Saturday, February 8, 2020

Dutch magician and my hero. Should be your hero too!

Harry Jans
This picture was taken 15 years ago (in April, 2005). Harry had invited me to speak at a Dutch rock garden society conference--and I was lucky enough to spend a magical week in Netherlands. One of the tours included his private garden: I've been blessed to know Harry for almost 30 years (since he undertook a lecture tour that brought him across the USA and he stayed with us--in our old Eudora home: that's how I know how long ago it was because we moved to Quince street in around 1992!).

The stone column in front of his house--various views.

I took him on a daylong foray where we saw steppe plants in full bloom on the Laramie plains, and Eritrichium aretioides on Medicine Bow peak. The payback to me for his short visit so long ago has been inestimable. I doubt there is a more accomplished gardener, plant explorer, tour organizer, civil servant or friend on the Planet. I am distressed I only have old pictures of his garden (I know it's undoubtedly much more sophisticated now than ever!)...but these should have historic value and there's some nuggets at the end you musn't miss!

Another view
I've taken different glimpses of just this one feature in his garden, which is crammed full of alpine treasures: do note there is a sprinkler on top--even in Netherlands these need an occasional extra drink!

Perhaps fifteen years before when this column had been first erected, Harry Jans sent an article about it to the Rock Garden Quarterly talking about it and some other rather avant garde features he'd built. The editor of the journal at the time uncharacteristically hated their design and over my vociferous objections rejected the article. I was dumbfounded and perhaps a later parting of the ways was prefigured in this instance...I'm being deliberately abstruse...fortunately, Harry did not take umbrage at this crass act and our friendship continued to develop.

Here you can see the front garden as it was back then--I know it has changed dramatically again since that time...I MUST get back to Holland (for this and many other reasons!). See the column in the back?

Closeups of the column.
Absolutely perfect Primula auricula and Saxifraga longifolia and probably Draba rigida or suchlike...

Primula auricula and Arabis bryoides (I believe)

Harry and Hannie actually lived in the RIGHT hand side of this duplex, but the neighbor on the LEFT hand side allowed him to expand the garden thither...The Dutch are so danged enlightened: most people I know in the USA are battling with their neighbors!

As you can tell, I'm enamored of this column...

More views of a bevy of Prophyllum saxifrages on the column's summit...

Mere mortals have tacky gazing balls. Dutch deities have stone balls with marbling of the elements. Ramonda, Haberlea are lavishly planted all over the garden, And that's Erythornium 'Kondo' or 'Pagoda'--which thank Heavens likes my garden too!

Across the Jan's street there is an enclosure with deer...the Dutch kill me! Most American gardeners I know are wanting to eliminate THEIR deer!

I'm guessing that's Trillium pusillum (or something looking like it!) on the right, and Rhododendron keleticum (or one like it) on the left. If indeed this IS keleticum this picture was truly prophetic: fourteen years after this picture was taken, thanks to Harry I trod through acres of this rhody in full bloom above 15,000'. Google just informed me it grows only up to about 13,000' you might like to know. Once again, Google is dead wrong

As you step into the back garden, this is what you saw in April 15 years ago...

There are elegant touches everywhere...

Every grouping expresses an artful eye...

I love this wall side waterfall!

I really don't need to comment: the garden speaks for itself: full of the best plant treasures--get a load fo all these Saxifraga longifolia !

The alpine house is sunken into the ground (for reasons of insulation no doubt)

Everything is that pristine order and cleanliness that's a hallmark of Holland.

Perfectly grown alpines in the frames...

Everything is melded with grace...

Seedpots germinating. You can be sure they're all choice!

A pleasure of pleiones!

Jeffersonia dubia

I was not alone on this tour--look at the participants gawking!


More pleiones...

Tulipa schrenkii front and Fritillaria uva-vulpis behind: pretty sure of these ID's

His brand spanking new tufa wall: I can't imagine how this must look NOW.

More established alpines in pots--ready for a show! (Some of the missing ones were probably AT the plant show...)


Dionysia involucrata (I think) on the tufa wall...

But OUTSIDE this Asplenium Ceterach may not even have been planted--it's abundant in walls all over Europe. I'd die to have it!

I love the walkways...and this circular brick paved spot...

And MORE Saxifraga longifolia! I did see a picture of his garden a few years later when they almost all bloomed at once: wish I could have been there then--it was spectacular!

Closeup of Saxifraga longifolia

Another look at that wall waterfall from another angle...

We'll take a look at that wall to the side soon...

Not everything is choice and rare...but always charming...

Next is the pièce de résistance!

Every rock garden enthusiast knows about this wall: both sides are chockablock full of treasures--while I was there the S. longifolia was obviously dominating--but the fat wads between this are the real cause for its fame..

More pix to give you a better view of the "fat wads"--namely Jankaea heldreichii.

 I have highlighted the Jankaea for you: it ists  the ultimate Gesneriad entirely restricted to Mt. Olympus in Greece and the gardens of a few extraordinary gardeners. I believe Harry was the first to grow it this stunningly's almost a weed for him.

I'm sure we could grow it--but establishing it in our dry air will be hard. I've been given plants by three great plantsmen (Alfred Evans smuggled one in for me in 1982, and in April of 1991 I was sitting between Harry and John Forrest at an International rock garden conference. Unbeknownst to one another, they both handed me vials with young plants of the Jankaea. Synchronicity haunts my life...

I can't stop myself!

Here is Harry on Serchyem La last summer. He invited me to go on his trip to Tibet: perhaps the most wonderful plant trip I've ever taken (and believe me, I've taken a lot!). Three weeks of rollicking fun on the roof of the world. I have dozens of pictures of him and Hannie--two of the most generous, thoughtful and extraordinary people I've ever known..

Harry practically coerced me to lead a trip for NARGS to Yunnan in 2018: I'll be publishing yet ANOTHER Blog about that...He's led 17 trips to China and is so rich in experience he has to share it! He's designed the trip I hope to lead in June to Sichuan (let's hope the damn Coronavirus is corralled in time and doesn't spoil the opportunity). If so, it will the the FOURTH fantastic experience I shall owe this man (Holland, Yunnan, Tibet--if you weren't counting)

Here in far Southeastern Tibet! If you act quickly and click on this tabb, you can still register for the North American Rock Garden Society's Annual General Meeting in Ithaca, New York this June. Harry will be a plenary speaker for that meeting, and I can assure you, he will blow you out of the water! And he'll be there for the whole meeting, so you can have a chance to speak to a living legend.

But if you linger, you may lost out: the meeting was half sold out the first day the registration opened! But you can always have the compensation of visiting Harry's unbelievable website where you can spend hours, days--hell, you can spend WEEKS browsing his unbelievable photography that puts mine to shame!

Thank you Harry, for so many magical times. And let's hope there will be many more to come!

This WAS going to be it...but I made the fortunate mistake of sending a link of this blog to Harry and Hannie to be sure I didn't say anything TOO wrong or embarrassing.....well, have YOU lucked out: he sent me 23 images of his garden in more recent times to show the gardens evolution. Put on your helmets, dearies--this is going to be a WILD RIDE....

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Jankaea heldreichii Photo: Harry Jans
Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans


  1. OMG! That column! Those Saxifraga longifolia! That wall business...I think I could look at these photos for days and still find new things to love. Thank you!

  2. The column with the vertical garden is visual magic! And that's saying much, considering his is one well-designed rock garden - very refined.

  3. I agree, the column and tufa wall are like a rock garden magic trick. He has virtually made a levitating rock garden. In my climate, it would fry in the summer sun and freeze hard in the harsh winter. I must wonder if the column, wall, and gardens receive irrigation. Maybe I could do something like that if I had a greenhouse. I'd be happy if I could get some of the easier columbines to grow in that column and wall.

  4. Yeee Haw, what a ride. This garden is mind-boggling. Seeing all the photos Harry sent with things in bloom blew me away.

  5. I need my own column now. This is great in that I can add more alpines.

  6. Very cool garden! Thanks for the post.


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