This time it was the Dutch garden historian Leo den Dulk, talking about all things Hollandic and especially the New Perennials/Dutch Wave/Prairie Planting/Insert Label As Required Movement (that’s the trouble with Movements: everyone thinks they thought of it first). This is the subject of an absorbing exhibition at the Museum, which has plumped for Dutch Wave and has gathered together a wonderful and insightful collection of snippets about Piet Oudolf, Henk Gerritsen, and those they have influenced in Holland and here.
It was, as always, a wide-ranging and thought-provoking discussion which would take a blog post the length of a small book to do justice to: so I’ll limit myself to the following little gems of inspiration and snippets of things I never knew before but do now.
Henk Gerritsen is a seriously good artist. There are a couple of his sketches in the exhibition and they are just beautiful.
The Dutch ‘New’ Wave started in the 1920s and isn’t new at all if you’re Dutch. It arose from a reaction against formal planting – herbaceous borders and the like – when young designers turned instead to informal, indigenous plants, many of which had never been worked with before, and did interesting things with them, later involving lots of crisply clipped yew by way of contrast. Leo was referring to them as ‘mainstream’ by the 1930s – a good 60 years before the movement arrived here.
Piet Oudolf is actually pronounced Peet Owdolf, not Peet Oodolf. Am very embarrassed that I have been saying it wrong for years.
Mien Ruys however is still impossible to pronounce if you’re English. But I really, really, really want to visit.
William of Orange was a gardener. I hadn’t cottoned on to this fact before. He made it his policy to ‘garden the nation’ (could do with a bit of that here), and first came to Britain not to invade (hah! as if!) but to look at the wonderful gardens he’d heard about here.
The Dutch invented guerrilla gardening not the Americans. And, said Leo proudly, they were doing it in broad daylight: which is probably why they didn’t think there was anything that revolutionary about it.
They invented annual seed ‘meadow’ mixes too in case you thought Nigel Dunnett did it first. This time it was Dutch iconoclast and seedsman Rob Leopold who was responsible. This is a man I want to know more about: he is quite simply inspirational. There is a memorial page for him, set up following his recent untimely death, with contributions from Leo den Dulk, Noel Kingsbury and others.
Hippies don’t come from Haarlem. Apparently.
Mien Ruys planted Japanese knotweed in her garden. It’s still there, and maintained regularly, sandwiched between a path and a stream. Apparently they keep it under control by cutting it back every year.
Grasses weren’t a Dutch thing. Despite the apparently unbreakable link between Piet Oudolf and grasses, they were actually introduced by the German Karl Foerster in the 1950s. Leo said there were many ‘false starts’ involving too many cultivars which weren’t good enough, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberfeder’ being a notable exception.
Ecologists and gardeners don’t like each other. Even in Holland. Purist ecologists tend to be rather sneering about planting such as the wonderful-sounding grass-and-perennials landscaping in the Amstelween suburb just outside Schiphol Airport – another one on my list for the Grand Garden Tour of Holland I can just feel bubbling up inside – saying things like ‘this isn’t nature, this is gardening’. Fortunately Leo has come up with an apt phrase capturing the essence of this kind of gardening: ‘intensified nature’.
The Dutch refer to plants as ‘native’ if they’ve been there since 1900. Whereas the English tend to be talking about anything post-Ice Age. Which is right, I wonder?
There was more: much more. You can listen to the whole thing via the podcast, which I hope will soon turn up on the Gardens Illustrated page: enjoy.