Photo credits: Ronald van der Hilst
Ronald van der hilst
Ronald van der Hilst grew up in the countryside of the Veluwe (NL) where he was fascinated by nature from an early age. It is there and then that he was introduced to the awe-inspiring world of plants and flowers. He’d take them from the fields and forests, plant them in his garden and thus discover their characteristics in a playful way. The naturalness of the environment meant that he did not realize there was such a thing as garden architecture. It is via a detour to the Academy of Fine Arts that he’d learn about landscape architecture, and study it thoroughly. Drawing, design and the passion for plants thus became united in his profession.
The keyword for his work is creation. For him, the creative process and designing “pur sang” are essential. He doesn’t have one style per se, as the Genius Loci – the spirit of the place – is his starting point: the exploitation of the unique characteristics of the location and the search for naturalness in the design is, as a matter of fact, essential. In his gardens you’ll discover various contrasts, ranging from the architectural, the ephemeral to the natural and the cultivated.
Dynamics that exist as a result of climate change are another genesis that cannot be ignored. Adapting to this and improving the living conditions of flora and fauna are his challenge. Gardens and landscapes are ever-changing; they are living processes because gardens or landscapes are the bond that man creates with the earth or the place. The challenge consists of allowing a living symbiosis to develop between the two. And as a garden achieves its potential beauty not only through its design, but especially through its guidance, it is very important that the garden’s design reflects the mind of the future user.
Since 1998, the tulip has become a subject of passion and this shines through in his work. He designs for various manufacturers, including tulip vases and tiles, and conceives tulip gardens. Van der Hilst’s gardens, vases, products and cooperation are all milestones in his perpetual quest for timeless beauty, both in form and spirit. His deep-rooted connection with garden design, plants and flowers, combined with his passion for the tulip, lend a poetic dimension to his work. Often, he also engages in a dialogue with the historical context of the setting.
Ronald van der Hilst is a landscape architect, designer and artist. He has been living and
working in Antwerp (B) since 1993.
“In 2018, I was fortunate to become the caretaker of this place next to the St. George’s Church – in the historic center of Antwerp. I then started to transform this garden and renew it completely with my own plantations. I’m at the same time its designer and its gardener, and therefore this is where I naturally give free rein to my passion: the love for the tulip.
I used an ancient concept in garden art: the Hortus Conclusus – the enclosed garden – for making the design. The Hortus Conclusus is described in the Song of Songs in the Bible as being the symbol of Mary’s virginity. In this concealed space next to the church and hidden behind the rectory, a fitting outset. It is also an evocation of earthly paradise, which is why I chose an abundance of colors, scents and textures. Ottoman paradise gardens also inspired me: in these gardens of Eden, ornamental plants, herbs and vegetables were planted interchangeably and not separately as we are accustomed to doing here. The wall, which I have given a black color, acts like the dark background of 17th century floral still lives. Because the tulip has been known in Antwerp since 1562 and Rubens even had his very own tulip garden. (In 2006 I did a planting of historical tulips in the Rubens Garden) it was evident to me to plant tulips (5,000) in about 400 varieties in the Hortus Conclusus.
This garden is a place for me to try and combine species. It is my garden lab. That’s why the plants are almost all planted as individuals and there are no large groups of one species. It’s a true seasonal garden. After the big spring feast with the tulips, the perennials and roses take over which then pass the torch to the Asters and Dahlias, among others. Thanks to this cyclical alternation of the species, the garden’s exuberance can also be experienced in a seasonal way, fusing together the temporary and the eternal.”
This garden is among the most ephemeral projects of my career. I designed this tulip garden for a retrospective of my work in 2010 at the Menno Kroon estate in Cothen (NL). I wanted to create a garden that does not have the classical garden characteristics, but would exist more as a sculpture. Not a romantic flowerbed but a grand gesture.
The garden is located in the Netherlands’ river landscape. The Dutch are known for their fight against water because large parts of the Netherlands are lower than sea level. But if water can be seen as an enemy, it can also be considered a great source of enchantment and poetry. Japanese people, for example, love rain because it intensifies the colors and creates reflections – a poet, Sumitaku Kenshin, even called it the “heartbeat of the night”. As falling drops collide with the water’s surface, unctuous ripples emanate from the point of impact: one of my tulip vases, “Bulbe”, is partly inspired by this very simple beauty.
The garden has a size of 35×35 meters and is laid out in relief. The planting consists exclusively of white tulips: 75,000 tulips in total and in 6 different varieties. By using early and late flowering tulips, the flowering season was stretched as long as possible, and the white color would reflect the moonlight, gracefully granting the garden a magical aura. For me, all of this was the pure expression of aesthetics, timelessness and universality.
To further emphasize the ephemeral, the tulips were mowed down after flowering so there would be no reblooming the following year. But the relief – subsequently covered with grass – remained as the footprint of the tulip garden.
A Symphonic Garden
“For novelists, writing the opening line is often the most crucial step; the blank page syndrome is sure to ensue if you can’t find a good one. The same principle applies to design. The “opening line” for this garden came to me from an unexpected source. One evening, as I was listening to Mahler’s 6th symphony, I spontaneously began to dissect the music and ask myself why it is so captivating. Call it a professional deformation if you want, but the structure, rhythm, melody and main themes were so balanced that I couldn’t help but imagine the same thing in a garden. This became the impetus – or the deliberate opening phrase – for this design.”
Flowing lines are used as synonyms of the melody: silences and repetitions compose a rythm, reflections on the water simulate a dialogue between the real and the surreal and vistas on the landscape flow into infinity. A natural pool where nothing seems defined yet can be seen as the overture to the piece. From there a long axis takes you through the garden and binds all the elements in the structure of the arrangement.
“I wanted the rural setting and origins of this 2-acre garden to be recognizable. The originally small-scale landscape was characterized by small plots of land bordered by oaks. The oaks formed an iron corset around the fields and once permission was given to scale up the land, the farmers blew up the oaks with dynamite, symbolizing a striking expression of frustration with the limitations of the past and a thirst for modernization. But contrary to this philosophy of tabula rasa, I gave the oak tree the leading role in the garden to favour. It has then become the dominant tree species in the garden. By choosing one dominant species, the garden’s atmosphere has become very quiet and peaceful. The new design has given this place a new naturalness, beautifully portrayed by noted garden photographer Allan Pollok-Morris.”