How it all started……
“Today is the first day of my career” were words that Mien Ruys wrote in her diary at the age of 19. At Moerheim in Dedemsvaart, the world famous perennial nursery gardens of her parents, a modest start had been made with a design department. Very soon Mien was put in charge, as her interest was not so much in producing plants, but rather using plants in gardens and surroundings.
At that time there were no training courses in her field of study so she studied in Berlin for a while and also received some practical training in England. Literature on that subject was practically non existent.
To gain more experience Mien experimented with designs and plants in her parents’ kitchen garden. From her parental home she made a completely straight path into the garden until she had reached the middle of the fruit trees. Another path crossed this one and at the crossing point she built a small square pond. Around this pond and under the trees she planted all the perennials she was fond of. After a year had passed there were hardly any of these plants left. She had used perennials that require chalky ground and which would not grow in the acidy ground in Dedemsvaart. She had to make a choice. Either change the type of soil or her choice of plants.She chose the latter and this became a very important rule for her: choose the plants which are suited to the given circumstances.
In the 30’s Mien studied architecture for a few years and was influenced by the so called ‘Delft school’ an architecture with heavy, stately monumental gables. However, she herself much preferred simplicity and clearness which led to her working together with a group of important architects from Amsterdam (the ‘8’) and Rotterdam (‘de opbouw’). Merkelbach and Rietveld were among these.
Her designs: simplicity and clearness
Her biographer Reinko Geertsema divides her work into three periods. Up until about 1945 her assignments were mainly larger private gardens, in which the perennial border took a prominent position.
After the war, in the time of rebuilding, she did a lot of work for building societies and designed many ‘communal gardens’. Many designs from that period were characterized by oblique lines. In search of optimal use of the space outside, she designed paths, terraces and plots for plantation at an oblique angle to the buildings and in contrast with them.
Because of this she was given the nickname ‘Oblique Mien’.
From the 60’s the oblique lines became straight again, often with very straight clipped squares of greenery in contrast with an exuberant use of perennials.
Mien Ruys always sought after the essence of the space and the possibilities of the plot: a simple, functional arrangement with a loose natural plantation. In the latter she differed from her colleagues of that time. They also aspired to simplicity and clearness, but considered perennial borders an unnecessary decoration. However, to Mien Ruys , it was adding the perennials that made it possible to have an experience of nature in a garden. Possibly because of this difference of opinion it was Mien Ruys who received many assignments for private gardens and in time her ideas served as a model for others to follow.
The Mien Ruys gardens are experimental gardens. Right from the start experimenting with plants, materials and design has been the main objective.
In order to gain experience with the perennials produced in the nursery garden Mien Ruys experimented in her parents’ orchard and vegetable garden using both plants suitable for sun and those requiring shade. These first two gardens still exist: The Wilderness Garden and the Old Experimental Garden with the large border. In the years that followed new experiments took place.
A well known experiment from the 60’s is the experiment in which old railway sleepers were used. This led to the use of railway sleepers in a great number of Dutch gardens. Mien then became known as ‘sleeper Mien’. Also the use of the ‘washed gravel” paving stones was another of her ideas. The experiences she gained were at first very important for her Garden architecture bureau. In a later stage the readers of her quarterly magazine’ Onze eigen tuin (‘Our own garden’) and the visitors to the Gardens of Mien Ruys were also able to profit from her knowledge and experience.
Mien Ruys died in Dedemsvaart in 1999 at the age of 94.