The Vroom Family: Five Generations Garden and Landscape Architects

It is often said that the Netherlands has been entirely created by people. The material on garden and landscape architecture held by Special Collections provides a useful overview of the history and development of the Dutch landscape. There are more than 40 collections with documents that describe gardens, parks, cemeteries, green infrastructure for cities and roads, land consolidation projects, etc.

The Garden and landscape collection is Anita’s favourite. “Not only because of the great diversity and artistic value, but also because there are so many links to be made with other collections. This makes it possible to tell a broad historical story based on many different documents,” she explains.

The story of five generations of garden and landscape architects in the Vroom family begins in the north of the Netherlands with gardener Geert Vroom, who started designing gardens for wealthy farmers, and ends with Meto J. Vroom, Professor of Landscape Architecture in Wageningen from 1966 to 1994. This is a history of one and a half centuries captured in design drawings, grower’s catalogues, aerial and other photographs and botanical illustrations.

Much information on garden and landscape design in the Netherlands can be found in two databases: TUiN and Groen Erfgoed.

Anita Chef's special: A Tast of the Collections

Design for an unidentified villa garden

Ontwerp voor onbekende villatuin

This undated design for a villa garden is possibly a study or draft plan intended for potential clients. The design was probably produced in the late nineteenth century by Melle (M.G.) Vroom (1829-1913) or his son Jan Vroom Sr (1855-1923) in the late nineteenth century. Melle Vroom’s father, Geert Cornelis Vroom (1801-1876), was a gardener in Slochteren who designed gardens in the English landscape style for the rich farmers of Oldambt in the province of Groningen. These were the so-called meandering gardens (slingertuinen). The study has features that are still used today: a curving pond, meandering paths, long views and a small hill at the rear of the garden with a gazebo on top.

The collection also contains a design drawn by Geert Vroom in 1846 for the garden of the Borgesius family in Oude Pekela:

Melle Vroom followed in his father’s footsteps and also designed ornamental gardens for farmhouses, but various studies and a design for the garden of a clubhouse have also been preserved. A description and images of Melle Vroom’s work can be found in the TUiN database.

Jan Vroom Sr designed many meandering gardens, but also parks, smaller villa gardens, school gardens, cemeteries, etc. Special Collections has some seventy designs of his:

Catalogues of the Bonte Hoek nursery, De Punt, 1932-1938

Catalogi Kweekerij Bonte Hoek, De Punt, 1932-1938

In 1871, the family moved to a farm near De Punt, south of the city of Groningen. Melle and Jan Vroom Sr probably established the nursery there in the late nineteenth century so that they could grow their own trees and shrubs for the gardens they designed. There are two drawings in the collection that may well depict this orchard/nursery. Their son and grandson Jan Vroom Jr (1893-1958) expanded the business into the Bonte Hoek nursery, which registered as a business in 1919. The catalogues from the 1930s are richly illustrated with photos of plants, shrubs and trees, as well as the gardens, parks and cemeteries designed by the Vrooms.

Landscape architects who did not have their own nursery often sourced their plants from a specific nursery. The collection of nursery catalogues is an important source of information about the plants, shrubs and trees that landscape architects used in their designs. The catalogues sometimes also contained garden designs. Special Collections has about 35,000 nursery catalogues from around the world, including catalogues of growers of fruit trees, vegetables and agricultural crops.

Aerial photograph of Glimmen, with the Bonte Hoek nursery, Rijksstraatweg, the railway line and De Punt train station

Luchtfoto van Glimmen, met Kweekerij Bonte Hoek, de Rijksstraatweg, spoorlijn en station De Punt

This aerial photograph of Glimmen was taken on 29/11/1944 and is part of the RAF collection (RAF 025-01-3136).

The Bonte Hoek nursery consisted of several plots of land and was conveniently located near the De Punt train station on the line between Groningen and Assen. The largest plot of the nursery can be seen on the left of the image. The name ‘Bonte Hoek’ is recorded on a topographical map dating from 1898/1899. The name of the nursery may have been derived from a local topographical feature or farm.

The RAF collection consists of over 94,000 aerial photographs taken by the Allied Air Forces between 1943 and 1947. Descriptions of these and other aerial photography collections of Special Collections can be found on the web page Aerial photographs, where you can also access the Geoportal with RAF aerial photographs.

Photos of garden under construction at Noorder Sanatorium in Zuidlaren

Foto’s aanleg tuin bij Noorder Sanatorium in Zuidlaren

The garden at the Noorder Sanatorium in Zuidlaren was designed by J. Vroom Jr around 1935.

Jan Vroom Sr lost his eyesight in 1911 due to an illness, after which his son Jan had to quit the horticultural school in Frederiksoord after just one year to take over his father’s work. In addition to private gardens, Jan Vroom Jr designed many parks, cemeteries, suburban green spaces and the like for municipalities and also designed gardens for mental institutions, hospitals and elderly homes throughout the Netherlands. The family business often also took care of the landscaping work itself. An example of this is the landscaping around the property of the Noorder Sanatorium in Zuidlaren, 7 hectares in size.

The majority of the Vroom collection consists of drawings and other documents by Jan Vroom Jr which describe over 100 projects:

Two garden designs by J. Vroom Jr: The plan for ‘Houtrust’ in Harenermolen, 1930 and the construction of the garden of Mr. Hamer in Arnhem, 1953

Tuinontwerp van J. Vroom jr: Tuinplan voor “Houtrust” te Harenermolen, 1930
Tuinontwerp van J. Vroom jr: Tuinaanleg voor dhr. Hamer te Arnhem, 1953

The style of garden design underwent many changes during the 47 years that J. Vroom Jr worked as a landscape architect. The designs from the early period are largely mixtures of styles with architectural elements such as brick walls and steps, pergolas and hedges. These were surrounded by wooded areas, ponds, groups of trees, lawns and winding footpaths all laid out in an English landscape style (picture left).

Several designs of smaller private gardens have been preserved from the 1950s which reveal a sleeker architectural style. In addition to the garden plan, cross-sections and perspective views were often also provided (picture right).

More information about the Houtrust garden is available here:

More information about the garden of Mr Hamer is available here:

Memorial tree for Professor of Landscape Architecture Meto Vroom

Gedenkboom voor hoogleraar landschapsarchitectuur Meto Vroom
Meto Johan Vroom (1929-2019) was the youngest son of Jan Vroom Jr. He studied landscape architecture at the Agricultural College in Wageningen and succeeded J.T.P. Bijhouwer as professor there in 1966. After his retirement in 1994, Meto Vroom published the Lexicon van de tuin- en landschapsarchitectuur. An English and a revised edition would follow later. Meto Vroom was appointed an honorary member by the NVTL and received the Bijhouwer Prize in 2014, on which occasion his book Leren kijken : het Wageningse onderwijs en onderzoek in de tuin- en landschapsarchitectuur, was published.

A tulip tree was planted on the WUR campus to mark Meto Vroom’s 80th birthday. This was a newly cultivated variety named after him and grown at the Bonte Hoek nursery in Glimmen, which still existed, but was no longer owned by the Vroom family.

The pen drawing of Liriodendron tulipifera is part of the collection of botanical illustrations made by the scientific illustrators of the former Biosystematics chair group. The drawings are on display as part of the Botany collection of WUR Image Collections. The collection consists of two parts, the  Botanical Gardens Collection and the Perennial Plants Collection.

After the death of Jan Vroom Jr in 1958, the family business was continued by his three eldest sons, who in 1968 divided it into the ‘Bonte Hoek’ nursery, the ‘De Punt’ landscaping company and the firm of garden and landscape architects ‘Tuin- en landschapsarchitectenbureau Vroom’. These companies no longer exist. The drawings and other documents of the Vroom family were stored in various locations and were eventually brought together again to form part of Special Collections.

Lexicon M.J. Vroom

The Vroom Family: Five Generations Garden and Landscape Architects

is part of

Chef’s Special: A Taste of the Collections

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