The Dutch village of Boskoop is famous for its horticulture: plants cultivated and grown on the local nurseries are exported all over the world. However, the villagers previously specialised in fruit culture. In 1222 ‘Buckiscope’ is mentioned in a charter issued by Count William I of Holland. Until the Reformation the fertile area of Boskoop was owned by the prestigious abbey of Rijnsburg. The Benedictine nuns recognised the thick local peat layer as prime soil for the cultivation of fruit.
Boskoop’s horticultural importance is still evident from the name of one – much later – apple variety. The ‘Belle de Boskoop’ (‘Schone van Boskoop’ in Dutch, and ‘Schöner aus Boskoop’ or ‘Bosko(o)p Apfel in German) was developed here in the 1850s and by 1863 this variety had spread across the Low Countries. This firm, tart apple comes in red, yellow and green variants. It is the favourite cooking apple in the Netherlands and used especially in Dutch apple tarts. Yet few Dutch people remember its original name for in the Netherlands the apple itself is now best known as ‘goudreinet’. Still fewer people are aware of the man who cultivated this apple and whose monument can still be found in the old cemetery in Boskoop.
The development of the ‘Belle de Boskoop’ is traditionally attributed to a local nurseryman and pomologist. Kornelius Johannes Willem Ottolander was born on 13 November 1822 into a family of nurserymen and traders. As a youngster Kornelius joined the family firm, which had originally been founded in the late eighteenth century. During his travels and through his trade contacts in Germany and England in the 1840s he became acquainted with new fruit varieties and his growing interest eventually resulted in several new apple varieties.
K.J.W. Ottolander was one of the founders of the ‘Vereeniging tot Regeling en Verbetering der Vruchtsoorten’ (Society for the Regulation and Improvement of Fruit Varieties), which subsequently became the ‘Pomologische Vereeniging’ (Pomological Society) and later still the ‘Koninklijke Vereniging voor Boskoopse Culturen’ (Royal Society for Boskoop Cultures’). He was one of the co-authors of De Nederlandsche Boomgaard, a luxuriously produced study on pomology in two volumes illustrated with chromolithographs and published by J.B. Wolters in Groningen in 1868. Ottolander’s publications also include the Nederlandsche flora en pomona (co-edited with A. Koster and C. de Vos, 1875) and the Practisch handboek voor de ooftboomteelt in Nederland (Manual for the cultivation of fruit trees in the Netherlands) (1880).
K.J.W. Ottolander died in 1887 and was buried in a prominent position in the new general cemetery, which had been opened on Reijerskoop in 1875 to replace the earlier cemetery behind the Dutch Reformed church in the centre of Boskoop. Erected in 1888 by friends and admirers, his monument consists of a neoclassical stèle in Belgian hardstone decorated in high relief with a star and more specifically leafy branches with apples and peaches, the simple text R.I.P. and a scroll that reads ‘DOOR VRIENDEN en VEREERDERS’ (By friends and admirers). The large slab covering the grave only carries his name and the date 1888. It is protected by a stone surround with iron posts and chains. The monument was restored in 2014 after a local appeal for funding.
The Old Cemetery is now itself a monument to nineteenth-century funerary culture. It still features the neoclassical gatehouse with a double door, a symbolic broken pillar above flanked by two leaning figures, two medallions with the ouroboros symbol of a snake biting its own tale, and a ‘baarhuisje’ (mortuary) to the right of the entrance. This gatehouse was originally reached via a bridge across a wide ditch, but in 1947 this was filled in. By 1949 the cemetery had become full, which necessitated graves being cleared in 1953 and 1959. In 1965 a new cemetery was opened on the other side of Boskoop. Since 1986 the Old Cemetery has been in use only for interments in family graves. In 2010 local volunteers founded a working party to preserve and maintain the Old Cemetery and in 2013 it became a municipal monument. For me personally the Old Cemetery has a special significance as several family members are still buried there, including the paternal grandmother after whom I was named; she died in 1949 and would thus have been among the last locals to be offered a grave there.