An ad­ven­ture in gar­den­ing

Ar­jan and Geertje van Dijk’s gar­den is vast and ex­per­i­men­tal, fea­tur­ing ev­ery­thing from a canal, to or­na­men­tal beech arches, to a banana grove

Gardens Illustrated Magazine - - Contents - WORDS ROMKE VAN DE KAA PHO­TO­GRAPHS MAAYKE DE RID­DER

Ar­jan and Geertje van Dijk’s ex­pan­sive Dutch gar­den is all about in­no­va­tion; with plant­ing sit­ting hap­pily along­side sculpted Corten steel, cherry or­chards and a chicken coop

Look­ing out from the liv­ing room win­dow of Ar­jan and Geertje van Dijk’s house in the Dutch prov­ince of No­ord-Bra­bant, you are treated to a panoramic view of what seems like two to­tally dif­fer­ent gar­dens. Turn your gaze to the left and be­fore you stretches a rec­tan­gu­lar canal, flanked on both sides by al­most sym­met­ri­cal bor­ders. Look in­stead to­wards the right and your eye is im­me­di­ately drawn into a cherry or­chard, bor­dered by a wave of hy­drangeas, which in turn is echoed by a rip­ple of an­nual plants.

Delve fur­ther into the gar­den and you find even more dis­tinct gar­den spa­ces: a grove of white-stemmed Be­tula utilis var. jacque­mon­tii; a field of Hosta sieboldiana that takes on a warm parch­ment colour in the au­tumn sun, and is in­ter­planted with Al­lium hol­landicum ‘Pur­ple Sen­sa­tion’, of which in late au­tumn only the skele­tons re­main. A cir­cu­lar per­gola sup­ports sev­eral gnarled wis­te­rias and a sunken brick ter­race gives an amaz­ing view across a large me­an­der­ing pond. The lat­est de­vel­op­ment is an am­phithe­atre of an­nu­als in a raised bed, backed by a wall of Corten steel. It seems as if Ar­jan is ex­per­i­ment­ing with all avail­able gar­den­ing styles.

Ar­jan agrees. “I see gar­den­ing as an ad­ven­ture,” he says. “I love ex­per­i­ment­ing. Of course the main sight lines, ac­cen­tu­ated by beech hedges, are dic­tated by the sit­u­a­tion of the build­ings and the shape of the site. But within this for­mal frame I can try things out.”

So what is the role of Ar­jan’s wife Geertje in this on­go­ing ex­per­i­ment? “Geertje is my sound­ing board,” says Ar­jan. “No one is as crit­i­cal of my ideas as she is.

I sculpt the big shapes. Her ap­proach is more re­fined. She likes to ap­ply the fin­ish­ing touches. She is also a tal­ented flower ar­ranger. For her I de­signed a cut­ting gar­den – a se­cret gar­den room, en­closed by beech hedges. It stops her from plun­der­ing the rest of the gar­den.”

Al­most 30 years ago, at the age of 46, Ar­jan sold his events man­age­ment com­pany and shortly af­ter­wards met Geertje. To­gether they bought a house with out­build­ings in the vil­lage of Den Hout, in a ru­ral part of the Nether­lands. “De­sign­ing a gar­den is not that dif­fer­ent from or­gan­is­ing a party,” says Ar­jan. “What is im­por­tant is that you form in your mind an im­age of things to hap­pen. In the case of a gar­den you hover above the site in your mind’s eye, as though you were in a he­li­copter. You fol­low the logic of the place.” And with his tal­ent for or­gan­is­ing, Ar­jan made sure there was an ad­e­quate wa­ter­ing sys­tem – a must on his sandy soil.

“When we came here there was noth­ing re­motely re­sem­bling a gar­den. The pre­vi­ous own­ers had been horse lovers, so there was a meadow for graz­ing and an ex­er­cise yard. We started out by plant­ing the hedges, the cherry or­chard and a plane av­enue. One of the hedges was in the wrong place, we found later. We grubbed it out and as it left a large hole any­way, we made that into the canal. With that firm grid in place, the rest was a mat­ter of fill­ing in. We were in­flu­enced by ‘the Dutch wave’, the fashion for com­bin­ing grasses and peren­ni­als. Grasses have such a strong shape and they ex­tend the sea­son into au­tumn.”

But Ar­jan’s is a Dutch wave with a twist: ev­ery year he grows titho­nia, zin­nias and amaran­thus from seed, to com­bine with the grasses and the fad­ing

peren­ni­als. Their bright flow­ers keep the bor­ders alive with colour un­til the first frost.

The gar­den of Ar­jan and Geertje is orig­i­nal and per­sonal; the only part that feels more fa­mil­iar is the Ital­ianate roundel of wis­te­ria. Did they see an ex­am­ple of an­other one on their trav­els? Ar­jan: “No, we had a lot of old iron ly­ing about, and sought a use for it. We hardly ever visit other gar­dens any­way; our own gar­den is a mi­cro­cosm we feel happy in. If we ob­tain in­spi­ra­tion from else­where, it is through mag­a­zines and books.”

Af­ter sell­ing his busi­ness Ar­jan trained as a sculp­tor and per­haps this ex­plains his love of Corten steel. “You can mould it into any shape; it is rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive and I love the way it changes when it gets wet: then it starts to mir­ror the gar­den,” he says. “We have used it to edge the for­mal pond, as brack­ets for sculp­ture and as a re­tain­ing wall.”

And what do they love most about their gar­den? “It de­pends on the month, the day, or even the hour,” says Ar­jan. “In spring it is the ex­plo­sion of cherry blos­som, in au­tumn it is the grasses in the morn­ing mist. Then there is the res­i­dent lit­tle owl in the or­chard and the king­fish­ers above the pond.”

“We hardly ever visit other gar­dens; our own gar­den is a mi­cro­cosm we feel happy in. If we ob­tain in­spi­ra­tion from else­where, it is through mag­a­zines and books”

Above, from top A grass path leads to the house. Around it grow Molinia caerulea subsp. arun­d­i­nacea ‘Wind­spiel’, Per­si­caria am­plex­i­caulis and Hakonechloa macra. Owner Ar­jan van Dijk is a sculp­tor, gar­dener and ex­per­i­menter. Ar­jan likes to use or­na­men­tal veg­eta­bles, such as Bras­sica ol­er­acea ‘Red­bor’, seen here with Per­si­caria am­plex­i­caulis ‘Pink Mist’ and Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis.

Be­low, from top A host of or­na­men­tal grasses in­clud­ing Molinia, Mis­cant­hus, Pan­icum and Pen­nise­tum, along with bright-red Salvia el­e­gans bor­der the canal. The spotty, lily-like, plum flow­ers of Tri­cyr­tis stolonifera bring colour to the gar­den from Septem­ber into Novem­ber. The rep­e­ti­tion of beech arches over a straight cob­bled path cre­ates the il­lu­sion of an in­fi­nite view.

Above, from top Seed­heads – such as those of Anemone sylvestris – pro­vide sculp­tural de­tail at this time of year. Or­ganic shapes from the gar­den are echoed in Ar­jan’s sculp­tures. This one is framed by a back­ground of green oak leaves and the turn­ing fo­liage of an Ame­lanchier. The bare skele­tons of Al­lium aflatunense ‘Pur­ple Sen­sa­tion’.

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