On fertile ground Amid the wild, open landscape of Noordoostpolder in the
Under a big sky amid sweeping plains, Goldhoorn is a richly planted garden on fertile land reclaimed from the sea
Elly Kloosterboer grew up not far from the garden, Goldhoorn, she has created on her husband’s family farm. Her parents moved to this area called Noordoostpolder in the early 1950s. Like many Dutch families, they came here to start a new life on land that had only been reclaimed from the sea in the 1930s. Her husband’s family were among the very first raft of settlers to this virgin land, and named their farm after the area to the north from where they had come, namely Goldhoorn.
Noordoostpolder is big-sky country: a flat, windswept plain, characterised by a grid of straight roads that cross one another at right angles – a bend in the road is unheard of – out of which Goldhoorn Gardens appears like a mirage; in summer an oasis of rambling roses and clematis among the fields of chicory and carrots, and even in autumn bursting with imaginative blends of colour.
Turn the page for Romke’s interview with Elly.
What inspired your garden? I always wanted to have a garden with a large pond, but my husband and I were too busy running the farm to garden. When we stopped working, I felt I could make a start. I knew nothing about plants or design. All my inspiration came from books and magazines. Where did you begin? I started with the pond. There was enough room to make a large one. A digger came and made a huge hole, which was lined with polythene. The rest of the garden grew organically around the pond. Did you have anything else in mind? I had romantic visions of walls overflowing with clematis and rambling roses. But brick walls are expensive. And walls don’t really fit in with this wide-open landscape. So instead I grow climbers against metal frames of a type that are made to form the skeletons for reinforced concrete. But first I needed windbreaks to make gardening possible at all. So was the wind your main challenge? Yes, especially the strong southwesterlies, but also the soil. But isn’t the soil here famously fertile? It is, but it’s also very heavy clay that cracks in times of drought. We get fissures so wide you can park your bicycle in them. That makes any attempt at gardening futile. Gardening here starts with improving the soil. What about draining or irrigation? The water table of the area is managed artificially. And on this retentive soil I don’t have to water plants very often. But of course roses and clematis like it moist, so I run a length of perforated hose along their roots.
How has the garden developed? First of all I tackled the front garden, which was not much more than a lawn with a few decrepit conifers. I had some help from a professional garden designer there. Later on I went to college and followed a course in gardening. I learned there were more trees available than birches and alders, which is why you now see a Cercidiphyllum and a Parrotia in the garden. I also learned how to subdivide a garden into separate spaces, to create surprises round every corner, and to make hidden areas on the outside of the garden from where you look outward across the surrounding fields. How did you define these separate spaces? By using a variety of hedges, such as yew, beech and privet, as well as ivy grown on metal supports. And by surrounding parts of the garden by screens of roses and clematis. Do you also use paths? I do. At first I used ground bark for the paths; it was pretty, but not at all satisfactory. Especially once I opened to the public. People complained about straining their ankles. Now I use a loam-coloured, finely ground stone. The paths are edged with heavy cubes of granite sourced in Belgium. Do you have any favourite plants? I like to keep the garden attractive until the first frosts. I use late-flowering perennials, such as asters and sedums, but I’m also fond of self-seeding annuals, such as red-leaved Atriplex and Amaranthus. And I love dahlias. You’re a garden designer yourself now. Do you have any advice for beginners? Learn about your soil, and about how to improve it. My heavy clay has only become manageable with a heavy topdressing of mushroom compost each year. On sand you might need a different approach, but everything starts with the soil. Do you have any regrets? If I were to make a pond again, I would situate it in a place where I could enjoy it from my window. Now I only see it when I go there and sit near it.
“I learned how to subdivide a garden into separate spaces, to create surprises round every corner”
In brief Name Goldhoorn Gardens. What Private Dutch garden divided by hedging into areas with rich planting, strong structure and a large, ornamental pond. Where Bant, Noordoostpolder, the Netherlands. Size 4,000 square metres. Climate Temperate. Soil Heavy, alkaline clay, improved with mushroom compost. Hardiness rating USDA 9.
Above Elly Kloosterboer at work in her garden. Right In a curving border, autumnal plants, including Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’, Aster x frikartii ‘Jungfrau’, Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ and Hylotelephium ‘Matrona’, provide bold colour softened by grasses,including Calamagrostis brachytricha and C. x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’. A path through the ivycovered archway leads to the pond.
Grasses, including Pennisetum alopecuroides and the tall Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferner Osten’, a cultivar selected by Ernst Pagels, tumble over a narrow path.