Gardens Illustrated Magazine


Dutch landscape designer Mien Ruys created more than 3,000 gardens and landscapes, so why is this the first comprehens­ive book to celebrate her work in English?


It was with trepidatio­n that two years ago, I made my first visit to Tuinen Mien Ruys in Dedemsvaar­t, in the Netherland­s. They say that you should never meet your heroes. I wonder if that applies to visiting their gardens? I have held Mien Ruys, the Dutch landscape designer, in such high esteem since I first discovered her, largely thanks to John Brookes who championed her work.

The garden did not disappoint. I was in awe and it looked as if it had been designed yesterday. I simply cannot understand why Mien Ruys has remained relatively unknown outside of the Netherland­s and why, until now, no one had written a book in English about this remarkable woman.

Author Julia Crawford has a background in interior design, sustainabl­e architectu­re and garden design. She has spent time working in both the Netherland­s and the UK as an interior and garden designer. Crawford also shares a fascinatio­n with Mien Ruys, and decided to write the first comprehens­ive study in English about the life and work of this extraordin­ary woman. The book begins with Mien’s childhood, which undoubtedl­y had a major impact on her career. Her father Bonne Ruys establishe­d the famous Moerheim nursery in 1888. It became one of the most influentia­l nurseries in the Netherland­s, so much so that in 1904 the nursery was awarded the title Royal Moerheim; supplying plants to the Dutch royal palace. Mien had a background in plants but her interests lay largely in design, both landscape and architectu­re, and her studies took her abroad before returning to work in the Netherland­s. She was also heavily influenced by the emerging art and design movements of the time, including De Stijl.

The early 20th century was not an easy time to be living in mainland

Europe, which probably contribute­d to the shaping of her character and her strong socialist beliefs; including her involvemen­t in the Dutch resistance, which included the active concealmen­t of Jews and resistance fighters. In 1945, when the Nazi occupation had ended, Mien’s career really took off and we learn about her initial experiment­al landscape designs, along with her collaborat­ive work with the key Modernist architects of the day,

including Gerrit Rietveld. This was a very interestin­g time to be working in design, as post-war, the Netherland­s was undergoing a national reconstruc­tion programme.

Mien loved geometry. Her plans appeared deceptivel­y simple, and as Crawford explains, you can see the influence in her work from artists such as Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg. In fact, her love of the diagonal line led to her being given the nickname of Diagonal Mien by her contempora­ries. She was ahead of her time with her innovative use of materials, such as railway sleepers, concrete and even recycled plastic, which she used in a design she made her eighties for a ‘floating walkway’ across the water feature in the Marsh Garden in Dedemsvaar­t.

A particular­ly poignant element of this book is the insertion of seven ‘perspectiv­es’ from different people who were close to, or influenced by, Mien, including her nephew Theo Ruijs; Anet Scholma, who worked with Mien; and contempora­ry Dutch designer Carolien Barkman.

This is a book that should be on every gardener’s booklist, offering a thorough insight into the work of an extraordin­ary woman whose influence lives on through the work of many designers including Piet Oudolf. Crawford writes: ‘Whether it’s a name we are aware of or not, many of us will have a little bit of Mien in our gardens, be it a railway sleeper, a diagonal line, a Phlomis russeliana or a water ball’.

Reviewer Annie Guilfoyle is a landscape designer, lecturer and co-director of Garden Masterclas­s.

A book that should be read by everyone – it is time for Mien Ruys to be better known by all

 ?? ?? From top: Floating platforms on the Marsh Garden pond, the Square Garden, shade borders.
From top: Floating platforms on the Marsh Garden pond, the Square Garden, shade borders.
 ?? ?? MIEN RUYS: THE MOTHER OF MODERNIST GARDENS by Julia Crawford Lund Humphries, £39.95 ISBN 978-1848225640
MIEN RUYS: THE MOTHER OF MODERNIST GARDENS by Julia Crawford Lund Humphries, £39.95 ISBN 978-1848225640
 ?? ?? The Wilderness Garden at Tuinen Mien Ruys.
The Wilderness Garden at Tuinen Mien Ruys.

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