfa for hanging gardening tools.

Garage+ storage track from Elfa, where a mesh basket hangs with gardening tools.

An ever-changing garden

Greenhouse surrounded by greenery in the evening sun.

"You can't copy anyone else"

Where does your inspiration come from?

"Other people’s gardens, of course! However, you can't copy someone else’s garden and that's not the intention either. But you can find combinations or plants you like. I also get inspiration from commercial gardens, interior design stores at home or abroad, Instagram and Pinterest."

She mentions that choosing hardy plants is important for her and even if they are in zone 3, she chooses plants for zone 4 that can withstand cold winds from the lake and harsh winters.

"We started with the plants my parents had in their garden, there were quite a few conifers, which are very hardy. They are also convenient because we want a green garden even in the winter."

A tree in the greenhouse with hanging lanterns.

Carin finds the greatest inspiration on her travels, she says. But also during dog walks in nature: 

"I love checking out what's in season. For example, different types of rowan. There’s so much to pick up in the immediate area in the garden or nature, such as moss or sticks. I want to encourage people to create simple arrangements, just like I do. It doesn't have to cost a lot of money or be complicated. I'm not a florist myself. There are others who make more advanced still lifes, but the simple is often beautiful and sufficient."

Garage+ peg board and lower cabinet from Elfa for storing gardening tools.

What are the biggest challenges of maintaining a garden of this calibre? 

"It's definitely finding the time. However, I try not to be fanatical and set the bar a little lower. There might be a few too many weeds growing in the flower beds, but I prefer when they take care of themselves. My husband is certainly also interested in gardening, but not to the same level as me and he doesn't have the time either. I therefore need to be pragmatic when it comes to plant selection and so on."

Carin is carrying a basket of white flowers.

A garden is constantly changing. Hopeful seeds are planted and need nourishment, care and time to blossom and grow. Some plants in the garden wilt temporarily and then make a comeback, while others disappear for good.

After a harsh winter, there is always something that needs to be replaced. It has either died of old age or the cold. The flower beds are changing and getting a new dynamic.

Carin puts together bouquets of white flowers.

Carin’s gardening tip!

  • Stick to three colours, in addition to the leafy green. This will create a nice holistic harmony in your garden, regardless of the nature of the plants. 
  • Have a seasonal table where you place beautiful still lifes. Keep in mind that the objects in a still life should have different heights.
  • Maximise the number of plants, it always looks better with more! You can have the same variety, for example hydrangeas. But get ten and place them at different heights for a fuller feel.
  • Really large pots are great, because then the plants take care of themselves and you won't have to water as much. 
  • Go for flower beds that are relatively self-sustaining, so you can mainly keep on top of weeds and pests in them.
  • Not sure where to start? Start in the corners of the garden. Perhaps around the corner of the house, or in the corner of the balcony. Then continue with the next corner and let the garden grow gradually.
  • Invest in a storeroom with good storage and overview, so you don't have to spend time looking for tools and equipment and can instead devote time to enjoying the garden. 

Start planning

With easy to use drag and drop function you can plan everything from a small shelving system to a full-scale wardrobe solution.

Start planning

Find a store

Not all retailers carry Elfa's entire range, but they can always order the products you want from us.

Find your nearest retailer