When we think of monuments, we usually think of churches, mills or castles. In any case, to buildings from a distant or near past and not to a park or park. The Netherlands also has more than 1,300 so-called green national monuments spread throughout the country: gardens, city parks, defense works, cemeteries, estates and country estates. An enormous wealth that deserves more attention.
About this series
The Netherlands has many beautiful parks and gardens, from monastery garden to school garden and from palace garden to rosarium. Since the corona crisis, they are more crowded than ever.
But what do you see when you visit such a park or garden? What is the history? What were the ideas behind a particular predisposition? In ‘Parkzicht’ Wim Pijbes writes about Dutch gardens and parks.
Wim Pijbes is a former director of the Rijksmuseum. He is currently director of the Droom en Daad Foundation, a philanthropic capital fund established in 2017 that invests in making Rotterdam more culturally attractive.
Most green monuments are open to the public, but unfortunately their protective status does not always guarantee appropriate use or attention. Many monumental green national monuments suffer seriously from the ignorance of administrators and visitors.
The images last spring of rubbish and trampled flower beds in the Vondelpark, which has been a national monument for years, show this. The Netherlands still has quite a bit to do here. If, for example, the handling of London or Parisian parks is compared with the Netherlands, one cannot but conclude that our public green spaces are not doing well. And that for a country that prides itself on flowers, landscape architecture and plant breeding.
Moreover, a fertile land for painters who composed countless flower still lifes, beloved in top museums around the world. And not just paintings, in the New York Metropolitan Museum the monumental bouquets are arranged weekly by a Dutch flower decorator. And every year, after the urbi et orbi, for the city and the world, the traditional ‘Netherlands, thanks for those flowers’ resounds over Sint Pietersplein.
And that’s why it’s good to this year during the Heritage Days not to a building, but to go to a green monument. The Dutch Garden Foundation has drawn up an overview per province where monumental greenery can be admired on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 September. Some places are only open this weekend, others can be visited all year round.
In the province of Groningen, for example, a visit to Landgoed Pábema in Zuidhorn is an excellent opportunity to visit the apple and pear orchard with only varieties described by Johann Hermann Knoop in the mid-eighteenth century. Varieties with beautiful names such as Somer Sijden Hemdje. This Knoop is the founder of pomology, the study of fruits. In his Pomologia (1758) he describes more than a hundred varieties of apples and over ninety varieties of pears. He also writes about other fruits and about plants for ornamental gardens and parks.
Button had been brought to Leeuwarden by Princess Maria Louise van Hessen-Kassel, the young widow of the Frisian stadtholder Johan Willem Friso, where he was put in charge of the extensive orchards of the Mariënburg estate. In addition to being a breeder, Knoop quickly developed into a skilled distiller, which ultimately proved fatal for him. Alcohol abuse brought an end to his once thriving career, but after his discharge he happily turned to publishing his knowledge in a number of wonderful books with mouth-watering hand-coloured engravings. In green monuments, nature and culture go hand in hand.
Many green monuments could not exist without the effort of private individuals. Avid owners who put all their time and resources into the restoration of an estate or volunteers who take care of the maintenance in their spare time. This is also the case at Landgoed Pábema, where Wim Pastoor and Annie-Evie Beukema transformed a dilapidated ‘softboard palace’ into a stately head-neck-rump farmhouse in historic splendor.
The surrounding 75,000 square meters of land soon followed with an exuberant flower garden, herb garden and orchard. Unique is the imposing triangular hedge, a geometric hedge trimmed in triangles, based on a historical example that no longer exists anywhere else. Landgoed Pábema was once voted the most beautiful repurposed farm in the Netherlands.
Green monuments, like built monuments, give a sense of time and a sense of beauty. By looking at construction, stratification, colours, materials and the alternation of trees, shrubs, flowers and plants with different eyes, the realization automatically arises that a monument does not always have to be made of stone. After all, neither are we.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on September 11, 2021 A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of September 11, 2021