Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

‘We need to accept the weeds’: the Dutch ‘tile whipping’ contest seeking to restore greenery
Environment World News

‘We need to accept the weeds’: the Dutch ‘tile whipping’ contest seeking to restore greenery

Tineke Menalda sits in the sun on her front step, nursing a cup of coffee and idly plucking out the odd weed. Three years ago, the front of her terrace house in Amersfoort was completely paved. But now, sitting in a lush garden of trees and green, she is an official ambassador for the strangest new sport in the Netherlands: tegelwippen, “tile whipping”, or “whipping away” the paving stones.

“A lot of people think that tiles are easier, but actually when you have larger trees, you get very few weeds underneath them and you can make it really easy,” she says. “When I had paving I would never sit here, but now it’s a garden, it’s cooler in summer and in the spring, it’s lovely.”

Two weeks ago, the starting gun fired for the NK Tegelwippen, a lighthearted competition where, up to October, municipalities compete to get rid of the most paved infrastructure. The “tile table” is currently dominated by Venlo in Limburg (14,636 whipped away, 144 per 1,000 residents), with Menalda’s Amersfoort in third rank (3,271) and the Dutch capital Amsterdam trailing with just 2.

A pile of ‘whipped’ paving stones in the village of RaalteView image in fullscreen

Remco Moen Marcar, the founder of the initiative, came up with the “playful” idea during Covid. “People were sitting at home … and of course there were no [football] championships,” he says. “So we thought: let’s host one between Rotterdam and Amsterdam, our clients. One always wants to be the best when it comes to soccer, so let’s use this as an incentive for people in those cities to clear the tiles out of their garden.

“You’re a happier person when you live in a green surrounding, so every slab you flip is 900 square centimetres of potential happiness. You’re also healthier and, if that’s not enough, there are the big problems we are facing with climate change.”

The Steenbreek foundation – named after the saxifrage plant that literally means “stone breaker” – is another partner. Its research suggests that of 5.8m Dutch domestic gardens, only 8.64% reach its target of being four-fifths green, to allow rainwater drainage and biodiversity.

Roel van Dijk, the director, sees a generational shift. “All of the television programmes where you see the garden is an extension of the living room have an effect on creating more impermeable ground,” he said. “Younger generations have less knowledge, gardens are getting smaller and so there are more hard surfaces needed for your patio or your path. Dutch people also like to have everything tidy, but we need to accept the weeds. Every paving stone gone is a win for the ground and for biodiversity.”

skip past newsletter promotion

It is also key for the Netherlands’ ability to withstand climate change: according to the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, rainfall events will become more frequent and heavier, and 2023 had the most rain and sun since Dutch records began. “Sponge gardens”, blue-green roofs and rain barrels are becoming essential to stop drains overflowing.

Brigit Kuypers, who helped create an exhibition about tile whipping at the Green House visitor centre in Amersfoort, says heat is an issue too. “All of the rain from the Gelderland valley and some from the Utrechtse Heuvelrug comes to Amersfoort, a lot of people live in a small area and the city has a lot of hard ground,” she said. “There is also a lot of heat stress, stones that stay warm until deep in the night – and trees are a kind of air conditioning.”

The municipality is removing paving and greening streets, recycling the old stone into material that will be used to boost crumbling home foundations – another worrying consequence of climate change.

Tile whipping in the village of RaalteView image in fullscreen

From big cities to small villages, there’s enthusiasm for tile whipping (and a rap from Maashorst last year certainly wins the prize for effort). In Raalte, Overijssel, the first day’s “tile taxi” took away more than 900 stones and gave away 250 plants, according to climate adaptation staffer Maud Weenink. In Rotterdam, John Lingsveld, who runs the “Tegeltaxi” service, expects to pick up from 70 addresses a week. “People think it’s a great initiative and show you everything they have done … although there is the odd one who asks if we also deliver new tiles for them!” he says.

Menalda is attacking her back patio this year. “I know my plants and I love them, but you can also choose ornamental grasses where very few weeds grow, or a mat of plants that give good ground cover and need very little maintenance,” she points out, aiming to recruit more neighbours to help Amersfoort win the golden tile and shovel.

Source: theguardian.com