While in Holland in late August, I visited some private gardens located in one of the many polders. A Polder is a tract of low land, especially in the Netherlands, reclaimed from the sea or other body of water and protected by dikes. There’s an English saying: “God created the world but the Dutch created Holland.”
I visited four private gardens in the Northeast-polder that was begun in 1935 and was sufficiently drained for habitation by1942. The land is 10 feet below sea level and the majority of it was designated for farming with the less fertile parts planted with trees. Compared to rest of Holland the landscape is open and empty. There are many long avenues of mature poplar trees and throughout the polder as well as rows of wind turbines. It was hard to imagine that this land was once sea floor, that everything I was seeing had only been there seventy years. The newly re-claimed land in the polders was state-owned during the development process. The new plots were distributed among private parties, with priority given to the early pioneers who had been in the polder since the start. Farmers from all over the Netherlands became eligible for the remainder land. Three of gardeners we met were working farmers; the fourth inherited the farm from her parents.
Each of the gardens was situated in the middle of large agricultural farms with enormous barns surrounded by fields of crops, such as potatoes or tulips. All the gardens were hedged and this provided a much needed break from the North Sea winds. An extremely flat landscape, the hedges also provided a vertical element, structure and backdrop to the plantings.
When we called Lipkje Schat to schedule an appointment to see her garden she told us her garden was closed for the season, but she would allow us to visit. She warned that the gardens were a mess from recent rains and were not looking their best. We arrived and saw no evidence of this, and instead were completely taken aback by the beauty that lay before us. Schat began her garden in 1988 and did all of the work herself, including the hardscape of paths, terraces and reflecting pools. She opened the garden to the public in 1996. Her own sculptures are placed throughout her garden.
I was immediately struck by the perfect proportions of each garden room. Flowering gardens are interspersed by rooms of only foliage; the break with flowering plants provides a breathing space before the next colorful planting. Schat is a master plantswoman with an exquisite eye for proportion, line and shape. On her web site she writes: “…the garden is comprised of succession of nine enclosures each designed with a particular character and color. Beech hedges create external and internal boundaries and shelter both in summer and winter and as well as provides structure to the garden. There are shade gardens, sunny borders, water gardens, terraces, several gazebos, pergolas, out buildings.”
Each of the rooms has a specific palette with the largest room planted in a series of pink flowering plants including: persicarias, echiancea, geraniums, roses and variegated red berberis and the solid green boxwoods repeated and added structure to the planting. Two pink chairs at the end of the long borders look more like sculptures than a place to sit. A hot color boarder abuts the pink room creating the sense of a long corridor where you are brought in very close to the plantings of heleniums and red dahlias at eye level. The contraction of space forces the viewer to see plants up close and this change of perspective is quite brilliant!
My favorite area was a small room with a Pyrus salicifolia –(Weeping Siberian pear) as the focal point. Two Large sculpted boxwoods flanking a side entrance. I had never seen boxwood sheered like this and it really added a sculptural element to the garden. Lots of grey foliage plants such as of Stachys-lambs ear, blue fescue grass, Helichrysum- licorice plant, along with white flowering plants such as Japanese anemone, and my new favorite plant Selinum Wallichianum are combined with plenty of sculptural plants such as boxwood balls to create a richly textured garden with a minimal palette of grays, greens and whites. Opposite the Siberian weeping pear and overlooking the garden room is a black wooden outbuilding – a study, with books and garden plans strewn across a work table.
Another garden room features a reflecting pool with water lilies. Within the hedged room several boxwood balls are dotted in the corner creating pattern and texture and contrast beautifully with a sheered rectangular boxwood. The play of shapes gives this room a strong architectural theme. The round water lily leaves repeats the shape of the boxwoods and a large planting of bergenias with their waxy leaves contrasts nicely against the flat green of the boxwoods. A fish sculpture suspended over the pool added a bit of whimsy. The play of light some foliage absorbing, other foliage reflecting it made this the most contemplative space within the garden.
If you plan a trip to Holland definitely check out the polders and include this garden on your tour. In the meantime check out Schatt’s website: www.lipkjeschat.nl