It was one of the nicest surprises I had this year: a small piece of paradise, almost unknown to foreign visitors, located deep in the Dutch countryside. The Mien Ruys Gardens are one of the most spectacular experiments in garden design in Europe, a monument to creativity and nature.
Wilhelmina Jacoba Moussault-Ruys, better known as Mien Ruys (1904–1999), was a well-known Dutch landscape and garden architect. She grew up literally surrounded by plants. Her father had founded the Moerheim plant nursery in 1888, specializing in perennials (plants that live for more than two years). The business quickly grew and in the first half of the twentieth century it had become the most important nursery for perennials in Europe .
Starting in 1924, Mien Ruys created small experimental gardens on her father’s estate. Soon she realized that she was more interested in garden design than in the original family business. Because there was no training in this field in Holland at that time, Mien studied in Berlin and then got some additional practical experience in England. During World War II she studied engineering and architecture in Delft. Soon however she returned home to work and experiment at her father’s company, where she founded a small design department. Her experiments, the starting point for the current gardens, helped her become in time one of the most notable garden designers in the Netherlands.
Mien Ruys collaborated a lot with architects, such as Gerrit Rietveld, and she understood the importance of unity between the building and the garden. Searching an optimal use of space, she designed in the beginning paths, terraces and spaces for plants at an oblique angle to the buildings and in contrast with them. From the 1960’s the oblique lines were replaced by straight lines, often including very straight clipped squares of greenery, in contrast with a more exuberant use of perennials. She felt that these perennials allowed viewers to have a direct experience of nature and interact with it. Influenced by Japanese design, Mien Ruys is credited with creating apparently open and transparent spaces even in small gardens, by using rectangular shapes, water, bamboo and wood.
After the war, Mien Ruys designed many ‘communal gardens’ for the new residential developments of that period. Her socialist views greatly influenced the choice of materials: she experimented with low cost, widely available construction materials, and also used recycled materials, like plastic or railroad ties. She developed eight inexpensive, ready-made planting schemes for the larger public, each suitable for a different soil type and site setting. Mien Ruys became well known in the Netherlands by publishing several books and a quarterly magazine, Onze eigen tuin (“Our own garden”). It is still considered one of the most creative Dutch publications in its field.
The Mien Ruys gardens are really a unique site: only rarely a designer has enough resources to play with ideas, free of any constraints or customer demands. In this sense, they are fully representative for their creator’s vision and they can be considered pure works of art. Open for the public since 1976, the site contains nowadays 30 small model gardens, managed by the Foundation Tuinen Mien Ruys. Three of them have received the status of Rijksmonument (national monument). The knowledge accumulated through decades of experiments is popularized through publications, guided tours, lectures, courses, and ‘theme’ days. The gardens are located in Dedemsvaart, in the Overijssel region, at about 140 km from Amsterdam. Due to the relative distance from big cities, they are usually quiet, making them a perfect place for a relaxing day trip. A true oasis of peace and beauty!
See below the gardens’ site: