Belgium 2011 - Part 2

The 2011 Conference and Meeting of the International Clematis Society in Belgium and southern Netherlands

This is the second of three informal reports I will write about the conference and garden tour of Belgium and southern Netherlands, made by the Society during one week in June 2011. It covers the middle two days, in Noord Brabant and the Boskoop area, both in the Netherlands. A comprehensive set of reports by attendees will be published in Clematis International 2012.

Click on the following links for my Belgium 2011 Part 1and Belgium 2011 Part 3reports.

Day 3 - Gardens in Noord Brabant, The Netherlands

Because of the size of the gardens we were to visit today, the coaches followed mirror-image itineraries, so everyone visited the same places but not in the same order.

Tuin zonder naam - Garden without name

Garden without name©Ken WoolfendenGiven this intriguing title, it was not that surprising when, after a relatively short drive of a little under one hour, the coach parked at the edge of a large field. In the centre of the field one could just about make out a house, surrounded by a high hedge.

Garden without nameAs we approached, the top of a large marque could be seen above the roofs of other buildings. We were greeted by the owner, who gave a brief introduction before letting us loose on the garden.

Garden without nameConstructed in the middle of a large field, the Garden without Name started as a small set of garden rooms but has been extended into the surrounding field such that it now comprises 10 different areas, each one with a unique character. And what characters!

Garden without nameThey were all so different, yet they were linked together with beautifully clipped box hedging.

Garden without nameIn just about every garden there were topiary and/or ceramic sculptures, small and large.

Garden without nameMany of them quite "quirky" but I found almost all of them surprisingly appealing, and some were very amusing. They fitted very well with the different garden rooms.

Garden without nameThere was a wide variety of plants including a number of clematis.

The garden was started some 25 years ago, so I believe, and is still being developed. It has been featured in magazines and is much visited. It's easy to see why.

Garden without name Garden without name

The Carillon Museum

Our lunchtime stop was a most unusual museum, of clocks and bells. Before lunch we were given a conducted tour. The clock collection includes mechanisms from various centuries and from many places.

Carillon MuseumThis large and very impressive clock demonstrated the art of the clockmaker with a magical display of moving figures on the hour. It was made, so I understand, by one of the clockmakers employed in the museum.

Carillon MuseumThere were also clock movements from old bell towers, together with their bells, as well as a fascinating musical movement (see right) that played a complete tune and could be "programmed", if you had the patience!
Carillon Museum

In a side room there was also a collection of bells. The art of bell making was explained, whereby the shape of the bell and thickness of the metal at different places defines the "partials" produced (different frequencies) which give bells their distinctive sounds.

The collection included bells from around the world. I particularly liked the Japanese bell, which you stroke rather than strike. It produced an amazing deep resonance, totally different to that of a bell that is struck with a hammer or clapper.

Carillon MuseumThey have a small garden around the museum and after lunch there was just time for a little wander, and for some, a stilt race.

De Groote Peel National Park

De Groote Peel National ParkThere was a further walking opportunity after lunch when we visited "De Groote Peel" National Park. This area of peat bog is now preserved as a national park. It contains some unique flora as well as attracting many species of birds. There are a number of marked walks around the lakes and swamp land, varying in length, so there was a walk for everyone, however fast or slow you wished to go.

De Groote Peel National ParkAround the route that we took there was an area showing how peat is cut.

De Groote Peel National ParkIt is obviously a haven for wildlife and inspects, some very beautiful like this one that we saw, others possibly less friendly.

De Groote Peel National ParkIt is open to all, but is obviously especially aimed at children and families and has various activities for kids to encourage them to take an interest in all aspect of the park, with display areas such as this one that we came across.

The garden of Annie and Frans Peeters

Our final visit was to the garden of Annie and Frans Peeters in Grashoek. Our coach stopped outside a rather ordinary suburban house at the end of a cul-de-sac on a typical Dutch housing estate. We were intrigued to see what this could have to offer. How were we to guess what lay behind the house!

Garden of Annie and Frans Peeters

As we walked around the "back garden" we stopped and looked in amazement and wonder. Stretching out in front of us was a huge garden, over 3000 sq. metres (.75 acre) but possibly more. The first thing to catch your eye is the amazing island bed, planted with all sorts of tropical exotics. But this is deceptive since it hides borders behind the island.

Garden of Annie and Frans PeetersGarden of Annie and Frans PeetersAnnie and Frans Peeters have a passion for all types of plants, but especially tropical varieties. As soon as you start walking around you suddenly realize the magnitude of their task to grow these plants in the Dutch climate. In order to give them the winter protection that they need, over 1000 plants are in pots sunk into the ground. To prepare for winter, every pot must be lifted and placed in their greenhouses and polytunnels. Then in the spring, they are brought out again.

Garden of Annie and Frans PeetersA mammoth task, especially given the size of some of the pots, but the results are stunning.

Garden of Annie and Frans PeetersAlthough the tropical island bed is initially the most eye-catching, there is a lot more to this garden than just this one feature. The many paths take you through all sorts of plantings - tree and shrubs, a pond, summer house - so much to see and we only had one hour. The time passed all too quickly for me.

Garden of Annie and Frans PeetersThey had a few clematis, but the one that caught the eye of most people was this small white flowers species, probably C. recta or something similar. A fine specimen and very attractive against the backdrop of the wooden summerhouse frame, grasses and other plants.

Day 4 - van Zoest and Boskoop, The Netherlands

Boskoop is often referred to as the centre of Dutch horticulture and it was here that we spent the whole of this day, following a very interesting and varied programme devised by our hosts, the clematis nursery Jan van Zoest B.V., and in particular Jan, his wife and family, other workers at the nursery and, of course, Wim Snoeijer, international clematis expert and clematis breeder at this nursery.

Jan van Zoest nursery - coffe break The programme consisted of a number of optional visits to other nearby nurseries, guided tours at van Zoest given by Wim Snoeijer and free time to wander wherever you wished. These options will be covered in detail in Clematis International 2012. But it started with a very welcome cup of coffee or tea.

Jan van Zoest nursery Although van Zoest is a wholesale nursery and normally closed to the public, they had made special arrangements for our visit by placing a large number of clematis in rows for us to browse and buy.

However in addition to the clematis on display, staff were very happy to take orders and disappear down the nursery in search of any particular clematis that someone wanted. Nothing seemed too much trouble.

It wasn't long before there was a steady stream of people trooping back to our coaches with arms full of prize possessions. By the end of the day, the hold of the coach was crammed full of clematis. But, in the same way that it is true of any garden, there was always room for just one more.

We were free to wander wherever we wanted in the nursery, and that included the cutting shed. Although they were hard at work, the cutters were very happy to explain what they were doing and answer any questions that we had.

The nursery of Jan van Zoest really is very big. Standing at the entrance, all you see are rows of clematis, all very neatly standing in lines, and rows of glasshouses, stretching into the distance. I don't know exactly how far, but you get some idea by the row of bicycles which staff use to get about the nursery.

You also get an idea of the number of different cultivars produced here by the label room. Walking into the room you're faced with three walls of shelving, floor to ceiling, each one full of boxes of different labels.

This area of the Netherlands is criss-crossed with small canals. They were used, so I understand, to transport produce to markets many years ago. On the opposite bank of one that runs up the side of the van Zoest nursery is the clematis collection of Jan Fopma, now maintained and used by Wim Snoeijer.

I didn't visit the collection this time, having had the opportunity to look around it when the Society came to the Netherlands in 2003. But I heard that those who did were very impressed at the breadth of the collection and the health and vigour of the plants. It is good to know that there are these collections in different countries around the world as between them they will help protect and preserve many of the cultivars we currently know and love.

With so many beautiful clematis around, what more could one ask for? Well, how about an exhibition of clematis memorabilia? For many years Wim Snoeijer has been collection objects with clematis illustrations on them, primarily on china, postage stamps and postcards. He had made a display of a subset of his collection, and I spent a very happy couple of hours photographing the china for an article I intend to write for Clematis International 2012. The range of objects that Wim has is quite amazing. Of course, clematis stamps were featured in an article by Jan Fopma in Clematis International 2008. But I had never realized just how many postcards, also posters, featured clematis.

As our visit was coming to a close, there was a surprise in store for us. A large organ, I would describe it as a Dutch Fairground Organ, was suddenly wheeled out into the area in front of the clematis rows. After a short time and a number of adjustments, it came to life. Music drifted across the nursery as the organ played its tunes, encoded on stacks of folded card. It was an amazing instrument, brightly and beautifully painted and with a loud and strident sound.

We gathered to thank our hosts and for a group photo (you'll have to wait until next month for this) as the music played. And if you'd like to hear what it sounded like, please click on the picture at the end of this page!

Dinner Cruise

We drove a short distance from the nursery of van Zoest to our boat for the evening. It was perfect weather, the sun had lost the intense heat of earlier in the day and the air was still and clear.

Is there a better way to end a day in Boskoop than a dinner cruise on the canals? I think not and nor did many others.

Just before we cast off we had a reminder that these canals are not just for tourists. They are used for transporting all sorts of goods and on some pretty large barges. This one had just negotiated a particularly tight turn, but they take it in their stride.

We set off past houses that backed on to the canal. The impression I have it that house styles in the Netherlands, well certainly in this area, hasn't changed much for quite a long time. Some of the houses were very recently built, yet they retained the same Dutch style of much older neighbours.

The majority had somewhere to sit by the water, whether it was a small garden, a veranda or some decking, and just about all of these were occupied by their owners, sat enjoying the early evening sun. It was beautifully peaceful as we cruised along at a gentle speed, slowing only a little for a lift bridge, a typical sight in this part of the Netherlands.

Dinner was a buffet laid out in the lower deck cabin, but which we ate in the upper deck cabin, so we could still enjoy the scenery.

How could I possibly leave you without a couple of pictures of what are the most famous sights of the Netherlands - windmills. Of course, there are many different types. As I understand it, most if not all the windmills in this area were used to pump water. But whatever their usage, they make a lovely sight, especially from our boat as we drifted slowly and nearly silently by. But the most peaceful sight of all was an old-style wooden sailing barge, with characteristic keel boards pivoted on either side of the hull, very graceful as it sailed over the still waters.

In case this sereneness is making you sleepy, I leave you with both the sight and sounds of this wonderful Dutch mechanical musical instrument, a "Draaiorgel" called "Het Zonnetje" (The Little Sun) that serenaded us at the end of our day at van Zoest. Use the controls below the picture to hear a sample of this amazing instrument (volume is adjusted using the "+" and "-" buttons).

This wonderful instrument is owned and played by Adrie Vergeer from Gouda. If you wish to hear some more of it, please visit Het Zonnetje.

If you would like to read either of my other two reports you can find them at Belgium 2011 Part 1 or Belgium 2011 Part 3.

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