Of all the garden visits of my recent Dutch trip, this was the biggest surprise. Few Amsterdamers have ever heard of Jac P Thijssepark, but for me this was a delightful and mind-changing experience, although poorly signed and difficult to find. Developed in the late 1930s, and seeming much larger than its 24 hectares (59 acres), this is a park of serpentine canals that open into ponds, of winding gravel and bark paths, woodlands and clearings. Its importance lies in that it refutes the claim that there isn’t a wide variety of interesting native ground cover for full and semi-shade, as the remarkable 19 page plant list on the website testifies.
Jac P Thijsse was a renowned Dutch botanist and conservationist with an unrivalled knowledge of native perennials, shrubs and trees; but more importantly an artist’s eye when it came to planting up this park. For the botanist, designer and gardener this is sheer delight – a garden of contrasting green textures, large blocks of ground cover punctuated by clumps of coppiced hazel and royal ferns.
Shaded by the canopy of rowan, birch, field maple and oak, the native woodland flowers tend to be muted but there are occasional flashes of colour in the semi-shade and the full sun of the meadow areas. On my early June visit, these were largely purple aquilegia and bistort, hazy blue lamium, magenta ragged robin, and drifts of buttercups.
It is immaculately and subtly maintained; for example, the wild garlic is cut back before it can throw seed, and the planting is largely self-sustaining. It was conceived as a ‘green lung’ for the expanding suburbs of the city, where Amsterdamers could commune with nature and has a calm tranquillity; in part because few people know about it, but also because children must be accompanied by adults, and dogs are forbidden, as they ought to be from this special place.
It was difficult for me to believe this was not a natural garden. With our increasing interest in wildflower meadows, native planting and ecological sustainability, Jac P Thijssepark is a trail-blazing garden 80 years ahead of its time, and one that every gardener and garden designer should visit. Absolutely enchanting.
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