Witty, engaging title...

How long can it take to decide what to call a post about an incredibly influential Dutch garden designer?  Ages, apparently.  And I’ve discovered that if I don’t start with a title before I write anything else, it stuffs up the permalink system, and names it by a number.

Anyway, forget all that, and start reading here:

It seems odd to me, or at least notable, that a nation not known for its skill or interest in domestic gardening should turn out several highly influential designers.  I’m talking of The Netherlands, and its line-up of people like Ton ter Linden, Piet Oudulf and Mien Ruys.

It’s Mien Ruys I want to dwell on for a bit.  Let’s get pronunciation out of the way first.  The best I can convey of the pronunciation of the amazingly dedicated staff at Tuinen Mien Ruys (the Mien Ruys Garden) is Mien pr. as ‘mean’, and Ruys, rhyming with grouse, with a fabulously exaggerated rolling of the ‘r’.

There’s just way too much inspiration in this garden to cover in a single post.  I’m not even going to try.  I won’t even mention how it came about – a quick google can provide that info.  I’ll just stick to a few things that moved me most, and that I have good pics to illustrate.

Check out the use of really sharp geometry, as shown in the pic above.  It may seem a little 90’s, but this is where all that late 20th Century design came from.  The geometry isn’t only in the layout, but in the cubes/rectangular prisms of clipped plants.  That makes for a great, strong matrix within which unruly/fluffy perennials can romp about in mid-summer without the whole thing turning to visual mush.  The silhouettes of peasant’s bums are, by the way, of rusty iron.

I was also really intrigued by how often Mien Ruys would ‘imply’ an enclosed space with simple segments of hedge.  It is like she only stated what was necessary and let your mind do the rest.

Possibly one of the most recognizable areas of the garden, as it has been so widely photographed is the deck/pond combo ie (top image).

Having seen images of this area over many years, I was really surprised to find that the decking is black recycled plastic – way ahead of its time. Likewise that fabulous ‘palisade’ fence in the background.  Australian safety laws would probably require that we have a 1.2m balustrade around each of those squares of deck.

And finally, I was really taken with this perfectly circular space within natural forest.  I’m just a little crazy about an idea that such a simple space illustrates – that our gut reaction to gardens is largely about the way we’re captured or held in a ‘shell’ of planting. 2-D photos can’t illustrate a 3-D principle, of course, and the result wasn’t brilliant, being too small for the height of the trees.  My excitement was entirely from stumbling on an example of something that will always be confined to my imagination – entering a forest with a chainsaw, and carving for myself a series of perfectly proportioned spaces.

And just in case you’re one of those types that think that it isn’t a garden unless there’s flowers…


  1. I love these gardens and the photos too. Well done. So much inspiration. I always look at pics of gardens in Europe and admire their almost nonchalant wildflower meadows and ruffled natural grasses.

    My big question is: how we can achieve this relaxed natural flower meadow/wildflower look in Victoria, Australia?

    Can you please do a post on this. Do we need to rotary hoe and then scatter seeds and grass seeds simultaneously? Is it even realistic in our summer climate? Does it need lots of water? When would we plant? Are they annuals, so we have to re-do it every year?

    It looks so easy in these pics – but HOW do we get this natural wildflower look so prevalent in the designs we all love?

    1. I’ll get to that soon. Watch this space..

    2. Visiting my parents who are avid gardeners and live nearby the Tuinen Mien Ruys, we visited the gardens yesterday and what a delight it was. Prior to the visit I had read this blog which had heightened my expectations andit was great to identify that what Michael described felt so true.
      Being a landscaper/gardener from Melbourne with a keen interest in both new and ‘old’ garden styles, I can tell you that creating meadow-like gardens is certainly possible, providing one doesn’t expect an instant effect. Soil preparation is key as is providing some shelter from our harsh summer sun and creating what’s called the right micro climate but with time, dedication and patience such gardens in our beautiful country too can exist.

  2. Ah ha! I have found the antidote to Great Dixter from your later post. What a perfect, wonderful circular space. I want to walk out into the middle of it and just feel it. Like a stone circle but with trees. (Alas I betray my Celtic origins there). I just hope nobody comes along in a few years and decides it would look much better with a sundial/sculpture/birdbath/specimen tree/seat placed right in the middle.

    1. That’s exactly how I felt, Catherine. I just wanted to get in there and ‘feel’ that space. I was back there in spring ’12 (the pic was taken in early summer ’11), and couldn’t believe that there were daffodils planted in there. Obviously whoever is now doing the planting doesn’t get it at all. It’s critical that it is just carpeted in green, so the space remains without interruption.

  3. Just lamenting that there’s virtually nothing written on Mein Ruys in English and searching the internet, and here I am bumping into you again, Michael. Have you done other posts on her?

    1. No, this is it, James. But it’s early days for me yet..

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