Garden Inspiration from the Netherlands

Mien Ruys Garden

Garden design inspiration at Mein Ruys Garden

Earlier this month, a group of us garden designers had a sneaky trip to the Netherlands to visit Mien Ruys garden for a bit of garden design inspiration. Mien Ruys was an exceptional and inspirational garden designer and she is a true icon of mine. She studied garden architecture in Berlin in the 1920s which was about the beginning of the Bauhaus movement. Her parents owned a nursery in the Netherlands called Moerheim. They introduced a number of our common and garden perennials that we still use today, such as Helenium ‘Moorheim Beauty’. Many of her ideas paved the way for the style of gardens that garden designers create today.

Designing stepping stones across a pond with innovative composite materials

In a fast changing world, she created a series of experimental gardens next to her parents’ nursery. After the second world war, gardens were no longer the domain of an elite few and became far more widespread. However, these new gardens being created at this time were small gardens on a small budget. The garden design inspirations that Mien Ruys experimented with addressed the needs of the small gardens ‘for the people’. These garden ideas are just as relevant today as these are the sorts of gardens that most of us have.

Designing a small garden

Mien Ruys was masterful when it came to manipulating garden spaces. She designed gardens with a strong geometry and perfect proportions. Her gardens were made up of rectilinear designs with clean lines. She used chequerboard paving patterns, rectangular borders and square and rectangular water features to define her spaces. The garden edges were then softened with her planting schemes.


She was also an expert at dividing the garden into ‘garden rooms’. This is a very effective trick as makes a garden seem bigger and more interesting. If you can’t see everything in one go and you are wandering what is going on round the corner, this makes the garden feel larger.

Mein Ruys experimented with changed levels in garden to manipulate the space and add interest. For example, by building a sunken garden she has created a tranquil space and with a sense of enclosure.

railway sleeper sunken garden Mien RuysShe also made her spaces more interesting by cleverly incorporating focal points such as statues, garden furniture, water features and by planting ornamental trees to catch your eye. Not only this, she used wooden pergolas and garden paths to draw your eye down the garden. To change the pace at which you travelled down the garden, Mien Ruys changed the pattern of paving materials down the garden path.

Wooden pergola at Mien Ruys garden

Designing a garden on a budget

Natural stone was scarce and therefore expensive in the Netherlands after the war. This got Mein Ruys thinking and so she experimented with using alternative affordable landscaping materials. These included concrete pavers of different sizes and textures for paving and water features.  She was the first person to ‘repurpose’ old railway sleepers to build retaining walls and raised beds in the garden. It’s hard to believe as they’re so commonplace these days. Railway sleepers create a very natural look in the garden and are an affordable alternative landscaping material to stone. However, these materials were pretty cutting edge and innovative in those days!

Concrete paving patterns at Mien Ruys garden

Mein Ruys died back in 1999 but she is still a garden design inspiration. Her gardens are maintained by a trust and are still used as an experimental testing ground to this day. They are divided in to 30 individual gardens in all, so needless to say it took us most of the day to wonder round all of these gardens and analyse them in depth. I cannot recommend these gardens more highly if you are looking for some garden design inspiration. Or if you would like some garden design advice closer to home, then please get in touch using the contact form and book a consultation.