The Gardens of Appeltern

by Derek Burch


I never visit the Netherlands without learning something new, or adding to my store of rich memories.


Plant Publicity Holland arranged several trips last year for the group of which I was a part, one of them to a site to which I am sure I will be drawn as long as I can drag my poor old bones around gardens. This is the Gardens of Appeltern, a "garden information park."


It is a self-avowed display garden for the products of the commercial enterprises who support it. Nothing is for sale, but there are careful records of the contributions that are made, and these are published each year in a handsomely illustrated yearbook, which serves as an idea book and a source list of contacts for designers.

The materials, plants and hard goods, are meticulously and tastefully labeled, but the enormous value of the site, and its essentially unique characteristic, is that the whole 13 ha (about 32 acres) is laid out in a changing display of gardens of various sizes.

The gardens intertwine (picture the way that a golf course winds back on itself as hole after hole follows a clearly defined sequence), giving a succession of self-contained set pieces, ranging from balcony plantings to town gardens large and small, patios, seating areas, city and farmscapes.

Water is everywhere, as formal water gardens, as tiny cascades, as fountains: it is shown to be a feature to adorn any site.

Last summer Appeltern featured an invitational series of gardens designed by celebrated designers, landscape architects and horticultural writers - an invaluable showcase for them, and for the crowds wishing to compare their styles and vision in three dimensions and through time rather than from a paper or electronic presentation.

The garden is the brainchild of Ben van Ooijen, a residential garden designer, who originally simply wanted to display his own work to potential customers, finding it more effective to walk them through a completed garden rather than trying to convey a concept in words or renderings. It has developed into its present form that draws thousands of visitors a week through the summer months, and has risen to the challenge of serving their more everyday needs with a group of very pleasant restaurants and snack bars, and well-placed stops along the way. A single path, inclusive of everything that is on offer, is marked, but there are opportunities to extend or shorten a visit to suit everyone's wishes.

Appeltern is deep in the countryside about an hour and a half southeast of Utrecht. From the A2 about halfway south to 's Hertogenbosch, you would take the A15 eastwards towards Njimegen. A few kilometers after the town of Tiel there is a right turn across a major bridge to Leeuwen, at which point you start to ask directions! The gardens are enough of a local feature that most people can easily point the way. (The question then becomes whether you can understand the directions!)

What are the high points? Hard to pick anything in a garden that is not intended to have grand vistas or a sweeping axis or a single "must see" feature.

Harder still, when one after another of the small garden arrangements gives great ideas for delightful combinations of plants, or of ways in which to set a table and a couple of chairs into just the right spot for breakfast or a quiet drink at the end of the day.
A garden on the roof, or a garden as roof, was a demonstration that will stay with me.

But, after all, I was content to wallow in the unfolding succession of garden gems along the path, and to respond to the obvious affection lavished on the garden by its staff.

The address of the garden is: De Tuinen van Appeltern Walstraat 2a 6629 AD Appeltern
tel.: (0487) 54 17 32
fax: (0487) 54 15 39
Internet: (Click on the footprint graphic for a tour)


These pictures, together with the fountain and the restaurant above, are part of the tour available on the Appeltern website.


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