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Mien Ruys

12-04-1904 - 09-01-1999


Mien Ruys is one of the founders of modern landscape gardening. She shared her functionalist views with those held by the ‘De 8 en Opbouw’ group, a Dutch architectural magazine, and regularly worked with architects such as Maaskant, Merkelbach and Rietveld. Her gardens were austerely designed, with lush plant growth.

Mien Ruys started her career at ‘kwekerij Moerheim’, her father’s nursery in Dedemsvaart. Moerheim was the first nursery in the Netherlands to publish a detailed descriptive catalogue of perennials. The nursery set up a landscape gardening department in 1916, where Mien Ruys started work; before then, it had not been possible to train as a landscape gardener.

From the very start, the foremost aim was to experiment with plants, materials and designs. To gain experience with the plants at the nursery, Mien Ruys experimented in her parents’ orchard and vegetable garden. A famous experiment dating from the 1960s saw railway sleepers being used, which led to a spate of sleepers in Dutch gardens. Using washed gravel paving stones (tiles made of exposed aggregate concrete) was another of Mien Ruys’s ideas.

In 1928, Ruys went to England to learn the trade at the landscape gardening department of a nursery in Tunbridge Wells. In 1929, she left for Berlin to study at the newly established college of landscape architecture in Dahlem, and to engage with the city’s cultural life. Back in Dedemsvaart, she became head of the landscape architecture department at Moerheim in the 1930s.

Inspired by her visit to Berlin, she attended lectures on architecture in Delft given by M.J. Grandpre Molière and others during the crisis years, when business was slow. Because she felt isolated in Dedemsvaart, she moved with the design agency to Amsterdam in 1937.

She was more in touch with architects than with other landscape gardeners, sharing the views of the ‘De 8 en Opbouw’ group: “I, too, looked for the maximum in simplicity and clarity of form, leaving decorations for what they were and attempting to use materials – plants – in as functional a way as possible.” (1)

After the war, Ruys regularly worked with B. Merkelbach and Ch. Karsten, Aldo van Eyck, J.P. Kloos, H. Salomonson, H. Maaskant, G. Th. Rietveld, A. Staal and A. Bodon, and others. From 1953 to 1955, she lectured on Urban Parks and Gardens at the Department of Architecture of Delft University of Technology. In that same year, she launched ‘Onze Eigen Tuin’ [Our Own Garden], a journal aimed at bringing landscape gardening to a wider audience. The journal is still around today.

After the Second World War, she worked mainly for private individuals, while in the 1950s, she was also awarded several major projects.  The specific feature of her designs, be they for private or factory gardens, residential areas or urban parks, is a somewhat austere basic arrangement using straight lines, circles, diagonals and rectangles. Sharp lines and the often paved paths are toned down by naturally growing, profuse plants.

Designs by Mien Ruys include the communal gardens for the residential district of Frankendael in Amsterdam from 1949, the planting scheme for Nagele in 1956, garden plans for the Tomado factory in Etten-Leur in 1955 and the Prinses Irene hospital in Almelo in 1961, a communal garden next to a high-rise block in Buitenveldert in 1962, and innumerable private gardens.

Lit. Bonica Zijlstra. Mien Ruys, een leven als tuinarchitecte. - Nederlandse Tuinenstichting, [1990]
(1) Zijlstra, p. 16

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