Sunday, December 6, 2009

Priona Gardens, the Netherlands

The third garden we visited during our trip to the Netherlands was the Priona Garden, designed by Henk Gerritsen together with the late Anton Schlepers. This garden is closely connected with the gardens of Mien Ruys and Piet Oudolf, the other two famous Dutch gardens we saw on our trip. Together, I found that this beautiful trio perfectly illustrates the evolution of Dutch garden philosophy over the last 50 years.
The starting point for all is Mien Ruys’ garden philosophy of "wild planting in a strong design", where structure and plants get equal billing. Piet Oudolf builds on Ruys’ concept, but tips the balance in favour of the plantings, with his strong swathes of prairie style plantings and bold perennials and grasses. The Priona Gardens go one step further: Ruys structural foundation is now almost completely obscured by the plantings, which have gone from ‘natural’ to downright wild.
The Priona Gardens blur the line between tended garden and wild area. At first, I was taken aback by just how loose the garden is, just how un-gardened. The feel, at least as I experienced it as a visitor, was that of a very recently abandoned garden. The garden elements are there, it is clearly tended by a human hand, but it’s as if the gardener just happens to be away this season. This is as natural as a garden can possibly get while still retaining some fundamentally recognizable garden features. Some will definitely not like it, but perhaps this is what gardening needs – to push the envelope of what exactly gardening is, a phase many other arts have gone through. Of course, it’s a fine line, and it doesn’t always work.
At times, the Priona Gardens are brilliant, while other times you lose the feel of the garden. The pond and patio in the two pictures above were beautiful, as was the weird and wonderful topiary area below. I think both captured the intended feel of the garden exactly. Other areas pushed the garden a little too far into the wild, and the result was only a jumble.
Overall, a really interesting garden offering a glimpse of a very different, and thoughtful, garden philosophy.


  1. Thanks for this informative post. I've been very interested in seeing Priona and in Henk Gerritsen's work, and it's hard to find much about it in the US. I have to say, I even like the sense of wildness and abandonment in the last photo. What a good antidote to the American front lawn. Since Gerritsen died a few months ago, do you know if anyone or any organization is taking over preservation and management of the garden?

  2. James - A Priona Gardens Foundation has been set up - there's more information on their website, and also in this newsletter (they're both in Dutch, but Google Translate does a pretty good job). It's a fascinating garden, and I really hope it will be preserved for others to experience.