Why Mien Ruys Is Thought Of As The Leader of The New Perennial Movement

– Posted in: Garden Design, Garden Design

**This article first appeared in Gardening Gone Wild, November 2010.

Mien Ruys, whose garden has influenced generations of well known designers, including Piet Oudolf and Jacqueline van der Kloet, is considered by many to be the leader of the ‘New Perennial Movement.”

Mien was surrounded by plants from the time she was young. Her father founded Moerheim Nursery in Dedemsvaart in the late 1800s. It eventually became a well known perennial nursery in Europe.

At the age of 19, she wrote in her diary “Today is the first day of my career.” By the time her father started a small design department at the nursery and shortly put Mien in charge, she had already exhibited an intense interest and talent in using perennials in gardens.

Because there was no training for garden design in Holland at that time, Mien studied in Berlin and then got some practical experience at Tunbridge Wells in England.

She began experimenting with designs and plants in her parents’ garden, making a straight path from the kitchen garden onward until she reached the fruit trees. Continuing with her vision, Mien built a small square pond, surrounded by the perennials she loved.

Within a year, most of the perennials had died off due to the acid ground in Dedemsvaart. The death of these perennials was a turning point in her philosophy. Either she needed to continually amend the soil or she had to choose plants which could adapt to their new home. Mien chose plants with adaptability.

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She continued experimenting, making small perennial gardens on her parents’ property, eventually becoming as interested in the materials used for building gardens as the plant material. In the 1960s, Mien began using railway sleepers in a large number of Dutch gardens which led to her being known as ‘sleeper Mien’. She also came up with the idea of using ‘washed gravel’ paving stones.

When I made the trek to Mien’s garden early last spring, what grabbed me was its simplicity, elegance and outstanding bones, but most of all its timelessness. The word ‘experimental’ is synonymous with her garden. To see it first hand and learn that much of what we call modern, fresh or even cutting edge was designed several decades ago is a testament to her outstanding talent and vision.

The outline of the garden is designed geometrically with modernistic elements seamlessly integrated. Mien is known to have always created a space based on simplicity and functionality, which her colleagues did as well. But it was her use of loose natural plantings surrounding the space and the emphasis on the perennial borders that differentiated Mien’s designs from those of her peers. She felt that the perennials allowed an individual to interact and have a direct experience with nature.

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I fell in love with the portable raised garden beds with storage space underneath them, one of Mien’s inventions. For someone who has a rooftop, terrace or is an individual with special needs, this type of raised garden is ideal.

At the beginning of her career, Mien designed large private gardens. After the war, she designed many communal gardens and did a lot of work for building societies. From the 60s on, the oblique lines that she had used in the period after the war became straight again; she began implementing straight clipped squares of greenery, contrasting with the lush, exuberance of perennials.

Mien wrote several books and published a quarterly magazine called ‘Our Own Garden’, Onze eigen tuin in Dutch. She died in 1999 at the age of 94.

Below are some photos that offer a glimpse of her garden in spring – Courtesy of The International Flower Bulb Centre.

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Fran Sorin

Fran’s book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, now considered a classic, was groundbreaking when published as no one had written about gardening in the context of creativity, spirituality, and transformation.

In addition to being a recognized garden expert and deep ecologist, Fran is a broadcaster, journalist, Ordained Interfaith Minister, and Soul Tender.

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island threads November 28, 2010, 5:28 am

thanks so much for introducing me to this garden designer, Frances

With pleasure Frances.

James Golden November 28, 2010, 7:58 am

I’m a great admirer of Mein Ryus, and your photos of your spring visit when the garden’s “bare bones” were naked gives me new insight into her work. Thanks for this post.

She is a great designer worth admiring James. I plan on returning to see the garden in other seasons. I enjoyed learning more about Mien while visiting and especially meeting her very interesting and quirky niece. She infused my visit with a sense of history associated with the garden. Fran

Michael B. Gordon November 28, 2010, 8:37 am

Fran,
Thanks for an informative post. I discovered Mien Ruys when Piet Oudolf and Henk Gerritsen became popular about a decade ago. I would love to get one of her books. Do you know anything about them?

Dear Michael,

I’m glad you enjoyed the article. That’s funny that you mentioned both Piet and Henk Gerritsen. I was going through my old files over Thanksgiving vacation and found a handwritten note from Henk Gerritsen that was written to me about his garden from probably 15 years ago. Quite an incredible gardener!

If none of her writings are showing up on Amazon or by googling, let me know and I will get in touch with some contacts who might be able to help you get a copy….although they will probably be in Dutch. Fran

Laura November 28, 2010, 12:50 pm

Lovely! I really enjoyed looking through your snaps. Such beautifully designed gardens!

Thanks Laura! When I have time, I will try to post more of them. Such a great garden from which to learn design PLUS plant combinations and colors! Fran

Bonnie November 29, 2010, 10:42 am

WOW, this is amazing. I love it!

Bonnie…am so glad that you do. Thanks for checking it out! Fran

Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp November 30, 2010, 7:54 pm

Fran — you’ve captured perfectly, these wonderful gardens of Mien Ruys.

Thanks Jo Ellen. Brings back memories?

janine robinson December 9, 2010, 10:10 pm

one to put on the garden bucket list! so inspiring and original!

Am glad you like it. I actually found a Power Point Presentation sent to me by the IBC that I would love to share with all of you. I’ll try to find a way to post it. It is a visual delight! Fran

ricki January 29, 2013, 2:04 pm

This post reminded me of some of the best of ‘Gardens Illustrated’ articles…the ones that get flagged (that is the one magazine whose pages are safe from my scissors) before being filed away for future visits.

Cathy January 29, 2013, 4:33 pm

This is going on our garden “bucket list” as well — I chuckled when I read Janine’s comment as we began making a scrap book of must see gardens a couple of years ago which has that name on the front of the scrap book. When we visit the garden, we add a page or two or more to the book with our own impressions and photos.

But I digress…..

Like you, I would love to see the garden during other seasons as well. I often wonder what gardens look like after the blooms from spring bulbs have faded and I think that many are given short shrift yet are just as fabulous at other times, even at times that feature blooms other than the spring bulbs Holland is so known for.

I am totally intrigued by the idea of raised beds with storage underneath. I see some serious revisions to our deck garden in my future!

Thanks for introducing us to someone whose design aesthetic was clearly light years ahead of her time. I am intrigued enough by this small taste of her work to want to delve into it further.

Fran Sorin January 30, 2013, 1:52 am

Ricki- Thanks for your kind words. Her garden is one that I could return to time and again….and spend time just being in its quietness. Fran

Fran Sorin January 30, 2013, 1:59 am

Cathy- A big ‘yes’ to everything that you wrote. I too am totally taken by the drawers under her raised beds. I have tried to get someone here to build something similar. To say I wasn’t successful is an understatement.

As always, thanks for your thoughts. :) Fran

Elle January 30, 2013, 7:39 am

Beautiful Fran, and fascinating story too…doesn’t get better than that.

Love Elle
xoxo

Ed Morrow January 30, 2013, 11:29 pm

Hello,

A great article. For quite a while I’ve been looking for any sort of information about Ruys’ gardens and I’ve struck out. Aside from short mentions and a couple of pictures – usually the same ones – there’s not much information available. if you know of a good source – even if it is in Dutch – I’m sure that I’m not the only one would appreciate knowing about it.

Ed Morrow
Carmel Valley, CA

Fran Sorin January 31, 2013, 2:54 am

Elle – Mien Ruys was one of a kind ~ am glad you enjoyed. :)

Fran Sorin January 31, 2013, 3:08 am

Ed
Here is a link to places where you can buy the book she wrote (in Dutch).
http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=nl&u=http://www.omero.nl/boeken/h/e/t/het-vaste-planten-boek/&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dhet%2Bvaste%2Bplantenboek%2Bm.

Link to the website for her gardens- http://www.mienruys.nl/home – Check to see if they sell any books about her there – my hunch is that they do.

Also, if you write her name in Amazon/books, you’ll find some info. on her – not written by her but worth looking at.

Hope this is helpful. Let me know how your search goes. Fran

Claire January 31, 2013, 5:33 am

Lovely photos and a great story, thanks for re-sharing.

Fran Sorin January 31, 2013, 7:51 am

Claire – My pleasure. It helped to re-awaken my interest in her. Fran

Gareth February 11, 2013, 3:50 pm

I love the site of spring bulbs in full bloom and even when they are just pushing through its a sign that the evenings are getting lighter, days longer and hopefully warmer!!

Fran Sorin February 12, 2013, 12:16 am

Gareth – I know that feeling….the same goes for when early spring perennials start showing their crowns or stems. Even though i think I know where I’ve planted them, I’m always surprised when they come up. Hope you have an early spring! Fran