In the abbey garden of Doornburgh, time is nothing but as long as something lasts

ISLANDh greenest twig, greeting. You come with the wind blowing and the prayers of the saints. The time has come for your branches to blossom, hail, hail, be you, for the heat of the sun has spread within you like the scent of balm.

It is the German Benedictine Abbot Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) who here praises Mary’s impending motherhood in her mysterious songs. As genius as it is versatile, from theology and politics to poetry and medicine, was this one feminine universalis composer and botanist at the same time, as well as a very productive writer. Despite all its merits, Hildegard von Bingen was first rediscovered at the end of the last century and finally canonized in 2012.

In her time she was an outsider, she was the first to write about female sexual experience and shared her visions with her followers. She did not regard nature as a biblical phenomenon, but rather as an independent phenomenon. Von Bingen also published approx viriditas, the inherent life force that miraculously brings nature to life every spring through the extension of days and the warming of the sun. Her universe was a god-created whole, where miracles exist, and society is an orderly chessboard, with rows and positions where the monarch ensured unity in his kingdom.

Court domains, castle and monastery gardens have since Karl the Great had a uniform layout as stipulated in Capitulare de Villis† In it, the ruler announces in Latin that “We want it in a garden …” followed by a summary of the established standard list of flowers, trees and crops. Different herbs were given a healing effect that ensured that the four temperaments of the medieval man (choleric, phlegmatic, sanguine and melancholic) came into balance with each other again. Hildegard von Bingen has published extensively on this subject and her results are enjoying renewed interest. In Tyrol, an entire Von Bingen herb garden has even been reconstructed following a medieval example.

In the monastery garden of Doornburgh in Maarssen, the Middle Ages seem far away. The last nuns left a number of years ago from the former convent of the regular canons of the Holy Sepulcher, built in 1966. Architect Jan de Jong, a student of Dom Hans van der Laan, gave a modern interpretation of the convent’s fixed pattern, where rhythm, structure, proportions and dimensions feel medieval, but they are not. A balanced color palette highlights the sober architecture. Absolutely no room for earthly temptations, here the inner man comes to reflect, rest instead of desire.

Holland, Maarssen. May 3, 2022. Klosterhave in Doornburgh. Photo: Dieuwertje Bravenboer
Holland, Maarssen. May 3, 2022. Klosterhave in Doornburgh. Photo: Dieuwertje Bravenboer
Dieuwertje Bravenboer

Fire-altering composition

After the departure of the nuns, thanks to the vision and daring of Maya and Ton Meijer-Bergmans, this monastery at Vecht was given a new life with exhibitions and an excellent restaurant (DeZusters). Garden designer Karin Blom van Assendelft made a design for the inner garden. In this she combines grasses, annuals and perennials. The square monastery forms a strict enclosure to the much more freely decorated garden.

In her design, she wanted to “let the garden run its course”, says the designer. Karin Blom van Assendelft uses an artist’s vocabulary and calls her creation a composition in constant change. And this detachment fits wonderfully well into the orderly division of monastic life, where not the clock but prayers and fixed customs determine the day. Some plants self-seed, others are looking for an optimal location with their roots. Here time is nothing but as long as something lasts. The time is right.

In 1985, the Netherlands still had 23,000 monasteries, that number has dropped to a few thousand. At the same time, the interest in reflection, time, silence and rest in our tense time is increasing. To intangible things that cost nothing and yet become more and more sparse. Silence retreats lead us in. I’m silent. At my noise reducing headphones sound Hildegard von Bingen.

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