Leonard Springer (1855-1940), Dutch landscape architect


Leonard Anthony Springer is one of the most prolific and important garden and landscape architect in the Netherlands. He was a very outspoken person who lived and worked in a fascinating and long timespan, the change from the romantic19th century to the modern 20th century. Springer is a household name for Dutch garden lovers with a historical interest. But many don't know much about his work, his ideas and the practice of landscape architecture at that time. And in the mean time a lot of his still existing gardens and parks are under continuing threat. That's why it is so important that a thorough study of his influences and his work has been published by De Hef in november 2002. At the same time an exhibiton is held at the Teylers Museum in Haarlem till February 9th 2003.

The book is written by art historian Constance Moes. A multitude of material stood at her disposal because Springer was not only a immaculate archiver of his own work and correspondance but collected all kinds of primary source material like old prints and books about landscape architecture and gardening from other architects, periods and countries. Besides that he was a plant collector with an expert knowledge on dendrology and taxonomy. He published a lot of critical articles in journals and newspapers. He was not only a man who lived for his work and wanted to share his knowledge but also tried strongly to persuade others of his beliefs which sometimes made him impopular. All his work and books were donated by him in 1939 to the Wageningen UR Library (then called Landbouw Hoogeschool, Wageningen) for students to study and became the start of a unique documentation on Dutch landscape architecture and garden history at the Special Collections.

According to Moes Springers life wasn't always a rosegarden. His real passion was trees and forestry but he hadn't the right education to persue that carreer. When he grew up in Amsterdam he lived nearby the Vondelpark which was finalised by the landscape architect Zocher. He deceided to become the next best thing: working with trees as a landscape architect. This was better fitting with his family. His father was a famous painter of historic townscapes and his uncles and nephews were involded with architecture and civil engineering. He went to a newly started horticultural school called Linnaeus. This school was preparing boys mainly for gardening and nurseries. Springer therefore had to teach himself the basics of landscape gardening by studying books and prints from abroad and about European garden history. Especially German model books in the mixed gardenstyle with gardensk elements had a large influence on him. He tried to distinguish himseld from the practice of nurserymen who designed gardens as a byproduct. His whole life Springer would battle against this practice and for the profession of an independent landscape architect. Later on his main concern was the growing influence of architects and urban planners that left the landscape architect to fill in the green spots in stead of designing the whole scene. This struggle resulted in his involvement with the start of a professional organisation of landscape architects, the Bond van Nederlandse Tuinarchitecten (BNT) in 1922.

As a landscape architect Springer was still entangled in the gardensk landscape style in which he could express his love for trees and shrubs the best. At the end of the 19th century his fame rose with the design of large projects like cemetaries and public parks in Amsterdam, Groningen, Tilburg and Deventer. In large estates and villaparks there was still enough room for a grand landscape, especially in the east of the country where the taste was still a bit old fashioned. But the times were changing and leisurely walks were becoming less important and features like sporting fields and tennis courts were difficult to handle for Springer. He reluctantly witnessed a new generation embrassing the Architectural Style designing gardens in line with the modern villa. Because Springer was very active for more than 5 decades he became the celebrated nestor of the Dutch landscape architecture although his work wasn't setting any school. At the end of his career his love of nature made him the first designer of a garden with indigneous plants, Thijsse's Hof at Bloemendaal.

This nicely illustrated book on Springer displays not only the aspects of Springers life and work but also this changing of the times. It depicts a socio-cultural aspect of the Dutch society and landscape that is seldom brought to light. Springers carreer spans the period of transition in which the love of gardening and of nature was not anymore prohibited to the large estate owner or the higher middle class but became popular among the common people. For the restauration of Springers gardens and parks this book fills the ommission that was felt until now. This book and the exhibition already have helped to raise the awareness of people to safeguard elements of monumental green in their neighbourhood. These actions from the general public are recognitions of the quality of Springers work and of the importance of garden history for the 21st century.

Based on: L.A. Springer : tuinarchitect, dendroloog / Constance D.H. Moes ; red: Anne Mieke Backer, Erik de Jong en Carla S. Oldenburger-Ebbers. - [Rotterdam] : de Hef Publishers, 2002. - 325 p. : ill. - ISBN 90 6906 035 3

mail icon Wageningen Digital Library, 13 July, 2006