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GARDENING : HOME DESIGN : A SPECIAL ISSUE OF ORANGE COUNTY LIFE : CULTIVATING YOUR GREEN THUMB : Going Dutch : Demonstration Garden Evokes Pleasures of Holland Circa 1700

August 12, 1989|ROBERT KNIGHT | Times Staff Writer

William and Mary, who ruled the Netherlands from 1689 to 1702, would be right at home in the garden at the Center for Decorative Arts in San Juan Capistrano.

There, between the front building and library, is a reconstructed Dutch city garden, complete with triumphal arches, topiary and a perimeter of citrus trees.

One of the arches has the inscription Lust en Rust , which is not an invitation for debauchery, senior-style, but means "pleasure and ease." The other arch says Vriendshachp en Gezelschap or "friendship and sociability."

With two benches, canopied walkways, a trompe l'oeil painting of a canal and a variety of flowers and vines, the small garden is an oasis of calm.

"It is truly a place for meditation," said Jeffrey DuCharme, the staff member who supervised the installation of the exhibit, which is part of "The Reign of William & Mary: Anglo-Dutch Tradition," at the center through Oct. 14.

Designed by James J. Yoch, the garden makes a few bows to its Orange County locale but is mostly faithful to the formal gardens of Holland circa 1700.

For starters, it is no more than 40 by 50 feet, evoking the scarcity of space in densely packed Dutch towns. It is geometrically laid out, with trellises forming a square and trellis vaults over the walkway on the south to form a berceau , a vine-shaded gallery. The triumphal arches are of Imperial Roman pedigree, which William, who held the titles of Prince of Orange, Stadholter of Holland and King William III of England, inherited from his family's preference for classical architecture.

Citrus trees are reminders of the Dutch fondness for orangeries; that is, collections of potted citrus that are sheltered in hothouses during the winter. Ficus trees have also been added to provide a cover of greenery. The citrus trees, fig trees and exotic flowers, such as cycads (sago palms), passionflower, lilies and hibiscus, hearken to the bounty of Dutch trading expeditions, hybridizing and horticulture.

"The Dutch were very good at odd-seasoned plants," Yoch explained in a phone interview from his studio in Norman, Okla. "They were great traders, and they brought back seeds and bulbs, which did better than the green plants."

He noted that the Dutch cultivated camphor trees from the Cape of Good Hope and delighted in growing pineapples, tea trees and other exotics from Asia.

Yoch, author of "Landscaping the American Dream: The California Gardens and Film Sets of Florence Yoch" (a distant cousin), said the typical Dutch garden is "the size of many California gardens and works terribly well here."

A particular tree or flower might get lost in a vast French garden but would be highly noticeable in a smaller space where "an individual feature really shows," Yoch said.

Interspersed between the flowers in the San Juan garden are rosemary, lavender, sweet bay and other herbs, testaments to the practical aspect of Dutch character. But here and there, topiary geese, ivy wreathes, conical shapes and three-ball ivy trees donated by Dana Howes Anderson of Newport Beach give the garden a fanciful feeling.

Unlike French and English gardeners, "the Dutch love that whimsy of incorporating topiary," said DuCharme, pointing out a small goose and gosling made of wire foundation, spagnum moss and ivy.

In a real Dutch garden, the perimeters of plant clusters, or parterres , would be marked by thick stands of boxwood, a small-leafed plant that is trimmed into a hedge. Most of the plants would be in the ground, except for the citrus and other exotics that would have to be moved in cold weather.

Because the San Juan exhibit is temporary, all the plants are in containers behind six wood-bounded parterres . The parterres were fashioned with reversed curves to form a pattern more complex than Italian designs but less elaborate than French versions. All the wooden installations, including the arches and canopies, were built by Rags Martenson, a Capistrano Beach inventor and jazz musician. Most of the structures are topped with carved obelisks, which resemble elongated spades.

Some of the plants are in terra cotta vases, which are associated more with Italy and California than Holland. Another concession to Orange County is the availability of iced tea served in the rear of the garden. Most of the area is sun-drenched, and visitors are there between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., "the hottest time of the day," DuCharme said. "We serve the iced tea to encourage our guests to walk through into the back. A lot of them stop at the entrance, look around but don't go in."

All of the plants thrive in Orange County and are available through local nurseries, DuCharme said. In September, tulips and narcissus will be brought in to provide even more color.

"The Reign of William & Mary: Anglo-Dutch Tradition" will continue through Oct. 14 at the Center for Decorative Arts, 31431 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. The center is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. A donation of $3 is requested for non-members.

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