Oenotheras and Echinaceas, in Mien Ruys book Het vaste planten boek.
Mien Ruys is one of the names within garden design that has always caught my interest and admiration. Her gardens have such a refined sense of place and strong form, always combined with sensitive planting schemes and great plant associations. In many of her designs, she used the architectural and sculptural forms of squares, rectangles and circles (which seem to be especially dear for us Scandinavians), and overlaid then her plans with soft and rich plantings, often in bold drifts and well defined blocks. My modernist, Finnish/Scandinavian background (I grew up surrounded by marimekko textiles and Alvar Aalto furniture...) probably is the reason why her designs are extremely attractive to my eyes; I love their clean lines combined with a sensitivity for the place and an appreciation for the nature. It is one of my big regrets within my garden travelling life that I never made it to her famous garden in Holland, Tuinen Mien Ruys, at Moerheim in Dedemsvaart, despite visiting the country several times as my sister lived there for a couple of years.
A garden plan and a planting plan by Mien Ruys.
Then, you can imagine my joy when I found an unused copy of Mien Ruys (together with her siblings J.D. and Th. Ruys) book Het vaste planten boek, in Swedish called Våra vackra perenner, in the Salvation Army's thrift shop in Stockholm (that I've written about earlier as one of my favorite haunts for wonderful, old garden books). It was written in 1950 in the Netherlands, and translated into Swedish in 1954. In it, Mien Ruys draws from her extensive experience with gardens and plants and gives advice on plant selection for different garden situations. Mien Ruys started to design gardens when she was 19 in 1923, and died in 1999 at the age of 94. In 1955 she founded the magazine Onze Eigen Tuin (Our Own Garden), and wrote a couple of books, but most of her writings were only published in the Netherlands and never translated to English.
A picture of the garden shown in the drawings above.
It is wonderful to read this book as it has a great selection of perennials for different kinds of gardens: city gardens, country gardens and even roof and container gardens, something that feels completely up to date today, when compact gardening is discussed in most gardening magazines. Perennials are chosen and grouped by growing conditions, colours and blooming times. Also, there is an interesting chapter about plants that can be naturalized, with instructions about best plants for different situations: woodland, meadow, or boggy gardens. This feels very modern, and would be instructional for many gardeners of today. It is interesting to look at the plant lists; several varieties of grasses, Eupatoriums, Verbenas, Salvias, Echinaceas, Thalictrums, Persicarias, Solidagos... many of which are familiar from the plantings made by designers of the New Perennial Movement in the 90's and continue to be very popular. This shows clearly how skillful Mien and her siblings were in their plant selections.
Mien thought that poppies were perfect for naturalizing in meadow gardens. This photo is so beautiful and sensitive, a real little piece of art.
Considering all above, it is not surprising that Piet Oudolf mentions Mien as his first influence in his popular book Designing with Plants (from 1999). He writes that "She was everywhere, the only garden designer in Holland who was talking about plants and plantings, the others just talked about design." Andrew Wilson writes in his excellent book Influential Gardeners, The Designers who Shaped the 20th Century Garden Style (from 2002) that Ruys has been inspirational by at least Anthony Paul, Piet Oudolf and James van Sweden. So I don't think it is an overstatement to say that Mien was the mother of the New Perennial Movement, an excellent designer and plantswoman whose work continues to be influential and important even today.