The gardens of Appeltern

Editor Mary Jane Harris recently visited the 200 show gardens at Appeltern in the heart of The Netherlands

It was while I was at Europe’s leading outdoor lifestyle show spoga+gafa in Cologne, Germany that Tema, the marketing company that publicises the show suggested that I visit the gardens of Appeltern. I’ve experienced the splendour of the bulbs at Keukenhof but I’d never heard of Appeltern so I readily agreed.

I joined a group of Russian and Brazilian gardening enthusiasts and we boarded a bus at the Koelmesse exhibition centre, three hours later (with no stops or border posts) we arrived at Appeltern which is situated in the centre of The Netherlands between the Maas and Waal rivers.

Appeltern was started 25 years ago by landscaper Ben van Ooijen who greeted us on arrival and explained the concept of the gardens while we tucked into their world-famous apple tart and cream.

Ben fervently believes that most of the woes of the world can be solved by spending more time gardening and in gardens. Wanting to show his clients what’s possible in a garden, he established a few small exhibits featuring different styles of landscaping, planting and paving and the concept grew from there to the over 200 small gardens there are today.

Some of these gardens were designed by architects and famous landscapers like Ton ter Linden and they come in all shapes and sizes.

Ton ter Linden’s walled garden (left) and a more architectural style (right)

The gardens also feature furniture, structures like gazebos, ornaments and accessories, some of which can be purchased from their suppliers should you happen to live in The Netherlands. An online shop for overseas visitors is on the cards.

Ben’s four rules of gardening are as follows:
1. Only a third should be paved.
2. A third should be low planting and a third should be planting over 90cm high.
3. It should be totally private.
4. It shouldn’t ask more of you than you want to give.

With 22 hectares to cover, I thought I’d be better off on my own with a map. Appeltern also offers audio tours on a device available from reception which connects to transmitters in the different sections and tells you about the area you are in. I started off in the Oriental gardens which were beautifully maintained.

I made my way along this magnificent avenue of hydrangeas towards a small dam.

On the way, gaps in hedges gave access to a myriad small gardens. Magnificent borders showed examples of different plant combinations, and while examining one of them, I heard a vague whining sound and turned to see this Gardena robot mower trundling along. No wonder they can keep it all looking so manicured with just eight staff members. And I must stress that all the gardens are immaculate.

One of the highlights, in my opinion, is the area devoted to prairie planting which was at its best when I visited in September. The Dutch are masters of this type of planting pioneered by Dutch landscaper Piet Oudolf. While it was very colourful in late autumn, you could see that seedheads and grasses would maintain the texture and interest through the colder months.

There are fortunately a number of self-service cafés in the gardens because you definitely need sustenance along the way and a break from garden overload. After a cool drink and a cheese and ham roll, I tackled the more rustic, natural looking gardens on the other side of the river. There are two ways to get there – a bridge or a more exciting pont (see below) where you pull yourself across.

Here the gardens are designed to make gardening fun for children and more sustainable. Indigenous plants, ponds for attracting wildlife and even a solar panel and roof garden that provided shade were features.

There was so much to see and I’m sure I must have missed some of the gardens but it was an amazing experience and the vistas as you reach the exit are lovely.

Appeltern is open from the beginning of March to the end of November from 10h00 to 18h00. To get there, unless you’re on a tour, you’ll need to hire a car. Ben said that to keep the gardens going they need at least 100 000 visitors a year. So if you’re in the Netherlands and you love gardens, Appeltern is definitely worth a visit.