Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Standard gardens from Thomas Fairchild to Mien Ruys

thomas fairchild the city gardener
There are two things that people need when they plan to have a garden: a suitable space and a basic knowledge of botanics.
For centuries the art of gardening has been a prerogative of rich people, who appointed expert gardeners to take care of their gardens, and of monks, who mainly cultivated herbs, fruit trees and vegetables.
In the 18th Century gardening became more and more popular, so that whoever had an even very small place attached to the house wanted to turn it into a garden. Many guidebooks were published at that time in order to help them reaching their goal.

One of the best known of these guidebooks is The City Gardener, written in 1722 by Thomas Fairchild, a London nurseryman. The book was then re-published in 1760 with the title The London Gardener. 

In fact it is a treatise about small gardens in London, that explains which plants to choose and how to deal with pollution problems and climate conditions of that particular city.
This book first lists all the plants that would grow healthy in London, then suggests the proper design for particular town spaces, such as squares and courtyards.
The author tells the readers how to dispose the plants in these spaces, according to their flowering period, color, size and growing necessities.
Finally it focuses on gardens which are close to River Thames and that can take advantage of the proximity of water.

Two centuries later, in Netherlands, a woman will take this kind of DIY manual to a new level. After the formal garden, the landscape and romantic garden and the picturesque garden, a new and modern way of creating art with nature was rapidly taking place in Europe. Mien Ruys' gardens reflect the changing tastes in garden design, leading to a very natural and personal style.

In 1888, Mien's father, Bonne Ruys, founded the Moerheim Nurseries in Dedemsvaart, so she grew up literally surrounded by trees, flowers, bushes and seeds.
In 1923 she created her first garden, in 1928 she worked for an English Nursery and in 1929 she went to Berlin to study Architecture. All these experiences have been crucial for her career as a landscape designer, and led her to be considered the mother of Modernism in garden design.
In 1960, probably influenced by prefabricated building in architecture, Mien Ruys began working on the idea of standard perennial borders: she designed a series of borders that anyone could choose from for their own gardens. These borders were made of healthy perennials, which were long flowering and very easy to take care of.
The great difference between these borders and the ones recommended by Fairchild was that they were on sale at Moerheim nursery. They can be considered as authentic gardens in kit.
Like Fairchild, Mien Ruys designed different borders according to their size and, particularly, their position. So you can find Sun borders and Shade borders.
Clients just had to point out their necessities and wishes and to hand in their garden details in order to obtained the right plants together with a planting scheme and instruction which helped them to look after their new border.

Standard gardens were, and still are, a smart way to promote garden culture and help people to attend properly their "domestic "nature", as a starting point from which, eventually, experiment their own art of gardening.

Please, see below some pictures from Mien Ruys gardens taken by Erica Vaccari (thank you, Erica, for the pictures and the inspiration!).