‘Heemtuin’ or Wildlife Garden in Nieuwkoop, the Netherlands

Entrance to the ‘Heemtuin Nieuwkoop’ with some typical Dutch bicycles parked up!

A ‘Heem-tuin’ (pronounce as Haime-town) or ‘Heem-park’ is an artificially created large garden or park to show off the native, local  flora as well as its fauna.

As far as I know it is a Dutch concept.

It was introduced by by Jac. P. Thijsse (1865-1945).

He thought of the idea to create an educative park which does not just recreate a garden with individual native plants, but shows entire communities or vegetative zones such as meadows, heathland, woodland, etc.

I have been visiting Heemtuin Nieuwkoop in the Netherlands for the last 10 years or so, whenever here on a family visit. You can watch this lovely video on YouTube to see the garden in bird eye view.

Apparently there are about 130 of these type gardens in the Netherlands and 7 in Belgium; some are listed with their localities on the Dutch Webpage here

I will translate some of the information below as the translation is not accurate, but rather about Wildlife Gardens.

The first Heemtuin was created by Thijsse when he received a piece of land for his 60th Birthday in 1925.  He established the first and oldest Heemtuin in Western Europe with  Leonard Springer,  with several common plant-communities from his local area called Kennemerland.

Some history from the 1960’s onwards:

In these years, many schools as well as towns in the Netherlands and in Belgium created educative gardens with herbs and  native plants,  as the most important part and called those ‘Heemtuin’. At that time, there was an increase in use of chemicals and artificial fertilisers used in agriculture as well as horticultural industries, diminishing the native plants as well as the native fauna.

In the original concept, Thijsse was also concerned about education on all the fauna in relationship with the vegetation types.

After the 1980’s the Heemtuin became an important native habitat for plants as well as their native animals.

Many of the original type Heemtuin have now gone and can only be seen in Thijsse’s Hof in Bloemendaal , Veermanshof at WijheThijssepark in Amstelveen and Heemtuin Rucphen.

But each Heemtuin, in the present day, has got their own character, recreating vegetative habitats of the area as well as mini, traditional cultural landscapes growing, for example, cultivars of willow such as at the Heemtuin in Nieuwkoop, which have been used in many ways by people in the past.

Their excellent willow collection has very useful information posts by each plant giving reasons why that particular variety was so useful. Apparently the information was originally obtained from the Visitor Centre and National Nature Reserve called the Biesbosch.

Heemtuin Niewkoop has been designed by Jick Brandes and established since 1982 on a former tennis court of 3500m2. It has a mixed wooded shelter belt with traditional early flowering ‘Stinzenflora’ (= plants introduced hundreds of years ago to the landscaped parks and gardens of Dutch Manor Houses (a Stinze is the Friesian word for stone building).

As well as the willow collection some more special features to be found here are:

  • a large meadow, home to thousands of orchids in early June,
  • a herb garden,
  • a small agricultural field with traditional crops and their typical flowers,
  • an infertile bog area with large shrubs of  Myrica gale or Bog myrtle and also
  • a mini sand dike, home to many annual flowers.
The Highlight of the year is in mid May when the orchard is transformed in pink Ragged-Robin and yellow Buttercups… (picture by G. Domna)

I was informed by the Chairman of the Gardens, that the large Wijngaardslak (Vineyard or Burgandy Snail) was introduced to the site, after a visit to a Heemtuin in Limburg!

It was extended to about 1 ha since 1999. The new part has a traditional orchard, coppice, small lake, a helofyten or biological filter with reeds and other wetland plants and a small raised path (with soil from the lake)  planted with native trees & shrubs. In 2009 it was further enriched with a beehive shed adjacent to the lake and orchard. Through a glass panel the visitors can watch the bees’ activities. The garden is maintained by volunteers actively  involved in several working groups and the garden is very important for local school children who all come to visit throughout the year.

I spoke with several of the volunteers to see the mature native willow species and cultivars used for various reasons. I also love the various landscape elements such as the recycled pavement slabs structures at the entrance, the raised bed, the insect hotel and the small ‘Vrouwenakker’ (or Ladies-field) with traditional crops, herbs and their uses!

A small Box hedge has been affected this year by the Box caterpillar which has really gone wild with this year’s extreme long, hot summer. One volunteer was pruning back the Salix myrsinitis (Bay Leaf Willow) and placing the branches on a so called ‘Dead Hedge’. This then functions as a barrier for dogs into the gardens as well as a useful insect and wildlife habitat.

recycling of second hand pavement slabs at Heemtuin Nieuwkoop.

The small building on the premises has been built with the measurements of a real stable nearby and the walls are all made with a wattle and daub method. A modern twist is that several central heated pipes run through the walls. There is also a modern hot air pump which hopes to eliminate dependency on fossil fuels.

See for more here:  It is in Dutch but there are some nice pictures too!

Some useful hints in creating a heemgarden:

For a genuine local Heemtuin or ethnobotanical garden first of all:

Find out the dominating natural landscapes of the area and the typical plants associated with these habitats. Find out the present or past uses of those plants!

In a more general sense:

  • Creating natural shelter belts by planting trees and shrubs with berries such as Hawthorn and Buckthorn or Willow-panels.
  • Creating ditches and lakes for surplus water as well as creating water rich habitats for typical vegetation.
  • Creating raised areas for different types of habitats.
  • To stop erosion through natural screens of for example, willow and grasses.
  • Creating different soil types and conditions.
  • To control invasive or damaging vegetation.
  • Creating habitats for all sorts of animals.
  • Use insects or farm animals to enrich habitats
  • Control of damaging animals (rabbits, Muskrats and stray cats!).
  • Use of natural and cultural pests and disease methods.
  • Sowing and planting of native flowers.
  • Growing food plants (seeds and berries) to attract wildlife in particular birds.

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