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In the summer of 2010 I expressed my dislike of clearly visible corten steel edges in restored or recreated garden parterres. In a comment to that post some very good suggestions were made to better conceal the steel rims (by either letting the young plants grow a bit, or raise the level of gravel). My chosen example of Het Park admittedly consisted of only young planting at the time, so the suggestion that these parterres needed more time to fully mature made sense.1

I still don’t think these edges are visually appealing, so I was curious how Het Loo would deal with this issue. Here they restore, replace and recreate the parterres surrounding the house. Initially forced by box disease and a leaking irrigation system, but also inspired by new insights and knowledge, resulting in markably lower and thinner hedges.2 The last phase of that process has begun this September, thus ending the unique combination of newly restored parterres in the west half, and the old parterres in the east half of the lower garden, that could be seen this year.

So. How does Het Loo conceal the corten steel rims in their parterre? They do not.

In fact, Het Loo takes the whole thing two steps further by not only displaying these rims in full sight, but by also using them as guiding rails for the cutters. A ‘slider’ is attached at the end of a stick, on which either a vertical or horizontal cutting blade is mounted. This slider is placed on the corten steel edge, which thus functions as a rail.
The cutter is switched on and the gardener commences his stroll among the hedges: parterre hedge clipping 2.0 in full swing.

The result in the Koninginnetuin (recreated last winter) looks like this (click to enlarge).
Hedges end well within the confines of the steel boundaries. Because this vertical rim functions as a rail, and the distance between rail and hedge is fixed by the way the cutter is constructed, this is how the parterre is going to look ‘forever’.
The hedges will of course mature and fill up more, but there is no room for them to gradually grow beyond the set width and (maybe) cover the steel. The soil and gravel can’t be raised to level with the edge of the steel rim, because that would compromise the smooth running of the slider guiding the cutting blades along the hedges.

This is it then. These eyesores are here to stay, clearly visible and more out in the open than ever. Practical reasons for doing so have clearly won over the -well: my :-)- aesthetic preference of experiencing a garden without having the actual construction of garden elements thrown in one’s face; and without seeing the tricks which enable gardeners to maintain the garden’s well-kept image.

Aesthetics is just one element of gardening. The cost of maintenance is (and has of course always been) an important factor. And let’s not forget about some health issues that gardeners at Het Loo will not have to face anymore, because they can keep their backs straight while clipping some 25 kilometers of hedges.
But still…

Edited @ September 28th, 2014 for spelling, a wrong link and a missing link.


  1. The corten steel in Het Park is still ugly, by the way. Four years of maturing has not helped at all. The same comment suggested it would be almost impossible to spend so much money on corten steel edgings, just to have them disappear completely. I think that is hardly an argument to create something visually unappealing. [back]
  2. A few images pointing in that direction can be seen here: Cascade weblog. [back]
Summary

In de Benedentuin van Paleis Het Loo wordt op dit moment de laatste hand gelegd aan de recreatie van de parterres. De figuren zijn gelegd in corten-staal, en op basis van nieuwe kennis over de oorspronkelijke situatie worden de haagjes lager en smaller dan voorheen het geval was.
De corten-stalen randen zijn wat mij betreft veel te goed zichtbaar, en helaas heeft dat ook praktische redenen: ze dienen als rails voor het vrijwel geheel gemechaniseerde knipproces. Wat mij betreft had die stalen rand minder zichtbaar gekund, maar de praktische voordelen zijn onmiskenbaar.
Toch jammer.

Steel has become a popular gardening material in recent years, as for instance gardenvisit.com noted during the 2010 Chelsea Flower Show. Sculptures, seats, anything can be done in steel (a few months ago I saw an original early 20th century agave-in-pot, completely made of zinc).

Corten steel.
In Chelsea corten steel (also known as weathering – or COR-TEN steel) was also used for sculptures, but the material has been around for a while in gardens -with a different use. Many parterres de broderie have in recent years been (re)created within the curves of narrow strips of corten steel, dividing the planted areas from the ones containing gravel. Plant box hedges within the boundaries, pour gravel in the remaining areas and hey presto: we can still see the steel.
Dutch garden in Het Park in Rotterdam.

Corten Steel edging in Het Park, Rotterdam. Photo by HvdE.

The fact that the steel strips are often clearly visible irritates me, because it is ugly and unnecessary. The only funcions of the steel in these layouts are: divide the areas and contain materials. Skilled gardeners should be able to mask the divider by keeping it hidden, just under ground level. And thus create the illusion that what we see is the result of meticulous maintenance.
I do not need to be shown how the parterre was created, I just want to see and enjoy the combined materials this garden element is supposed to be made of: plants and gravel.

Box at Het Loo in Apeldoorn in 2007.

Corten Steel edging at Het Loo, Apeldoorn. Photo by HvdE.

The parterres at Het Loo show that it is possible to use corten steel and achieve an aesthetically acceptable picture -although they probably could clip the hedges a bit less harsh. The high edges of steel that are clearly visible in the parterres of the ‘Dutch Garden’ in Het Park in Rotterdam (created in 1960, restored in 2009) again show how bad execution can ruin a good idea.

Summary

The strips of corten steel that are used to (re)create parterres de broderie are purely functional. Somehow -and to my dismay- the increasing interest in steel as a gardening material seems to result in ugly rims of steel around box hedges.