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10 Garden Ideas to Steal from the Netherlands

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10 Garden Ideas to Steal from the Netherlands

May 3, 2017

In the Netherlands, outdoor spaces are carefully choreographed and Dutch gardens have traditionally been an orderly affair.

But there’s a paradox. For centuries sharp-cornered rectangular beds bordered by clipped shrubs have kept unruly plants in their place. And yet, Dutch gardens are crammed with colorful flowers irresistible to everyone from the old masters, who venerated their velvety textures in paintings, to the 17th-century tulip maniacs whose obsession led to an economic collapse.

Nowadays, Dutch gardens are at the forefront of modern landscape design. Garden designer Piet Oudolf’s meadows of four-season perennials have a relaxed casualness that belies the precision of his plantings. Designers such as Martin Veltkamp and Ronald van der Hilst have a modern, minimalist style that makes their geometric gardens feel airy. And in Amsterdam, where space is at a premium, city gardeners have pioneered creative cultivation techniques.

Here are 10 ideas to steal from gardens in the Netherlands:

Every Inch Counts

In a city garden in Amsterdam where space is at a premium, vines and climbers soften a facade and create curb appeal. Photograph by Fons Heijnsbroak via Flickr.
Above: In a city garden in Amsterdam where space is at a premium, vines and climbers soften a facade and create curb appeal. Photograph by Fons Heijnsbroak via Flickr.

Equal-Opportunity Bulbs

In the Keukenhof gardens in Lisse, Netherlands, fritillaria and tulips bloom en masse in early May. Photograph by Olga via Flickr.
Above: In the Keukenhof gardens in Lisse, Netherlands, fritillaria and tulips bloom en masse in early May. Photograph by Olga via Flickr.

Instead of planting spring bulbs in formal rows, scatter and intermingle: purple and orange is a lovely combination against a backdrop of green turf. Almost any spring bulb looks better when it grows in a tangle with another kind of spring flower bulb. Let tulips, fritillarias, anemones, hyacinths, and daffodils mingle.

A Formal Greeting

Tightly clipped beech stand sentinel in a garden designed by Ronald van der Hilst, who opened up the views by removing selected sections of the high hedges. For more of this garden, see Life After Life: The Unexpected Resurrection of Mrs. Boer&#8\2\17;s Garden.
Above: Tightly clipped beech stand sentinel in a garden designed by Ronald van der Hilst, who opened up the views by removing selected sections of the high hedges. For more of this garden, see Life After Life: The Unexpected Resurrection of Mrs. Boer’s Garden.

Dutch gardens are known for their precision; laid out symmetrically and bordered by clipped shrubs, they rely on the geometry of rectangles and square corners to create an orderly backdrop for water features and flowers.

A Sense of History

Deep purple Queen of the Night tulips. Photograph by Jeonghi Go via Flickr.
Above: Deep purple Queen of the Night tulips. Photograph by Jeonghi Go via Flickr.

Above: In Limmen, Netherlands, the Hortus Bulborum Foundation propagates and preserves 4,000 kinds of heirloom spring bulbs including tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils.

“Nowhere on this globe you will find such a fine selection of old bulbs in one place,” notes the foundation, which counts among its collection “tulips dating from 1595, the famous ‘Duc van Tol Red and Yellow’; the oldest known cultivar and dozens of other cultivars which were prizes possession as far as back as the Golden Age.”

In the US, Old House Gardens imports bulbs from Hortus Bulborum and is the best source for a wide range of historic spring bulbs; Duc Van Tol Red And Yellow tulip bulbs are $18 for three and ship for fall planting.

Mien Ruys Modernism

The Mien Ruys garden at Dedemsvaart. Photograph by Esther Westerveld via Flickr.
Above: The Mien Ruys garden at Dedemsvaart. Photograph by Esther Westerveld via Flickr.

An influential 20th century landscape designer, Mien Ruys created gardens that juxtaposed the loose airiness of grasses  with formal, clipped perimeters. A forerunner to Oudolf, she experimented with textures and foliage.

Floating Gardens

Many houseboats on the Prinsengracht canal in Amsterdam have roof gardens and container gardens on deck. Photograph by Mr. Amsterdam via Flickr.
Above: Many houseboats on the Prinsengracht canal in Amsterdam have roof gardens and container gardens on deck. Photograph by Mr. Amsterdam via Flickr.

If you have no soil, you can have a container garden on a roof, patio—or boat deck.

Pared-Down Tranquility

In a landscape by Dutch designer Martin Veltkamp, geometric lines and planes create a serene backdrop for a picnic table and plantings, including an allee of carefully pruned trees, a grass lawn, and boxwood topiaries in the distance. Photograph courtesy of Martin Veltkamp.
Above: In a landscape by Dutch designer Martin Veltkamp, geometric lines and planes create a serene backdrop for a picnic table and plantings, including an allee of carefully pruned trees, a grass lawn, and boxwood topiaries in the distance. Photograph courtesy of Martin Veltkamp.

For more of this garden, see A Classical Approach to a Mod Minimalist Garden.

Investment Tools

Garden hoes. Photograph via Sneeboer.
Above: Garden hoes. Photograph via Sneeboer.

Netherlands-based toolmaker Sneeboer & Zn was founded in 1913 by Arie Sneeboer, whose motto was: “I know how to improve.” Nowadays a fourth generation of the family business still relies on traditional hand-forging techniques to manufacture high-quality stainless steel tools for the discerning gardener. The company’s line includes dozens of specialty hoes such as the Royal Dutch Hoe (€68), the Heart Shaped Push Hoe (€61.90), and the 12-centimeter Halfmoon Pull Hoe (€47.70).

Grand Gestures

 Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf plants perennials in great sweeps, a technique he pioneered at his own home in Hummelo and later exported to other gardens around the world; for more of this landscape, see Garden Visit: Dutch Master Piet Oudolf in Yorkshire. Photograph by Alexandre Bailhache.
Above:  Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf plants perennials in great sweeps, a technique he pioneered at his own home in Hummelo and later exported to other gardens around the world; for more of this landscape, see Garden Visit: Dutch Master Piet Oudolf in Yorkshire. Photograph by Alexandre Bailhache.

Water Features

A water feature at the Keukenhof gardens. From the canals of Amsterdam to and reflecting pools in formal gardens, water plays an elemental role in creating atmosphere in Dutch gardens. Photograph by Michell Zappa via Flickr.
Above: A water feature at the Keukenhof gardens. From the canals of Amsterdam to and reflecting pools in formal gardens, water plays an elemental role in creating atmosphere in Dutch gardens. Photograph by Michell Zappa via Flickr.

For more of our favorite Dutch gardens and flowers, see:

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