The wilderness garden (1924)

The Wilderness garden dating from 1924 is the oldest garden. It was Mien Ruys’s first experiment with both planting and architecture. Plants suitable for shady circumstances were combined with rigid geometric forms. In 2004 the Wilderness garden became one of the three national monuments in the Mien Ruys Gardens.

Design and planting

In the back garden of her parental home where the fruit garden used to be, Mien Ruys took ‘ her first steps in the direction of garden architecture’.  To create this garden just a few apple and pear trees were  left standing and the rest removed.  As a contrast to the loose, abundant planting that she had in mind, she added a simple clear form. This was a square pond placed where two connecting lines crossed; a path from her house to the nursery  at the back of the gardens and at right angles to this, a path to a bench. For the path and pond exposed aggregate tiles of 40 x 60 centimetres were used. Mien Ruys planted the garden with shade loving plants such as Primulas, Aquilegias, Campanulas and Bleedings hearts. Very soon she discovered that not only is the amount of sunlight important for the type of plant, but also the type of soil. The chosen plants thrived in chalky soil and were not suitable for the acid soil of Dedemsvaart. These plants disappeared within a year. The experiment was successful in that Mien Ruys learned a very important lesson as she herself put it: “ I realised I had to make a very important decision: What do I do in the future? Do I ensure that the plants I choose have the right type of soil or do I choose plants suitable for the soil I am planting them in?  And of course I chose for the latter!”

She then chose other sorts of plants suitable for the acid soil and her idea of letting them run wild, like Hosta, Kirengeshoma, Smilacia and Rodgersia. These plants did well. The most important task then was to take height and shape of leaf into consideration when letting the plants run wild. As there was no room for weeds, weeding was unnecessary. The leaves from the trees formed enough humus so that it was not necessary to fertilize the garden either. Mien Ruys called this ‘a controlled wilderness’.

The principle of loose, abundant planting with the rigid geometric design is the starting point for this garden. Later this became a trade mark for Mien Ruys and could be seen in all her designs.


The Wilderness garden design has never been changed. In the sixties a few old apple trees and an oak were blown down in a storm. The ground had to be repaired and the garden replanted. As the trees had been removed the circumstances involving light and moisture changed too. The balance became disturbed and weeds such as Ground Elder started to appear. A great deal of work was then put into this garden and after some time the balance was restored.