With the opening of the new Native Plant Garden at the New York Botanical Gardens earlier this month I was inspired to pay a return visit to the heempark in Amstelveen which is recognised as one of Europe’s best.
The Dutch landscape is in part manmade and has been intensively managed for centuries. The native flora, such as it was, became threatened here far earlier than in other countries and this was recognised by naturalists in the last century who began to campaign for its conservation.
Jac. P. Thijsse (1865 – 1945) was a leader in the conservation movement of The Netherlands. He wrote many books and popularised the study of native plants and animals in their habitats inspiring children through his illustrated books and school posters.
One of his hobbyhorses was the establishment of a series of public parks to bring the native flora within reach of the general public. These, so-called, heemparks were not conservation areas, but rather seen as educational and socially desirable.
The city of Amstelveen, situated hard against the boundary of dominant Amsterdam, seized upon this as an idea to stimulate its economy and create an attractive living and working environment. It was also a pragmatic choice, as the wet acid soil of the region did not favour conventional planting practices. The city has six such parks and ten more, so-called, native green objects which are small gardens and green corridors that together have succeeded in making Amstelveen a highly desirable green suburb to live in even though it is situated right under the flightpath of Schiphol Airport.
The jewel in Amstelveen’s crown is the park it created dedicated to the name of Jac. P. Thysse. The park covers an area of 5.3 hectares and was created in three phases between 1940 and 1972. Typically Dutch, it follows a pragmatic design, being squeezed into leftover land surrounding one of the city’s villa districts. Long and narrow in form, its many drainage ditches follow the U shaped form of the park and are frequently crossed by simple low bridges. Different habitats have been created by varying the elevations on the site and by manipulating light levels between areas of woodland and openings. At its heart is a large lake with marsh and woodland edge planting schemes.
No attempt is made here to recreate wild plant communities, but rather by using an interplay of massing and mixing, the different plant species are emphasised and promoted. Coming from England where wild gardening has a bad name for creating a tangled mess of vegetation – good for wildlife but not attractive or accessible – the highly styalised approach to wild plant gardening practiced in Amstelveen appears as a stunning revelation.
Students of landscape architecture come to Amstelveen from all over the world to study its public parks and green corridors. Those of us living nearby too easily take them for granted. From what I read of Oehme and Van Sweden’s designs for the new Native Plant Garden in New York I suspect that Amstelveen’s lead has been built upon. The American native flora is so varied and exciting that the potential is almost overwhelming to contemplate. I cannot wait to visit New York and see the results.
Some more impressions from last week’s visit: