John Van den Meerendonk

John Van den Meerendonk's Fern Garden 

When you walk through the library gardens, you enjoy their beauty and a sense of peace.  They supply areas for quiet contemplation and nooks for reading. But what about their beginnings?  This is one of three garden stories.  But each of these stories has a hero.  This one is about John Van den Meerendonk.  This one is about the Bainbridge Island Library Fern Display Garden.

John, the creator of this garden’s magic, is a landscape/garden designer, horticulturist, and philanthropist.  He was educated at UW-Madison in plant sciences and education.   He donated his design expertise after noticing a need for landscaping behind the library back in 1998-1999.  The area was shady and derelict.  But he saw its potential for ferns.  Helped by his affiliation with the Hardy Fern Foundation, he not only paid for it, but cared for the garden adding ferns and other plants for over twenty years.

John has stated he was inspired by his friend and confidant, Junkoh Harui and what Junkoh was able to accomplish on the west side of the library in creating the Haiku Garden.   He was also inspired by Ann Lovejoy and the Friday Tidies in their creation and care of the Mixed Perennial Borders throughout the rest of the library grounds.

With the help of his company Botanica, Inc., the BPL Fern Display Garden was cleared, paths created, bridges built, irrigation installed, bioswales rerouted, boulders placed, and rock walls built. The initial planting of 750 ferns, representing 70 different species and varieties of ferns, were planted on one day. The volunteers from the Bainbridge community and Hardy Fern Foundation members who also donated many of the ferns did the planting.

He also designed, built, and funded the gazebo that is a wonderful place for reading, meeting friends or simply quiet contemplation. 

Presently, there are approximately 80 different fern species and varieties. We are rapidly approaching 100 different species and varieties.  This hurdle would bring the garden into the realm of a world class fern display garden.  This garden is already an educational resource for our community and is held in esteem by the international fern community.

John is a charter member and past president of the International Hardy Fern Foundation.  The foundation was established back in 1989 to introduce and test the world’s temperate ferns for hardiness and ornamental value.  The foundation builds comprehensive collections of hardy ferns for public display, information, and education.  While the primary study garden is at the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden in Federal Way, the Bainbridge Library grounds are an affiliated site for research plantings and displays, one of only 16 in the U.S.  In keeping with the mission of the foundation, he is a gifted speaker and gives educational seminars.

And lastly, his talents extend far beyond the scope of the BPL Fern Garden.  He has a special place in his heart for the B.I. Land Trust and Islandwood.  He created the "Fern Stumpery” in a joint venture with the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden and the Hardy Fern Foundation.  It is considered one of the largest and most unique fern gardens in the world.  He volunteers at the Bloedel Reserve giving talks and walks identifying the innumerable unusual plants.  At present (2020), he is currently at work  installing the Renaissance Garden at Heronswood Botanical Garden which may surpass them all. 

In short, John is an invaluable resource not only to our library, but to our garden community, the Northwest and internationally. 

Fern Garden
Fern Garden