DUTCH GARDENS of the 1680s are full of ideas for California gardens of the 1980s, as can be seen at a re-creation currently on view at the Center for the Study of Decorative Arts in San Juan Capistrano. Designed by landscape historian James J. Yoch, the garden borrows ideas from typical upper-middle-class urban gardens in the Netherlands of the period. These were town gardens, small and compact, that made excellent use of the space available. Yoch's re-creation measures only 25x25 feet--not much bigger than today's condominium garden.
The garden is part of an exhibition called "The Reign of William and Mary: Anglo-Dutch Tradition," which examines the influence of these two monarchs, which was felt as far away as Colonial Williamsburg, Va.
Trellises were used to enclose Dutch town gardens and provide a sense of privacy. Many of the features were miniatures of those found at much grander palaces; at one edge of Yoch's re-created garden, the trellis vaults over the walkway to form a berceau , a vine-shaded gallery. It is a miniature of the berceau at Paleis Het Loo at Apeldoorn, home of the House of Orange and William. Yoch also included a scaled-down triumphal arch at one end, which, he says, embraces "the custom of using imperial Roman architecture to rule gardens." Another custom was to personalize the garden with painted slogans: Lust en Rust means "Pleasure and Ease."
There were no lawns in these compact gardens; in their stead, parterres were elaborately designed with plants and also materials such as crushed shells or colored gravel. (Williamsburg Colonists favored paths of oyster shell.) In this garden, the parterre takes the form of raised beds filled with flowery plants, and the paths are covered with decomposed granite. Many plants used in the re-created garden were in use in the late 1600s--lavender, thyme, rosemary, passion flower, cannas, hibiscus, sweet bay, cycads, hibiscus, cannas and day lilies; William and Mary had a passion for the exotic plants that the Dutch trading companies brought back. Orange trees in pots and topiary of India hawthorne, ivy and boxwood balance the low raised beds. So that they could come inside for the winter, the more tender plants were grown in containers or were dug from the ground, unnecessary in California.
Here, there is even a trompe-l'oeil of a canal under one of the large arches, a fixture of the time that provided a fictitious view out of the small gardens.
"The Reign of William and Mary: Anglo-Dutch Tradition" garden can be seen Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., through Oct. 14, at 31431 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. Admission is $3. For reservations for "The Gardens of the William and Mary Period and Their Continuing Influence Today," a two-day talk by James Yoch and Eric Haskell, on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, telephone (714) 496-2132.