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
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’.