Saturday, 26 September 2015

Mean Rice

Mean Rice

I remember my first visit to a motor racing event at Silverstone many years ago. We were going to stay in nearby Towcester: the first time I had been anywhere near the racing circuit in Northants. Anyway, although quite lost, and no doubt circumnavigating the town several times, I can recall stopping to ask folk if we were anywhere near Towcester, or ‘Toe-Chester’ as I was pronouncing it. Bemused locals simply shook their heads and looked at me as if I were an alien, and despite asking them - probably in the town itself - they still insisted that ‘no…. never heard of that place round 'ere.’ Then, luckily one bright local- yokel announced ‘oh you must mean Towcester’ – pronouncing it Toaster! ‘Are you ‘aving a laugh’ I thought! Are you telling me that I’ve been driving around this town (lost!) asking for ‘Toe-Chester’ and all the while not one of you had the wits about you to think I might simply be pronouncing the name, of your town, incorrectly? I do get angry… occasionally.
Various Heleniums on display

Anyway, fresh back from Holland and I can now recount a similar story. For a while now I’ve been wanting to see for myself a couple of Dutch gardens and nurseries, especially the Mien Ruys garden in Dedemsvaart. Of course, as an English gardener, proud of our horticultural heritage, the English landscape and its relationship to our domestic gardens is deeply ingrained. The cottage garden style of Jekyll and Lutyens, Vita and Harold (at Sissinghurst) and many more like them, have created our English-style gardens, where the female of the species has tended to concentrate on planting up the borders, whilst the fella has often done what men do best – find solace in creating order out of chaos, installing paths and lines, structures and stripes, pleaching Limes and topiarising hedges.  In many respects the standard English garden hasn’t moved on much in the past 100 years.


Of course, in recent years, there has been the Oudolf effect on our gardens, seeing a more naturalistic influence enter our borders, with our plant pallets being extended somewhat to include clump-forming perennials and grasses. All very North American… all very Germanic as well.

New perennial style - Staplehurst style!


I have never been one to simply fall for the first innovator to make famous a particular style or fashion: I always want to scratch the surface to see whose shoulders they may be standing on, or who indeed influenced them. Popular music has taught me that much over the years! Nothing is truly original anymore, and it’s always interesting to see what or who came before. Simply following the yellow-brick road of the new perennial movement will lead you back to the likes of Henk Gerritsen, Karl Foerster and Bonne Ruys, to name just a few. So, even without Toto the dog, I set off to discover some of its history and heritage. In this case the Mien Ruys garden in Dedemsvaart.
It was quite a trek getting there: some driving… a plane, a train, a tram and a bus! Also, logistics and opening times insisted I visit there on a Sunday, so I had a reduced opening window of only 5 hours to make my visit worthwhile. Anyway, ever-punctual, I got there dead on midday and stayed until they closed their doors. Needless to say, it was well worth the effort. It was everything I had hoped for, and much… much more!

After years of reading about the Dutch style of planting; Mien’s influence across the entire Dutch landscape; her father’s famous nursery at Moorheim and his friendship with Karl Foerster, I finally arrived there, stepping off the bus into an incredibly quiet and picturesque street. It felt both a little strange and somewhat surreal.  It’s a very unassuming place… kind of understated. A little Dixter-like in simply being there and existing only for those who care enough to go and find it for themselves.

As with ‘Toe-Chester’  – I did insist on asking the nice Dutch people (bus drivers and the like) where or how I might find the Mien Ruys garden – pronouncing it ‘Myen Roos.’ Again, that rather alien/quizzical look stared back at me from the faces of locals not further than 100 yards from the garden itself. Bearing in mind her name is so famous in Holland – I saw monuments in the streets and inter-city trains named after her - these locals didn’t seem to have a clue who I was talking about. It was of course, my pronunciation of her name that was at fault.  ‘Oh, you must mean Meen Rice’ they said, accentuating a rather guttural Germanic growl to her surname.  ‘Meen Growse’ they said with both confidence and national pride! UUUUmmmmmm…..?   Anyway, I considered myself told. 
A nice touch I thought. Clever sculptor in the garden
Paving purposely set 2 cm's apart to allow for moss and grass to grown in the gaps.
It would take too long, and beyond the scope of this post, to talk of Mien’s influence on contemporary garden styles. Hopefully the pictures might give you some idea. In many respects her garden at Dedemsvaart is not too dissimilar from Beth Chatto’s in Essex.  To a large extent, Beth’s garden was really an experimental journey into ‘right plant, right place’, and to see what worked and grew well under certain growing conditions. Mien Ruy’s garden is slightly different in that it was a design, philosophical and artistic experiment using plants and their combinations as its expression.
Specimen grasses in an open border
So, instead of the romance, technical skill and fullness of the average English mixed border, in Mien’s garden you sense deeply  an experiment in landscape architecture, never quite sure of what her aim was exactly, but knowing quite definitely that some ideology, artistic or philosophical intent was behind the reason for that particular plant combination.  I felt the entire garden was an expression, a life-long quest to find perfect plant combinations in their perfect places.  Gardens of a certain calibre have that kind of intent I feel: a goal, an artistic, philosophical, sometimes even a spiritual aspiration at their very heart.
The Mien Ruys garden felt like it had all those things at its core.
Never enough places to sit or rest in a garden. More of it please!
The yellow garden
Instead of individual plant labels all over the place... little border designs telling you what's there. 



Thanks for reading. Until next time.


1 comment:

  1. Funny story! I live in the Netherlands, but have never been in Dedemsvaart. It's certainly a long journey..
    Greetings, Anna