Garden article by Luis Marmol


A gardener of the Peace Palace, Luis Marmol, wrote a very interesting article for the December 2009 issue of Tuinjournaal: A winter garden revisited: A midnight discovery

A winter garden revisited: A midnight discovery

Text and photography by Luis Marmol

One late spring evening as I rode on the Molenstraat in The Hague, a map shop caught my eye. Under a light in the window was a map showing the Haagse Beek nearly 300 years ago. In that old street layout, I could see the Peace Palace and its gardens as they looked in 1712. My heart leapt with joy, because there before me was the key to a mystery that had puzzled me since I started working as a gardener at the palace several months earlier.

Visitors to the garden today can see a long line trees along the west side of the garden emerging from an earth berm forming a raised allee. As conceived by Thomas Mawson in 1908, the garden features forest walks, including one that was to lead from the gardens to a chapel on the west side. While the chapel was later moved to the Obrechtstraat in The Hague, the raised allee remained.

But Mawson’s plan did not include any elevation of the grounds, so the origins of the berm were a mystery. It seemed it existed when he created his design, but no one at the Peace Palace knew why. A further peculiarity is a mound south of the Peace Palace’s clock tower. While the small hillock is largely invisible in the summer when it is covered with vegetation, in the winter it becomes evident. Again, there is no reference to the mound in Mawson’s original plan, which simply shows the area as forest.


Confirmed discovery

Examining the map in the shop on the Molenstraat on that spring evening, I could see a circular garden parterre in the location of the round hillock. And while the west side of the map shows a fencing line of trees, there are also dunes bordering the street. The present day raised allee, it became clear to me, is a large dune, stretching on the map past the neighboring estates. But today it’s buried under the raised streets.



Detail of Cruquius map 1712, showing the grounds on which the Peace Palace was later built in 1913 (Courtesy of National Archives, The Netherlands)


Later in the summer this discovery was borne out when we pulled brambles off the berm and found that it was largely composed of sand. Later, in the archives of the Carnegie Foundation, I found a survey map of the garden from 1907. The large dune berm was labeled as the Lilac walk (Seringenberg) and the round hillock south of the tower was a Parnassus mountain; between the two was a garden maze, but no design of its shape is shown. It is known that Queen Anna Paulowna had a lilac walk and a forest of lilies of the valley, hyacinths, and daffodils in her garden. The maze however, could be a reference to uncontrolled growth in the previous garden. In any case, the Parnassus served as a vantage point for enjoying the garden.





Above: Survey map from 1907 showing late garden layouts for villas Buitenrust and Rustenburg. ( Courtesy of the Archives of the Carnegie Foundation, Peace Palace)


Balance between nature and design

Looking through the maps and working in the garden, I can easily imagine how the landscape might have looked centuries ago. And I am struck how man, in his attempt to manipulate nature, also allows nature to control his design. The surrounding dunes were an element in the older garden, where the Peace Palace was built. Over the years, the berm has served as a natural hedge, protecting the garden from winter winds. While it originally would have offered privacy for the villas and protection from intruders, today it creates a perfect noise barrier from the surrounding traffic and has created a microclimate for stinzen plants, ferns and small birds and even occasional visits from foxes who are a living reminder of The Hague’s history as a royal hunting ground.

The Peace Palace isn’t the only place where Mawson used a natural forest as a backdrop for his work. As one of the leading figures of the Arts and Craft Movement, Mawson aimed to bring nature and human creations into harmony in an era when mankind was growing increasingly besotted with machines. Mawson’ s ideas were ahead of his time. Gardeners back then were more focused on design and the choice of flowers, not nature. By leaving the forest largely intact, Mawson allowed nature to stand in contrast to the more formal gardens that he had crafted to mirror the architecture of The Peace Palace. As the eye wanders past the bridges over the Haagse Beek, the two sections come together, where the forest forms an invitation to the past.



Rose garden imitates the architectural symmetry of The Peace Palace creating an extension with nature.



Above: A connection to the past. Thomas Mawson’s bridge over The Hague brook connecting the rosarium and the forest.

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