This time we are going to make a journey through time, to one of the most famous of Dutch gardens; the gardens of palace Het Loo (pronounced Het Low) near Apeldoorn. It may sound like an odd name but the old fashioned word loo means an open space in the woods and as such it's a very apt name.
Het Loo is not a very big palace, as palaces go, and its gardens are not all that big either in comparison to those of Versailles, France. But its waterworks were at that time, the 17th century, the best in Europe with one fountain (De Koningssprong) reaching as high as 13 meters. In 1984 the palace and its gardens were painstakingly restored to their former 17th century Baroque glory.
Come on, don't be frightened, take my hand and let's jump back in time to the 17th century.
In 1684 William III bought an old castle, Het Oude Loo (The Old Loo) that dates back to the Middle Ages. From 1684 to 1686 a new hunting lodge was built there for him and his English wife Mary II. In those days they didn't only dress to impress but also built and gardened to impress the heck out of everybody else. It's a thing!
Looking at the gardens you see that, grouped around the central axis are the parterres broderie, and the box is shaped in such a way that it resembles intricate embroidery (broderie in French).
Het Loo is situated right in the middle of an enormous forest (see, the name does make sense) which makes the contrast between nature and these formal gardens all that more pronounced. The gardens of Het Loo are formal, extremely formal, everything is pruned, clipped, constrained, prodded and ordered within an inch of its life to show the dominance of man (and in particularly this man William III) over nature. At that time nature was seen as something very dangerous and hostile, not surprisingly as death lurked around every corner. They didn't have antibiotics then, so the mere prick of a thorn could be the death of you.
In the Rabatten (ribbon beds) the plants are on display, literally. They are part of the plant exhibition that changes with every season. The point was to show off each and every individual plant. Borders, as we know them now, they most certainly are not.
To the modern eye everything looks over the top, kitsch and brass but this is in the Baroque style and was meant to very ornate.
There is a lot of hard landscaping at Het Loo; fountains, rills, statues, canals, gilded figures, two orbs, arbours, stone walls, paths, urns and so on. Here are a few of them:
Walking around these gardens is both wonderful and weird. The wonderful part is obvious, but it's weird because everything looks so new. This is done on purpose; as soon as a plant gets too big it is replaced by a smaller specimen to keep the garden looking brand spanking new. Visiting the gardens of Het Loo is like taking a trip in a time machine transporting you back to the year 1700 when the gardens were completed but absolutely new. So today we can see the garden, frozen in time, in the same way the original owners, William and Mary, saw them. A very unusual and delightful treat!
My favourite part of the gardens is the Queen's garden, especially designed for Queen Mary II. In her garden you'll find big containers with orange trees, symbolizing the Dutch Royal House of Orange into which she had married.
And then there are the Berceaux, designed for the Queen and her Ladies in Waiting to walk in, keeping theirs skins lily white (that was all the rage then) and affording them some privacy too.
I love walking in the Berceaux, the light is a wonderful fresh green as it falls through the leaves of the hornbeams.
It's like being inside an aquarium where the water has turned a lovely spring green. And they are not just an ordinary Berceaux, they are ones with a view.
With many views in fact, as windows are cut out at regular intervals.
If you ever go to the Netherlands, forget Amsterdam, do yourself a big favour and go visit the gardens and palace of Het Loo. The palace alone is worth a visit, here's a sneak preview.
The front door
One of its many rooms open to visitors.
You now have at least some idea of how gorgeous those gardens of Het Loo are. In reality they are much more beautiful of course, these pictures do not do them justice, but it was the best I could do.
It's time to go back to the 21st century I'm afraid, I hope you had a lovely journey through time with me.
copyright 2008 Y.E.W. Heuzen
As the poet said, 'only God can make a tree,' probably because it is so hard to figure out how to get the bark on.