Five Minutes with Ben van Ooyen
The Gardens of Appeltern is Holland's biggest park for gardening ideas. We sat down with its inspiring founder Ben van Ooyen to find out more.
ECT: The Gardens of Appeltern are now 35 years old –how did they begin?
BvO: It was a coincidence really. I was a DJ working in a restaurant and I wanted to go and live somewhere green with my family. I found a piece of land in the village of Appeltern, which is in the area of the Netherlands where I was born, but if we were going to stay there, I needed to find a way to make a living. So I started a garden design company and made some demonstration gardens using products from various wholesale dealers. I visited several gardens in England for inspiration, including Great Dixter and RHS Wisley, because English garden culture is the best in the world, but I was clear that what I wanted to do at Appeltern was give visitors information as well as inspiration.
ECT: So the Gardens of Appeltern are a resource as well as a park?
BvO: Yes, our gardens are made in a way where visitors can pick up the whole idea and make it themselves. Right from the start, every plant, every stone, every bit of fencing has been available to the public and now you can scan your smartphone at each of the different gardens and you will get a list of all the plants and products in it. And you can order them too – although we can’t deliver to the UK yet. It’s the only resource like it in the world.
ECT: Why is that important?
BvO: I believe that we must be busy everyday introducing people to the garden world because when we succeed in giving everyone a garden then we are able to change to world a little bit.
ECT: Tell us about some of the gardens
BvO: There are over 200 different gardens at Appeltern today, spread over 22 hectares. Many are my own, but there are also gardens by architects and garden firms from across the Netherlands and beyond. They are all different – we even have a metal garden made by an American architect – but all of them are creative and inspiring and we are constantly making new gardens.
ECT: We’re coming to Appeltern in May, June, and September. What can we look forward to seeing?
BvO: People often ask me when the garden is at its best, but that’s a question I can’t answer because everyday is different at Appeltern and whenever you come and sit in the garden, it feels like home. In spring everything is fresh, in summer most of the plants are flowering and in September the colours are changing When you come next year, you will also be able to see the first garden I made all those years ago. It has been closed for seven years because we didn’t have time to look after it, but when the Pandemic started, I decided to bring it back. Rather than clear it and make something new, I said ‘no, everything that has grown here will be given more space because the plants have proved that they are strong’ and I have also taken away the automatic watering system. It’s a new old garden and it’s beautiful.
The Gardens of Appeltern are a highlight of our May, June, and September tour programmes to International Horticultural Expo Floriade 2022. Find out more here