To remark that the Dutch love their gardens is akin to observing that the British love their tea. One need only think of the famous Keukenhof Gardens; tulips; and the tulpenmanie (the Tulip Craze) of 1636-1637 to understand that I only state the obvious.
But so too do the omnipresent gardens in the Netherlands speak to the obvious. Gardens came in multiple forms:
in window boxes adorning the facades of the quintessential tall, narrow Amsterdam canal houses;
in the microscopic front plots of city properties (Hollyhocks seemed to be an Amsterdam favorite);
on balconies and rooftops--pitch permitting;
on houseboats--yes, on houseboats; and,
My favorite manifestation of the Dutch love of gardening, however, comes in the form of what I call the "summer garden community." These small communities made very efficient use of the land. Neatly laid out on a grid pattern, diminutive houses were surrounded by luxurious plantings, each garden more spectacular than the next. Some even had greenhouses attached!
Immediately I dismounted and was plunged into another world, a mysterious world, a world in which the garden expresses the experience of time--not (as I later found with Sissinghurst) as an homage to time, a snapshot almost of a time long passed, but as living time, a remarkably bold announcement of being in time.
I was struck by the prevalence of these communities; they seemed to proliferate like hollyhocks on Amsterdam streets. If Americans splurge on beach, lake, and mountain houses, so many Dutch, it seemed, splurged on 5x7 or 6x8 garden homes--the garden plots bigger than the houses themselves! And many appeared to be quite lived in: an ordered and aesthetic life, the efficient use of space dictated by smallness.