Some things deserve a closer look

The Floating Gardens of Yuppopolis

Floating gardens of Yuppopolis

Anything you can do on land, you can do on water. That’s the idea behind the amazing floating gardens created by the late Robert Jasper Grootveld.

From poets to singers to politicians – any Dutch person who was even remotely hip in the 60’s knew Grootveld, who was famous for his energetic and magical happenings. He was fascinated with the buoyancy of polystyrene, so among his many inspired visions was the idea of creating water parks.

Thirty years later, in 2000, the Amsterdam borough of Zeeburg launched the first of 3 floating gardens created by Grootveld in the Eastern Docklands. In what appears to be a slight protest about the gentrification of this once industrial harbor, he called the islands “The Floating Gardens of Yuppopolis”. Grootveld passed away in 2009.

Today Arno Baan maintains Grootveld’s heritage with his foundation, Blijven Drijven (which means “stay afloat”, but in it rhymes in a fun way in Dutch). One of the islands is named the Ocean, which was completed in 2008 as a floating work of art. It’s some of the only greenery in this neighborhood – as city planners believed water would be all the nature people needed. They were wrong!

In this video, Baan explains how he created different growing areas by weighing the foam deeper into the water with dirt, for wet-loving plants – or having the foam rise higher with sandy soil, so it supports the growth of pine trees. The Ocean is lusciously green with apple and hazelnut trees, blueberries, kiwis and so many other plants growing so tall, you’d think they were on real land and not a floating conglomeration of polystyrene cubes covered in dirt.

But it’s more than just dirt. As part of a work experience project, 20 people spent 2 years making the nets and foil needed to protect the polystyrene from the elements. The nets connect the blocks of polystyrene, and a layer of soil goes over the nets.

Behind all this is the idea that we should take advantage of the extra surface area our waterways offer us. Especially in densely populated countries, where land prices are at a premium. Plus, if you have a floating garden, you can move it where it’s needed most. To grow fruit and veg, to hang out and enjoy nature, to picnic and swim.

By now, geese and other birds nest on the islands. And each year, neighbors are invited to picnic on the island – and help with weeding, pruning and other jobs. I didn’t know about it in time for this year, but now I’m on their mailing list and can’t wait to help out in the fall!

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