Coffeeklatch

creative chit-chat

Bart & Pieter

Garden architects

Green is the new black. Ask Bart Haverkamp and Pieter Croes who turned their love for nature into a beautiful profession. With their green thumbs they are able to create a unique environment, with the garden as their playground. We meet up for coffee in their loft and atelier, which is nestled behind a green veil in a crowded Antwerp neighborhood. Green is the red thread in their lives, for nature is everywhere.

 

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Once you set foot in their city loft, you have the illusion to be in a whale’s belly, or rather a gigantic greenhouse filled with souvenirs. The truss with white beams carries big skylights and outside you can enjoy the Mediterranean garden adorned with a big tree in the middle. Trees are Bart & Pieter’s signature trademark. Wherever they can, they plant them. “I bought this tree for a client who requested it on the 6th floor. When we reached the 4th storey, the rope broke and the tree fell all the way down. I saw this as a sign, that it didn’t belong there and that’s why I planted it here. The neighbors are quite fond of it too, because now we can all enjoy its beauty,” Pieter says.

 

 

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When we think of gardening, men lifting up a tree in the city centre, is not quite the image that comes in mind.

Bart: In our job we do whatever we want, from creating gardens to spectacular roof terraces, from small to big projects. 

Pieter: When we take on a big challenge, we like to call ourselves the A-team. If a client wants a tree in the middle of a complex, we have to start lobbying months ahead. We arrive at the site with a load of trucks, material and crew, because we have to finish it all off in one day. Traffic gets blocked, police cars escort the crane and cars get towed away. Para commando style, we love it! Such a big project gives us a thrill and people enjoy watching the spectacle. 

Bart: It’s nice to come up with an idea, but to put it into practice is so much more fun. When you design a kitchen, everything has to be perfect and it can never get any better. Our work only gets better in time, for we have to let nature take its course. 

 


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I get the impression that the possibilities with trees, plants and flowers in the city are endless. 

Pieter: Every project is a search for the right solution. When a roof is too light, we use artificial turf or we replace soil by peat-soil. When clients want to install a new terrace, but they lack the budget, we re-paint old tiles or we replace them by plants. Everything is possible. But what looks simple, is often the most difficult. With a rooftop garden you start from scratch. A classic garden is much more complicated, because you have to maintain it properly. I always have to figure out which plants are weeds and I try to share this information with my clients, so they’ll know what to do in the future. 

 


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So you assume your clients have green thumbs and are able to maintain their own garden or terrace? 

Bart: No, on the contrary. We seldom come across clients with green thumbs. 

Pieter: Most people want a beautiful garden, but none of them wants to take care of it. In the past we have designed so many extraordinary gardens, but clients don’t spend enough time at home to fully enjoy it and to cultivate it. The concept of gardening is much more romantic than the reality. 

 

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What happens to the garden when a house changes owner?

Bart: A few projects that we captured in our first book don’t exist anymore. Most of our designs work with automatic irrigation. But when a house gets sold, the real estate agent often forgets to replace the tablet of the irrigation system. And when a house changes owner, our garden gets demolished and replaced by lawn or they prefer another atmosphere than the one we installed. 

Pieter: Once and a while we see our creations featured on real estate websites, cause people love to show off their gardens. After all they add an extra value to the property. 

 

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In the city there’s a striking trend: young trees get chopped down to give way to a new square. It seems like nature and culture share a different rhythm. 

Pieter: I totally agree. While a tree is full grown after a few decades, a city environment is faster subjected to renewal and change. In Belgium trees got to go either way. But when you look at London or Paris: these cities are able to preserve ancient trees in the city centre, they share a mentality that respects nature. Half of the genetic code of a banana is equal to the genetic code of a human being. This means we’re all part of nature. And by respecting nature, you respect yourself. It’s a petty Belgians don’t share this point of view.

 

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You divide your time between the atelier in the city and your holiday home on the countryside. Which space do you prefer? 

Pieter: 2/3rd of our time is spent in our holiday home, where we are totally surrounded by nature. But when we are busy working, we spend more time at our atelier in the city. Our holiday home is a cottage in the style of the English Bloomsbury Group, a collective of bohemian writers and painters from the 30’s. We call this house our holiday home, because we never work there. There’s no computer. We don’t want to pollute it with stress. You can swim in the pond and relax in the garden and there’s plenty of space for outdoor experiments. Recently I started my own vegetable garden, with variable success. Our holiday home is located in a nature reserve, and regularly we see people walking by. But it’s nothing compared to the passage we experience in the city. (Laughs.)

 

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Bart: The front- and backhouse of our home in the city are part of an old farm that dates from 1850. The premise looked romantic with ivy growing through the brick walls. But in reality, it was a big mess. We didn’t know we had a garden until we started cleaning up. We sublet it first and after renovation works we decided to take up residence ourselves. We replaced all skylights, making the loft look like a big greenhouse. We even had the idea to grow plants inside. 

Pieter: Skylights provide plenty of day light, but we also made a big hole in the wall and installed a sliding window. This way we can enjoy a beautiful view on the garden.

Bart: In the bedroom I even created a hatch for Pieter, so that he can watch his tree grow while he’s lying in his bed.

Pieter: A balcony and stairs leading towards the garden are next on our wish list. Our goal is to fully enjoy the little green outdoor space we have here. 

 

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About Coffeeklatch

Coffeeklatch stands for ‘Slow journalism using a fast medium.’ Magali Elali and Bart Kiggen created the blog as a creative chitchat featuring creative entrepreneurs in their homes over coffee, including interesting people telling intriguing stories. It celebrates storytelling and creativity in all its forms, from fashion design to architecture. Read More

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