Jan Maas (BOOM Landscape) about the Hondsrug garden in Haren

"From the 1970s, there was a large greenhouse in the Hortus Haren, which was heated by natural gas. The greenhouse was in a prominent place directly behind the entrance. It was the first thing you encountered when visiting and housed an impressive collection of plants. Because firing on natural gas is outdated and, moreover, very expensive, the Hortus was forced to demolish the greenhouse a few years ago. What to do with this place became the subject of a series of meetings with Stichting Behoud Groene Hortus and landscape architect Ernst van der Hoeven. At that time, the Hondsrug, just like Geopark, was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The foundation thought the Hondsrug would be literally and figuratively a good starting point for the redesign of this important area in the Hortus. Literally because the Hortus is located on the northern tip of the Hondsrug, figuratively because it could benefit from being placed on the UNESCO list ".

"We were asked to make a design based on the Hondsrug. As a designer, that was a challenging question. How can you do something with such a subtle geological phenomenon? Driving over the Hondsrug you only feel a slight difference in height and you see the plants change from species for wetter soils such as poplars and ash to species such as oak and beech. A layman hardly experiences that. Also, after removal of the greenhouse, there was no height on the site, but a crater, where the large concrete basement bin of the greenhouse was dug out. "

"The design was not to be Efteling. We referred back to what we saw as the core of the landscape. The Hondsrug essentially consists of three geological phenomena: a high deposit of boulder clay, sand that was left behind during the ice age and eroded brokes in between. "

"But how do you translate that? We used a Capability Brown method. His clients had in mind the paintings of the then popular landscape painters, who "cut out" parts of the landscape and combined them into an idyllic collage in their artwork. That fascinated us: a landscape was translated into a work of art, which in turn was translated into a landscape design. We wanted to do that in the same way, but we didn't have the artwork. With a magnifying glass we therefore examined the geological map of the Hondsrug, until we saw a "sample" that was suitable as a basis for the design. A study of old (aerial) photos of streams in this region resulted in a good sample that could form the second layer in the design. The third layer were the paths that shepherds left behind in the landscape and which we read off old topographical maps. Then we started modulating the layers, adapting them to the specific place where the design was to be located in the Hortus. An important starting point for us was that this landscape had to feel like a garden, it had to have a certain seclusion. "

"The implementation was a tour de force. Four hundred trucks of boulder clay, an extremely poor soil, could not be ordered just like that. Boulder clay could eventually be taken over from a nearby construction project. The starting point for the construction was a very precise model, on which each individual layer of ten centimeters was indicated. Technical drawings were not made, the model was the guideline. An instruction for the contractor gave a color to each base layer (purple for boulder clay, yellow for cover sand, etc.). "

"After that, nothing was actually done anymore, quite a challenge for a landscape architect who is used to putting thousands of plants in the ground in the final phase, or spreading sacks of seeds. There was a bare ground back on completion. I thought for a moment: it seems as if I have sold them the emperor's clothes. It was a risk, but we were expecting two things. Firstly, that the different soil types contained an extensive seed archive, which would automatically yield the typical Hondsrug vegetation. Secondly, because the is actually on the Hondsrug that everything would blow in from the neighbourhood. In order to prevent the exotics from the Hortus itself from turning up here, the manager received an extensive book with instructions of all plant species that should be growing in each soil type. "

"The design seems to be a success, not even two years after construction. In its primitive state, the garden was not only transferred to nature, but also to the foundation, the Friends of the Hortus and the manager. They must get started now. Biologists are also enthusiastic and saw the brunel, wild bertram and day cuckoo flower bloom in the first season. Rare boreal species, considered as relics of the ice age, as Nordic walnut and Swedish dogwood have also been identified. "