My Grandfather’s Garden

My grandfather Jan de Groot, grew tulips for export to the UK. Later in life, he made this amazing garden full of tulips at the back of their small house in Zoeterwoude. As a little boy, I remember being overwhelmed by the sheer colour of it. He often grew the full red ones (for example Tulipa ‘Apeldoorn’) and, as you see in the foreground in the photograph, red-yellow tulips, like Tulipa ‘Kees Nelis’. And then when the tulips were finished he would dig it all up and plant his whole back garden full of dahlias. Tall ones and all colours. Again, one big jungle of colour and lots of cut flowers for the whole summer and autumn. Needless to say, it made a massive impression on me.

Later, studying garden design, I realised how unusual his garden was. Now, in honor of my grandfather, I am gathering all the info I can about his garden and I am going to recreate his garden. First, of course as a plan, which I will publish here, but with the idea of actually using his planting scheme in a garden design for a future garden project. Let me know if you are interested!

Vernacular Garden Design

Talking to people about the way ‘ordinary’ gardens or yards are laid-out makes me realise how important they are, and how vividly they are often remembered for one reason or another. They are the backdrop of many family events and feature often as a background for photographs. It is rare, however, to find the details of what grew in these gardens or to find a drawing of them. Any garden, it doesn’t matter if it is considered ‘special’ or not, seems to disappear when the gardener vacates the house. If there are no records of it, all that information and history is lost. I can see another project starting up… So who is gathering information on our grandparent’s gardens?

Garden Plan

The planting scheme for this garden is beautifully simple and it creates twice a year an all flowering garden. In the spring when the tulips flower and during the whole summer and autumn when the dahlias flower. The drawing shows a design based on memory and talking to family members. The plants are my own interpretation because I have no idea what was available at my grandfather’s time.

If you like this kind of garden, please go ahead and use this plan to create your own version. Below the plan you will find planting and care notes to help you create it. I look forward to the photographs!

Back garden inspired by the garden of Jan de Groot. Click on image for full view.©2021 Waler van Rijn

Planting and care notes

Take out all the dahlias tubers and other plants to make space for planting the tulips. Cut the stems of the dahlias 10 cm from ground level. Lift out then cut the stems 5-10 cm above the point where the tubers start.
Improve the soil by adding organic material/ garden compost/ farmyard manure.
Plant the tulips. The largest bulbs give the best flowers so plant those where you want to be sure of flowers. Plant the smaller tulip bulbs at the back. They will need one or two seasons to get bigger before they have a good flower. Plant (with tip upwards!) 10-15 cm deep, ca.15 cm apart in full sun, well drained soil.

As the tip of the leaves emerges spread blood-fish-bone meal on the soil.

Seed annuals like Sunflower and place in a cold frame.
The flowering season of most tulips is from the end of March to mid May, with mid April as high point.
If you want cut-flowers, cut them at the moment the flower buds start to show their colour.
Feed the tulips once with tomato feed or any other potassium-rich fertiliser.
After flowering dead-head the tulips, so that all the energy goes into creating new bulbs. Remove only the old flowers, not the leaves.

Lifting the tulips and planting the dahlias.
Lift the tulips once the leaves are yellow. If the leaves are not yellow, lift them but don’t cut off the leaves. Let them dry on a tray till the leaves are yellow, then remove all the old leaves, roots etc. Clean up and store in a dry place in paper bags. (Never in plastic, they might mold and rot away).
Improve the soil with well rotted stable manure, garden compost etc.
Plant the dahlias with the stem just above soil level. Plant around 60 cm apart: leave enough space around them so that the full grown plant receives maximum sunlight. If you have slugs or snails apply nematodes.
Put bamboo canes (or other flower stakes) around the dahlias for tying up later.

Pinch out the top of the new shoots, so that they will create more side shoots and more flowers in the end.
Tie up plants when they grow taller.

Feed and watering.
Every two weeks feed with tomato feed or any other potassium-rich fertiliser. Water in the morning when it is hot and dry weather.
Deadhead the old flowers to encourage more flowers.

Happy Gardening!

If you have any comments let me know. And do send in images if you decide to create a garden inspired by this example.