De Wiersse lies in the east of the Netherlands in the Achterhoek (Back Corner) of the province of Gelderland. The house and garden are at the centre of a modest estate of 300 ha, handed down since 1678 from generation to generation by the family which still lives in the house and manages the garden and estate.
A house has existed here since the Middle Ages. The milling and fishing rights on the slow-moving stream that bisects the garden date from before the 17th century. The inner and outer moats are for protection against robbers, hares, roedeer and late frosts – as well as for prestige. Oaks have been planted, with beech, around the house, since time immemorial.
One of the strongest characteristics of de Wiersse is continuity. It has been run and lived in by related families since 1678, the year in which Louis XIV abandoned his attempt on the Netherlands.
The continuity of ownership dates from the purchase in 1678 by Enno Matthias ten Broeck, who came from a family of Zutphen burgermasters. In the following century his heiress married Ludolph van Heeckeren of Waliën, Kamferbeek and Kemnade.
The Van Heeckeren family divided its time between their town houses in Zutphen and their country estates in the summer. The 4½ha inner garden is bounded by an outer moat. It contained an orchard to the west of the house and to the east a formal garden from which two small statues and parts of a fountain survive. The 12ha outer Pleasure Grounds have evolved into the present Wild Garden beside the stream and around the early fish and mill ponds. A double approach avenue gave place in 1842 to groups of oak, American oak and beech, which now reach more that 30 metres high.
After 1855 the family inheritance continued through Jacoba van Heeckeren who married the half-Irish J.B. van Limburg Stirum. Their youngest daughter, Aurelie, married Victor de Stuers, who between 1875 and 1900 initiated a national structure for museums, archives and monuments and organised the building of the Rijksmuseum. After he retired and became a member of parliament he restored the predominantly early 18th century character of their country house.
De Stuers’s only child Alice designed the formal Rose Garden, at just 17 years old, on the site where the Van Heeckeren’s formal garden had stood a hundred years earlier. Shortly after, in 1913, Alice added the Sunk Garden and the present Kitchen Garden.
Between 1918 and 1958 Alice’s husband, W.E. Gatacre, applied his sportsman’s and soldier’s eye, as well as his childhood memories of family demesnes in the south-east of Ireland and in Shropshire to transform the structure of the Wild Garden and the Park and to integrate them with the surrounding 300 acre estate by means of broad views and narrow percées. Different visual experiences are encountered unexpectedly. Vistas, a formal or romantic focus on a statue, stone steps, a baroque gate, a bench or a yew figure suddenly appear. Bridges cross the slow-flowing stream in which trees and sky are reflected. The park flows subtly into the small scale landscape of tenanted farms whose high-pitched roofs can be glimpsed between woods of oak and pine, coppice and orchards, alternating with low lying meadows and gentle ridges of arable land.
Since 1978 development has continued under Alice and W.E. Gatacre’s son E.V. Gatacre, born at de Wiersse, and his wife Laura, born on Exmoor in England. The naturalising of ferns and bulbs in the Wild Garden begun by W.E. Gatacre and Alice between 1918 and 1928 has been continued by E.V. and Laura Gatacre since 1978, together with the planting or replanting of trees and shrubs. The borders and kitchen garden, neglected in the war and during the difficult post-war years, have been further evolved under Laura’s care, after she had improved the condition fo the sandy, acid soil into good condition with a regularly applications of a mixture of the estate’s own leaf mould and cow manure.
Fruit and vegetables are grown organically in the revived Kitchen Garden, between perennials and annuals intended for planting out and cutting flowers.
Meadows alternate with ridges of farmland separated by woods, coppices and watercourses, providing an ideal habitat for flora and fauna; from the broadleaved helleborine to the white admiral, from the barn owl to the viviparous lizard.
The steep pantiled roofs of the estate’s farms are supported on oak posts and beams, often dating from the 17th century or earlier. The up-to-date dairy-farming buildings are anchored in the landscape by orchards, spinneys and avenues. For more than a century and a half the farm shutters have been painted blue-green with a white moulding, a pattern distinctive to the estate. The same blue-green is used for gates and benches in the garden.
An illustrated publication De Wiersse a selection of the plants gives a good indication of the richness of the flora – indigenous and introduced – trees, shrubs, climbers, perennials, bulbs and ferns – listed under each area of the garden and immediate park.