History of two hectares of OpdeHaar garden

OpdeHaar Gardens
Garden Plan

Rabatten bos in OpdeHaar gardens

 

 

 

The history of OpdeHaar gardens can be traced back many centuries. Just outside Amersfoort intersecting motorways come very close to marking the geographical centre of The Netherlands. Close by there is a wood of large, old trees which betrays the existence of the old family estate associated with Huize Hoevelaken. Although the location of the earliest “castle” is not known, it is known that in ca 1410 it was a significant distance from the current “chateau” which dates from 1923.

In 1963 the estate was sold and split up. The “castle” and surrounding park belonged to the Bouwfonds Nederlands Gemeenten but is now in private hands. Most of the woodland is owned by the Stichting Geldersch Landschap, an organisation which aims to conserve the landscape and historical areas in Gelderland.

Foundation stone laid in 1958

The foundation stone for “OpdeHaar” which is situated in the middle of the wood was laid in 1958. It is here that the last owners of the estate lived until 1987. “OpdeHaar” on the Veenwal means “on the rise in the fen”. Locals relate that the house was built on ground which was previously a potato field and which is higher than the surrounding woodland. In past centuries the woods to the south of the house were clearly very swampy.

“Rabatten” wood

History students will immediately identify the intact structure of a “rabattenbos”. A “rabattenbos” is a wood that was drained by excavating earth to create parallel ditches with elevated strips of land in between. These could date back as far as the 13th Century and are still clearly visible today. According to locals the wood growing on these strips was used for fuelling stoves until the early 1950’s.

When we arrived in 1991, we found evidence of a lot of pollarding. However much of the wood was impenetrably choked with brambles and many spindly silver birches. Many of the ditches were invisible due to this undergrowth. As a consequence of the neglect many of the smaller trees and shrubs had died through lack of light. Notably there was no birdsong to be heard. Fortunately, today light filters through the trees and the wood is alive with the chattering of many different birds.

The wood in September 2014

The wood in september 2014

Old oak trees and the longest beech tree avenue in The Netherlands

300 year old oak tree
Almost 300 year old oak

Other bits of history require that one looks at the large oak and beech trees. Indeed, some of the oak trees on the property are between 200-300 years old. Apart from the lines of beech trees flanking the road, which leads from the castle through the wood, there are remains of other avenues. One idea put forward is that these may be the remains of a “sterrenbos” (star-wood) planting which past owners of the estate used for hunting.  

 

“OpdeHaar” was built with a compass

Liriodendron tulipfera and Abies Grandis in the Autumn
Liriodendron tulipifera (left) and Abies Grandis (centre) in the autumn

The front of our house faces due north with the Millennium garden along the boundary ; the other main gardens are on the south side. The photo shows a majestic conifer, Abies grandis, flanked by a Liriodendron ( Tulip tree) which were planted around 1958 along with other exotics, now also large, such as Castanea and Tilia with Rhododendron ponticum hybrids as underplanting to provide some privacy around the house. Winter storms removed the top of the Abies grandis on at least 3 occasions over the years and after the last decapitation, sickness took hold and by 2019 was so apparent that the tree had to be taken down.

Abies grandis is removed in December 2019 by tree surgeons De Specht

We used the massive sections of the trunk to construct containing walls of a raised bed on the spot where it had stood and also to make a stumpery ( 2020) for a new fern collection in an adjacent section of woodland.

 

ABies Grandis bed in juni 2020

“Abies grandis bed” in June 2020

The stumpery under construction in September 2020 ready for the fern collection.

The general layout around the house – brickwork paths and drive and rose garden – were put in by previous owners in the period 1987-1990 along with a pergola which was covered in Wisteria. Unfortunately the wisteria was planted in the rich soil of a planted border and after years of intensive maintenance, the wisteria was removed and the pergola replaced in 2020. (Selected Wisteria were previously planted in path-work near The Fire ‘n Ice garden where they produce flowers rather than foliage so the removal from the pergola wasn’t an act of unplanned vandalism!!) The pond, Millennium garden and ongoing planting of the woodland garden are all the work of John & Joyce Ramsbotham since 1991.