Naturalistic planting design in the Netherlands derived from a different need. By the end of the nineteenth century prevalent landscape design was still firmly rooted in the landscape style, which with Leonard A. Springer (1855-1940), the best-known landscape architect of the period as a proponent, continued well into the twentieth century. Springer had argued that nature could not be imitated, and that the natural style was a compromise between nature and art, which as a result was artful and therefore included exotics. Artful nature had to be well-maintained, well-arranged, neat and tidy (Greenen and Roeleveld 1982:116). Another group of landscape designers, represented by the ‘nature style’, responded against the artificiality in gardens; they were against cultivated varieties of plants and against traditional pruning regimes, preferring a more natural appearance instead. This was achieved through an emphasis on planting, which was to be established prior to laying out walks. This movement coincided with the popularisation of nature, which started in the late nineteenth century under the auspices of Jacobus P. Thijsse and Eli Heimans, two schoolteachers. They promoted a popular scientific approach to the study of local nature.
They aimed to increase awareness of nature and its conservation by means of education. Besides publications this was done with gardens such as Thijsse’s Hof, Bloemendaal, founded in 1925 to raise
Jacobus P. Thijsse promoted conservation by means of education.
The educational garden at Thijsse’s Hof, Bloemendaal, recreated a vegetation with all the species of dune flora growing in the area
a general concern about the Dutch dunes, their flora and fauna. Designed by Springer at the initiation of Thijsse and planted by Cees Sipkes, it attempted to include all the species of the dune flora referred to as growing in the region by F. W.van Eeden in 1886. During the Second World War this sort of garden was referred to as an instructive park, emphasising its educational importance, but since the war these types of parks have been referred to as heemparks, with ‘heem’ representing environment, yard or home. These were defined as areas in which landscape architecture was conducted with the assistance of wild flora. They were as labour intensive as ordinary parks (Figure 2.11).
Thijsse’s Hof gradually found a following with other such parks throughout the country. An early example was De Heimanshof in Vierhouten, named after Thijsse’s late partner, and designed by Springer’s nephew, the landscape architect G. Bleeker in 1935. It incorporated the flora of De Veluwe. More ambitious was the Scientific Garden in the Zuiderpark in the Hague, designed by A. J. de Gorter – ter Pelkwijk between 1933 and 1935, which aimed to include the various Dutch plant communities, and was intended for primary school education. The best known examples, however, are those designed as part of a park system for Amstelveen, De Braak and Westelijk Bovenland (later renamed Jac. P.Thijssepark) in 1939 and 1940, respectively. These were designed by C. P. Broerse, with the assistance of J. Landwehr.
The popular appeal of native plants was clear; Thijsse had suggested they might be used in the garden (Thijsse 1926:90). J. M.van den Houten in his Wilde Planten en hare
Toepassing in onze Tuinen (Native plants and their application in our gardens, 1935) discussed the ancient history of cultivation of native plants in gardens and organised his descriptions according to the various plant communities. The basic distinctions in this publication that was intended for the popular market was to differentiate two soil types— rich in nutrients and poor in nutrients—with seven types of communities—arable land, natural meadows, woodland, peat bogs versus dunes, heathland and moorland. Yet the author realised that not many private gardens would be able to include phytogeographical plantings, but that plant lovers might include a small section within the garden for native flora, with hints on how to create the right conditions for a number of vegetation types. There was practical information on collecting plants and on the limited number of nurseries specialising in native plant material.
During the 1920s the debate about a new garden style had moved away from romantic and aesthetic notions, and had become more scientifically based. The curator of the Amsterdam Hortus Botanicus, A. J.van Laren, introduced the concept of phytogeographical planting. In 1907 he had argued that the terminology of ‘nature style’ was unsuitable and had suggested such alternatives as ‘landscape-like’ and ‘free-form layout’. He had used the term ‘nature groupings’ to describe various habitats that might be created in the garden, such as a bog garden, rockery, pond and woodland edge. In 1930 he promoted phytogeographic plant groupings as a ‘new and more correct principle for the planting of parks, green spaces and gardens’. This meant that plants would be arranged by their countries of origin and according to the natural plant communities or associations. Whilst the Arboretum of Tervueren near Brussels was quoted as an example of such planting, it is clear that German examples and the long pedigree of plant geography were either not known by Van Laren or he may not have felt the necessity to acknowledge these (Van Laren 1907, 1927, 1929).
During the 1930s, the proposals for a new city park for Amsterdam focused discussions on the layout and design of public parks. The proposed planting of the Amsterdam bos was to be designed according to phytogeographical principles, and the planting was intended to satisfy both demands for nature conservation and an arboretum. Whilst doing so, Thijsse had criticised the term ‘phytogeographical’ as used by Van Laren, as this would not be generally understood, and suggested that ‘plant sociological’ might be added in order to explain the principles. In this instance ‘phytogeographical’ was not just used to denote plants from a particular region, but different countries were represented with certain plant communities or specific habitats (Thijsse 1934).
As a result of the limited availability of scientific and practical information, the uptake of this type of planting was restricted to large parks, such as the Zuiderpark in the Hague, implemented between 1921 and 1936 according to designs by landscape architect D. F.Tersteeg and P. Westbroek (Pannekoek and Schipper 1944). The confusion in terminology is evident in their standard textbook for landscape architecture Tuinen (Gardens). They recognised five different ways of grouping plants in the garden, three of which relate to various ecological approaches. They distinguish ‘grouping according to plant communities’, for example heath and woodland vegetation, dune flora, peat and moorland vegetation. There is ‘phytogeographical planting’, considered only suitable for larger gardens and parks, and ‘groupings of wild plants’, which differed from the former in scale. The other two types of planting were ‘systematic groupings of plants’, plants arranged according to family groupings, and the most common type ‘mixed aesthetically and physiologically correct grouping’, where due care and attention for the condition of the garden, its soil, and to form a harmonic whole (Pannekoek and Schipper 1944:II, 8594).
In his inaugural lecture, The problem of plant grouping’, on becoming a reader in landscape design, J. T.P. Bijhouwer, who had previously completed his PhD on a geobotanic study of the dunes in Bergen, added to this planting. He discussed two types of planting: one based on physiognomy as devised by Willy Lange, and another system devised by Hartogh Heys van Zouteveen. This did not arrange plants according to their external character, but selected those that occur in the temperate zone in similar plant communities (Bijhouwer 1939). As a result of the confusion over the terminology, ‘phytogeographical’ was gradually being phased out and was only occasionally used, such as by the townplanner Piet Verhagen who wrote about creating a phytogeographical garden (Verhagen 1945). By the 1950s the term ‘plant sociology’ was widely used.12
Research into phytogeography focused around the various botanical gardens, with a Laboratory for Plant Taxonomy and Geography established in Wageningen in 1930. Practically oriented research was encouraged by Bijhouwer, who in his inaugural lecture of 1939 had suggested that:
Everywhere where an area is of such character and size that a visitor would experience this as landscape, a landscape architect would be sensible to adapt the choice of species to the constraints of the terrain, and to the existing natural vegetation. This also has enormous practical advantages—the plants will grow successfully, without the necessity of extensive soil improvements.
One of the points, perhaps one of the few, with which critical Dutchmen all agree, is the value of landscape beauty, commonly natural beauty. What that is concerned we have a common asset, that also today is part of our civilisation as a community. If we manage to analyse the grouping of plants, if in this way we will come to a further solution, then this will already produce an expression of our common cultural inheritance. So in any case this should be part of a style.
To arrive to a fully comprehensive style, which links to our Dutch landscape appreciation, I believe that a better understanding and a more intense observation of our cultural landscapes will be necessary.
(Van Leeuwen and Doing Kraft 1959:7-9)
It is clear that Bijhouwer saw the basis of a new landscape style in a deeper understanding of the existing landscape. Thus, increased knowledge of vegetation types was desirable; there were practical and economic advantages when these were applied to native species. It was particularly Victor Westhoff, first Director of the Laboratory, who took on the responsibility for the classification of the vegetation in the Netherlands (Westhoff et al. 1942). His successor, H. Doing Kraft, translated this into guidelines for forestry and landscape planning with Van Leeuwen in Landschap en Beplanting in Nederland: Richtlijnen voor de Soortenkeuze bij Beplantingen op Vegetatiekundige Grondslag (Landscape and planting in the Netherlands: guidelines for the species choice with plantations based on plant ecology (1959)). This used the plant geographical districts of the Netherlands as devised by J. L.van Soest in 1929 as a basis (Van Leeuwen and Doing Kraft 1959:55) and provided detailed advice concerning plant communities and their composition for practical application (Figure 2.12). Whilst they were understood to be only a starting point, they were already in use with the Landscape section of the State Forestry Service prior to their publication, mainly concentrating on woody plants.
These guidelines were not intended for gardens and parks, as such an approach would lead to the impoverishment of such places, as exotic plants have for centuries made a valuable contribution to the richness of gardens. Knowledge might even be extended to non-native plant communities drawn from exotic locations. ‘Equipped with this knowledge and with his creative abilities the park and garden
A division of the Netherlands in plant geographical districts produced by J. L.van Soest in 1929— later became the basis for guidelines for forestry and landscape planning (Heukels 1976)
architect would be able to compose plantings, which are justified both scientifically and aesthetically.’ A further disclaimer finished the introduction to the guidelines, which stated that as an artist the desire to group plants according to whatever order was totally left to the garden architect. The most important part of the guidelines consisted of a table of plants found in the 12 Dutch woodland types, as defined in Heukels and Van Oostroom’s Flora van Nederland (1956), which then enabled the designer to make appropriate selection for the region. It was noted that there were objections from the science world to planting schemes based on ecological principles, as copying of the ‘natural’ vegetation types would be confusing for further plant
Louis le Roy saw the city (stad) as being surrounded by alternative small scale cultures in a network of artificial ecosystems, allotments and artificial dry wall systems with footpaths into the countryside (Le Roy 1973:184-185)
geographic research. The authors did not consider this to be a sufficiently important counter-argument against well-adapted planting schemes (Van Leeuwen and Doing Kraft 1959:55).
Ger Londo of the governmental Department for Management of Nature extended the ideas, bridging the gap left between the ecologically appropriate woodland vegetations and the labour-intensive heemparks. The latter had been the subject of a book by J. Landwehr and Cees Sipkes, entitled Wildeplantentuinen (Native plant gardens, 1973), which contained many years of experience in laying out and maintaining heemparks. Londo’s publication Natuurtuinen enparken: Aanleg en Onderhoud (Nature gardens and parks: layout and maintenance (1977)) was concerned with the development of natural vegetation in which all plants belonging to it are included, without the necessity for intensive weeding as with heemparks. This book provided a practical manual as to how to establish environments with more or less natural plantings with native species. There was no necessity for weeding and planting, and the maintenance was much less intensive with, for example, a mowing regime of once or twice annually. These nature gardens were simple to establish and cheap to maintain (Londo 1977), but less finely detailed than traditional heemparks.
From the late 1960s the artist and teacher Louis le Roy reacted to what he saw as an unacceptably laissez-faire contemporary attitudes and policies to the environment, and the risks posed by man-made
In Le Roy’s vision, nature would invade the housing areas (Le Roy 1973:190)
pollution and pesticides. He maintained that the historic development of nature and culture were to be considered as a continuity, and that any severance in space or time might cause an ecological calamity. He saw the function of cities as providing oases in which human beings would be able to express their creativity, rather than in specially created recreation areas. Emerging from the city would be alternative small-scale food cultures in a network of artificial ecosystems, allotments and artificial wall systems with footpaths into the countryside. Thus, surrounding monoculture agriculture would be enclosed by these interconnecting systems leading from city to city (Figure 2.13).
Le Roy proposed that the management of vegetation should aim for and encourage a relatively stable climax situation, which in most cases would be some form of woodland, with some pruning being the only maintenance; there should be no soil cultivation (Figure 2.14). Planting was to take place with any species, by applying the Darwinian approach of the survival of the fittest. His book Natuur Uitschakelen; Natuur Inschakelen (Turn off nature; turn on nature, 1973) motivated a whole generation of enthusiasts. Yet his projects, such as the Kennedylaan at Heerenveen in the Netherlands, all fell foul of the fact that success was dependent on relinquishing power to a counter-culture and authorities were reluctant to do so (Le Roy 1973) (Figure 2.15). Le Roy was not always thanked for his approach by nature conservationists, as he did not remain true to the existing vegetation, but they did acknowledge him for being able to arouse a new generation and get them to think about ecology on a larger scale. Nowadays, the nature gardens of Londo, the gardens following the principles of Le Roy, and the Thijsse type heemgardens are all included in a guide to 170 sites throughout the Netherlands (Leufgen and Van Lier 1992).
During the 1980s, the environmental debate was dominated by changes in the rural landscape, with concern about farming, its overproduction and continued mechanisation. A design competition held in 1986 addressed these issues by looking at the river valleys of the Rhine and Meuse. The characteristics of the valleys meant that the area is subject to pressures from gravel and clay extraction, and that efficient large-scale agriculture was not possible on often small and irregular plots. Despite the rich soil, agriculture was therefore not economical and a complete reassessment was
Most of Le Roy’s projects, such as the Kennedylaan in Heerenveen, fell foul of the fact that success was dependent on relinquishing power to a counter-culture and local authorities were reluctant to do so
required. The winning entry to this competition addressed the various issues through a very careful historical, social and ecological analysis, and was adopted and given the project name ‘Stork’. This plan aimed to create a new interaction between the natural dynamics of a river system, the resulting visual expression and the land use. The plan was both philosophically and economically appealing, and gained immediate and widespread publicity because it provided a framework for the management of rivers, nature, agriculture and the extraction of minerals. On a practical level with regard to vegetation, it meant that instead of planting whole areas, the area would be given over to natural processes to encourage natural regeneration. Traditional low-intensity management practices, for example grazing, were used to encourage a rich mosaic of grassland, copses and woodlands. This project represented one of the first holistic large-scale applications of ecological ideas to the repair of a large-scale cultural landscape (De Bruin et al. 1987).