Designing By Nature

At the forefront of the New Perennials movement, Dutchman Piet Oudolf talks of evoking the mood of wild landscapes. But, while natural-looking, his work is highly designed and based on a painstaking selection of plants

BY TIM RICHARDSON PHOTOGRAPHS BY MARIANNE MAJERUS & JERRY HARPUR

iL in

Oehme Van Sweden Piet OudolfPotting Shed Design IdeasOehme Van Sweden Meadow Prairie

This page: Scampston Hall walled garden in North Yorkshire, one of Oudolf's projects in the U.K., where he has legions of admirers. Above:The fountain pool at the center of the Perennial Meadow is echoed by a large oval bed beyond. Below left:The restored conservatory is just visible above a backlit border. Below right: Echinacea is a favorite American native. Opposite: Oudolf has brought exuberant prairie-style planting to public spaces—like this pink Echinacea purpurea 'Rubinglow' mingling with a haze of grasses (Panicum virgatum 'Strictum') and the tiny daisylike flowers of an aster.

This page: Scampston Hall walled garden in North Yorkshire, one of Oudolf's projects in the U.K., where he has legions of admirers. Above:The fountain pool at the center of the Perennial Meadow is echoed by a large oval bed beyond. Below left:The restored conservatory is just visible above a backlit border. Below right: Echinacea is a favorite American native. Opposite: Oudolf has brought exuberant prairie-style planting to public spaces—like this pink Echinacea purpurea 'Rubinglow' mingling with a haze of grasses (Panicum virgatum 'Strictum') and the tiny daisylike flowers of an aster.

Panicum StrictumPiet Oudolf

n international profile is a rare thing among even the most accomplished garden designers, but plantsman Piet Oudolf (pronounced Pete OW-dolf) has gained just that as the leader of the New Perennials movement in planting design. He has been feted in England for at least the past decade with high-profile projects such as the Millennium Garden at Pensthorpe nature reserve, a long double border at the Royal Horticultural Society's garden atWisley, and more recently a new extravaganza at Scampston Hall,Yorkshire.

Now American designers have noted his skills. His work can be seen in The Battery in NewYork City, where a once-dank and uninviting municipal landscape of London plane trees has been opened up and a ground tapestry of shade-loving perennials added. For the Lurie Garden in Millennium Park in Chicago, Oudolf created a wild-seeming field of perennials and grasses woven in shifting tones of a delicacy that belies the hardiness of the plants. He has also been hired to contribute to the conversion of the High Line railway into an aerial park in NewYork. It seems that this is just the beginning.

So what is it that makes this designer so hot?

Oudolf, a big blond Dutchman, started his gardening career at age 25, after deciding against going into the family restaurant business. His main influences were Karl Foerster, who pioneered the naturalistic look in Germany's public parks, and Mien Ruys, the Dutchwoman who blended planting skill with innovative modernist design ideas. At his own garden at Humme-lo, near Arnhem in the eastern Netherlands, Oudolf developed a planting style that is wholly dependent on the structure and form of artfully clipped hedges and perennial plants, particularly grasses. By the mid-1990s the style had been given the "New Perennials" tag, and since then it has inspired numerous disciples in Holland, France, Germany, Sweden and Britain. One of the best examples of his work in Europe is the Dromparken in Enkoping, Sweden.

The New Perennials concept is relatively new in the United States. However, over the past 30 years,Wolfgang Oehme and James van Sweden, based in Washington, D.C., who have built up one of the most successful garden-design practices in the country, have brought exposure to similar planting ideals. Plantsman Wolfgang Oehme comes from a postwar European planting tradition similar to Oudolf's, but his work is tauter, more clean-lined and less horticulturally complex. It is intriguing to see how the road has forked.

What is revolutionary about Oudolf's approach is the way he claims to disregard color entirely when planning borders. "The form and structure of plants is more in-

Scampston Hall

"If you want to create plantings that evoke nature and provide a long-lasting season ofinterest, then you should concentrate on learning about plant form and think of color as only an exciting extra"

IV-w ffl

iirt.^ii

Pensthorpe Nature Reserve in Norfolk, U.K., has the wide-open spaces that allow Oudolf's rhythmic plant masses to make a big impact particularly in late summer when the grasses take on autumnal tones. Joe Pye weed, on left, is a staple; likewise, echinacea and sedums.

Sedum And Joe Pye Pics

trinsic to them than color, and gardeners should be paying it more attention," he argues. "Flower color is with us for a relatively short season, compared with the shape of the plant—with perennials from spring until winter. If you want to create plantings that evoke nature and provide a long-lasting season of interest, then you should concentrate on learning about plant form and think of color only as an exciting extra." In this view, there is no such thing as a "wrong" or bad-taste color combination.

Now all of this is heresy to the English gardening tradition and its devotees around the world. Painterly color theming, in the Gertrude Jekyll tradition, has been the bedrock for classical gardening through the 20th century. But for Oudolf, there is more than enough interest in swaying drifts of grasses such as stipa, miscanthus and molinia, offset by sculptural notes from the spires of digitalis, verbascum, persicaria and salvias or the fluffy plumes of filipendula and thalictrum. It is the shape of the plant that matters, so Oudolf creates repetition and rhythm by using groups of daisy forms (rudbeckias, echinacea, asters, inulas) or flat-capped flower clusters such as sedum, angelica, eupatorium and achillea. Dead plants are left in situ, and Oudolf encourages gardeners not only to appreciate the charms of seed heads (which is easy enough), but also to revel in the various brown tones of dead leaves.

While large numbers of gardeners are enthusiastic about New Perennials, it has to be said that a significant proportion remain unimpressed. There are concerns that the look will not work on a small scale, that the planting palette is limited, that dead plants are dispiriting, and that it only works in late summer. The problem for Oudolf is that he is trying to shift an entrenched aesthetic perspective. However, all the international interest would indicate that there is a healthy future for Piet Oudolf and New Peren-nials:The burgeoning, swaying masses of plants seem to envelop visitors as they move through the space, and this can make even a public garden seem somehow intimate and personal.That is the key to Oudolf's appeal for architects and urban planners:The soft organic shapes of the plant-dominated garden, as opposed to the clean lines of Modernistic landscapes, can—it is felt—both complement buildings without challenging them aesthetically, and create a place the public can take to their hearts. ■

Tim Richardson is an independent garden and landscape critic and author of English Gardens in the Twentieth Century (Aurum Press, 2005, 208 pages, approx. $80).

Jerry Harpur Gardens

Opposite and above:Two walled gardens in the U.K. from early and late in Oudolf's career: Bury Court, Surrey, and Scampston Hall, Yorkshire. Below: Oudolf has been known to say "Dying in an interesting way is just as important as living," and here the globular seed heads of Eryngium yuccifolium mingled with red Sedum telephium 'Matrona' prove his point.

Opposite and above:Two walled gardens in the U.K. from early and late in Oudolf's career: Bury Court, Surrey, and Scampston Hall, Yorkshire. Below: Oudolf has been known to say "Dying in an interesting way is just as important as living," and here the globular seed heads of Eryngium yuccifolium mingled with red Sedum telephium 'Matrona' prove his point.

Eryngium MoliniaOudolf Eryngium

onward new perennials

  • For information on visiting days at Piet Oudolf's nursery and garden at Hummelo, near Arnhem in Holland, see www.oudolf.com. October is a good time of year to see the grasses at their best.
  • Oudolf has written several books that explain his approach to planting design. The most recent is Planting Design: Gardens in Time and Space, with Noel Kingsbury (Timber Press, 2005, $34.95).
  • For Oudolf's work in public parks visit the following Web sites for information: in the USA, www.thebattery.org (planting at Battery Park is shown above); www.the highline.org; and www.millenniumpark.org.In the United Kingdom, see www.rhs.org.uk; www. scampston.co.uk; and www.pensthorpe.com.
  • Other landmarks in the history of the New Perennials movement in the USA include the work of Oehme,van Sweden.Their massed grasses and native perennials around the Federal Reserve building in Washington, D.C., was a breakthrough in the design of public landscapes that made the OvS name.The partnership went on to redefine private landscapes in the same style, subsequently dubbed The New American Garden, a look that James van Sweden has defined as "a metaphor for a meadow."
  • Prairie Nursery in Wisconsin is a specialist nursery closely identified with the New Perennials style. Owner Neil Diboll worked with Piet Oudolf on selecting plants for the Lurie Garden, Millennium Park in Chicago.Visit www.prairienursery.com.
Soilless Cultivation The ShedSelecting Flowers For Potting

lilrLff/ji

Was this article helpful?

+1 0
Growing Soilless

Growing Soilless

This is an easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide to growing organic, healthy vegetable, herbs and house plants without soil. Clearly illustrated with black and white line drawings, the book covers every aspect of home hydroponic gardening.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment