Willem van Riemsdijk, ed. and photos Trudy van Riemsdijk – Zandee
Our 19th century Vlaskamp garden in Stiens consists of a limited number of larger beds. One of those has been used as a vegetable garden since the construction of the garden. We refer to this bed as the ‘Vegetable Garden Circle’, because of the shape and because of the original function, although it no longer has the function of a kitchen garden. When we bought the property this part of the garden, like the rest of the garden, was an almost impenetrable wilderness. Nothing could be seen of its original structure.
Van de structuur van het perk was niets meer te zien.
The vegetation consisted mainly of Japanese knotweed, Greater Butterweed, Giant Hogweed, Brambles, seedlings of partly extensively grown Sycamore maples, seedlings of Caucasian wingnut, some not too big and not too old apple and plum trees and a number of Salmonberries. On the edge of this bed are a number of old apple and pear trees, which have suffered a lot from the grown up Maple seedlings.
The first intervention was aimed at restoring the original structure of the design by garden architect Gerrit Vlaskamp (1868). After we had discovered the original path, restoration could only be done by cutting our way through the wilderness. Almost in the middle of the circle is an apple tree (Notary apple tree) that has a nice size and shape. We refer to this tree as the ‘Mondriaan tree’, because of some resemblance to the fruit tree in one of the first abstract paintings by Mondriaan. We removed all unwanted vegetation. This has resulted in interesting sight lines in the garden, including a better view of the old 15the century church tower of Stiens.
The management of the garden is mainly focused on the optimisation of the Stinzenplants and that is why we decided to no longer give this part of the garden the function of vegetable garden. The Stinzenplants that grow here may have been partly planted there once, but have also expanded partly through natural distribution. Many species only occurred in small numbers and very locally in this area. They became only gradually visible after all unwanted vegetation had been removed and the management focused on the Stinzenplants.
The Salmonberries flank a part of the circle edge at some distance from the outer edge. This is a staging that fits very well in a design of a Vlaskamp garden. There are groups of old cultivated Daffodils somewhere between the Salmonberries and at other places in the circle. Both the Daffodils and the Salmonberries now show up well.
We also found a group of garden Solomon’s seal, a single Helleborus, and two small groups of Common Lungsort. There was also a plastic pond. This year we decided to remove the plastic pond. At the edge of the pond there was a small clump of white Snake’s Head Fritillaries, mixed with some pink ones.
Two years ago, at the foot of a Plum tree, we discovered some green sprigs that became visible at the end of autumn.
This proved to be Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum). Around that spot was also a group of Winter Aconites, there were a few Bluebells and some Snowdrops. Under the ‘Mondriaan tree’ we found a few Siberian Squills (Scilla siberica). Snowdrops were present in a few large groups. Interestingly, a species like a Three-cornered Leek, which can grow enormously when the conditions are favourable had not yet spread to any extent.
The changes that have taken place in the ‘Vegetable Garden Circle’ in the past few years are the result of the chosen management that has gradually evolved. There has never been a fixed management plan nor a design as to how this part of the garden should look like.
Between the Salomons’ seal grew Ground Elder, Nettle and some Cow parsley. These plants have been removed by hand in recent years by cutting them off or breaking them down as close to the ground as possible. The result is that the Solomon’s seal plants now form a larger dense group. Because this group also wanted to expand further, this year for the first time with the scythe some of the edges were mown. The plants die at the end of autumn and reappear in the spring. In the meantime, the vegetation in this place is so dense that it is hardly necessary to weed.
Between the Three-cornered Leek occasionally weeding is done in the same way as between the garden Solomon’s seal. The plants are now expanding considerably. These plants are also not mown in summer because seeds develop later in the season. The idea is to let the plants grow as a large group around the Plum tree (so called Wichters, small yellow plums). In order to promote this process, this year some seeds were harvested by hand and scattered around the Plum tree. The plants are now sowing out clearly, partly by nature and partly thanks to our management. Within a few years, this species will probably have reached the extent we now envisage at this location. If this species becomes too aggressive we may decide to try to remove it from the garden.
Also the few perennial plants of Common Lungwort have expanded considerably because we do not mow them and because we do some weeding. Meanwhile, two decent patches have emerged, quite close together and not too far from the path around the circle. The plants within a spot are now so dense that weeds hardly get a chance anymore. Meanwhile, the management is also focused on keeping the size and shape of these places in such a way that it fits well with the structure of our 19th century Vlaskamp garden.
There were a few places with lots of Snowdrops, which by now also expand well with the chosen mowing management. The Snowdrops grow luxuriantly in the garden in several places. The management aims to connect these places optically and practically more together so that it forms an even more beautiful whole in the early spring than it already is. To help nature, we have transplanted snowdrops last year and this year and planted them in the “Vegetable Garden Circle” to establish connections between the already present groups of Snowdrops. The idea is that the Snowdrops meander through the whole garden, as it were. The best effect is obtained if the plants sow themselves, which they do in our garden. In the circle, a few Wild tulips from other places in the garden have been transplanted. So far, they do not grow very well.
Below the ‘Mondriaan tree’ we found some Siberian Squills (Scilla’s). This year we added quite a few of those, organically grown bulbs, bought from De Warande. In this area there was initially a lot of Ivy covering the ground. After we removed it as well as we could, the Salmonberries, Snowdrops and Daffodils grow much better than before. The red flowering Helleborus now grows better and flowers beautifully, but has not yet expanded. The old fruit trees that we had pruned professionally gave a lot of fruit this year.
The various interventions and control measures create more structure in the vegetation. Partly the vegetation can be controlled and in part nature determines how the vegetation develops. To find out which management fits best in which situation, we follow closely the developments in your own terrain, visit regularly other areas with Stinzenplants and we have discussions with other people who have experience managing such gardens.