Gardens Illustrated
Dutch garden of Jopie Koens and Ton Alten
© Robert Mabic

A small Dutch garden with distinctive structure and planting style

Published: August 17, 2022 at 4:04 pm

The small Zeeland garden of Jopie Koens and Ton Alten has both a structure and planting style that is distinctively of its place. Words Noel Kingsbury, photographs Robert Mabic

The climates of the UK and the Netherlands are very similar, and a similar range of plants can be found in the gardens of these two most enthusiastic of gardening nations. Even so, were I to be parachuted into a random, unfamiliar garden and had to guess in which country I had landed, I’m pretty sure I would instantly know.

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Dutch garden of Jopie Koens and Ton Alten
© Robert Mabic

One garden that leaves little doubt is that of Jopie Koens and Ton Alten. This small garden, squeezed into a corner plot on one of Zeeland’s peninsulas that reach out into the North Sea, has all the elements of a modern Dutch garden. Many of these lead back to one, incredibly influential, Dutch garden and landscape designer, who dominated the profession for much of the 20th century: Mien Ruys. Her vision was architectural and modern – definitely post-Bauhaus – but she was also a lover of flowers and colour.

Jopie and Ton’s garden is very plant focussed, colourful and relaxed, but two features stand out as being distinctly Mien Ruys: a long block of clipped box, rectangular shapes that all mesh together, and in another part of the garden, an array of box clipped into spheres of varying sizes. Both features read as sculptures – exercises in form in themselves, rather than as a structural framework as clipped box might be used in the UK.

In brief

Garden name De Doolman. What Small garden that is home to a series of different borders offering a range of characters and colours. Where The Netherlands. Size 1,250 square metres. Soil Clay over sand, so well-drained. Climate Cool temperate with  a maritime influence. Hardiness zone USDA 9.

Read more about the garden below.

Dutch garden of Jopie Koens and Ton Alten
© Robert Mabic

Leading out from the side of their modern house, Jopie and Ton have created a long Hot Border, with uplifting, fiery tones that include Helenium ‘Sahin’s Early’ and Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’. Dark purple is a good intensifier for warm colours, provided here by the large leaves of Canna ‘Cleopatra’ and purple foliage of Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’.

Dutch garden of Jopie Koens and Ton Alten
© Robert Mabic

The rectangular canal, which you cross to enter the house, creates a feeling of calm in the first area of this small garden, and provides a visual link to the sculptural groupings of box blocks and the pergola behind. To the left is the large Front Garden border, with a pink and purple theme that includes Monarda ‘On Parade’, Bistorta amplexicaulis and Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’. In spring this border is full of bulbs (mostly tulips and camassias) in a similar colour scheme.

Dutch garden of Jopie Koens and Ton Alten
© Robert Mabic

A neat beech hedge separates the Hot Border from this cooler mix of planting dominated by the pink spikes of Bistorta amplexicaulis ‘Rowden Gem’ (a one-time Persicaria cultivar raised by John Carter in Devon). In front, Phlox paniculata ‘Blue Paradise’ stands out among the grasses that add movement to the border, including the steely blue Poa labillardierei and Stipa calamagrostis, with its feathery panicles and open habit.

Dutch garden of Jopie Koens and Ton Alten
© Robert Mabic

The Hot Border extends out from Jopie and Ton’s house, and is filled with hot colour from the red swords of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, yellow umbels of Achillea filipendulina, and orange sunflowers of Helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’. At the front is an unnamed Gaillardia aristata hybrid, a short-lived perennial daisy with multi-coloured flowerheads that, according to Jopie, flowers all summer making it invaluable for long-season impact.

Dutch garden of Jopie Koens and Ton Alten
© Robert Mabic

A Koelreuteria paniculata tree that Jopie’s father grew from seed rises out of a bed of cloud-pruned box to create a focal point at the end of the Hot Border. Facing these sculptural box balls, rounded clumps of Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ create a rhythm along the path, punctuated by bursts of colour, including the yellow flowers of Heliopsis helianthoides.

Dutch garden of Jopie Koens and Ton Alten
© Robert Mabic

Ton has used the same split grey basalt stone for the paths throughout the garden to create a sense of “unity and peace”. The planting has also added to this strong sense of visual unity by repeating certain plants throughout the borders. In the Hot Border Ton has used Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ at intervals and used various grasses, most notably Stipa calamagrostis, in several of the borders.

Dutch garden of Jopie Koens and Ton Alten
© Robert Mabic

The Cream and White Border is dominated by a vigorous, long-flowering, white phlox, its name long since forgotten, which Jopie inherited from her parents’ garden. Behind, the feathery flowers of Koenigia x fennica ‘Johanneswolke’ (formerly a Persicaria) are very long lasting, although strangely of no interest to pollinators, alongside Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’, a subtly variegated relative of the much larger ‘Karl Foerster’.

Dutch garden of Jopie Koens and Ton Alten
© Robert Mabic
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The covered terrace offers an extension to Ton and Jopie’s modern house with outdoor sofas positioned to take advantage of the long, double Hot Border, which leads out from this side of the house. Planters on the terrace include a similar mix of bright colours to raise the spirits, including Tagetes ‘Starfire Mixed’. To the right, the pink flowers of Bistorta amplexicaulis ‘Rowden Gem’ stand out against the row of poplars, which create a sense of enclosure for the garden.

Authors

Noel Kingsbury is an internationally renowned writer who focuses on plants, gardens and the environment.

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