How Piet Oudolf’s gardens tame the wild | Life and elegance


Piet Oudolf’s landscapes are as peopled as they’re planted. Folks flock to them, whether or not it’s the High Line in New York, the meadows at Hauser & Wirth’s artwork gallery in Somerset, or the Olympic Park in Stratford, to call a number of. Many of his gardens could also be in hip areas or hooked up to big-name architects, however the explanation individuals return time and again is his planting. His designs supply up one thing wild and alive. The plant mixtures are dynamic and playful: you’re as prone to go and admire decaying seed heads in winter as you’re spring blossom. They rip up the flowerbed rule guide and roll out, typically over huge areas. “I like to escape some of the rules around gardening – to provide thought and spontaneity, and pleasure.”

In some ways, he wants little introduction: there are Oudolf meadows up and down the nation, from Scampston Hall and RHS Wisley to Trentham Gardens, all showcasing his advanced, extremely naturalistic schemes. Some of his earliest work will be present in public parks in Sweden and the Lurie Garden in Chicago. Next month, Oudolf shall be exhibiting on the Royal Horticultural Society’s Hampton Court flower present, the place he’s making a walk-through characteristic – full with favourites astilbe, schizachyrium and monarda – and receiving the inaugural RHS Horticultural Heroes accolade. “England was the first country to appreciate my work and my approach to gardening,” he says.

High Line in New York, planted by Oudolf.

High Line in New York, planted by Oudolf. Photograph: Getty Images

His naturalistic, perennial meadow model exerts such an affect that you simply now see it in native pocket parks, on roundabouts and in amenity schemes in every single place. Not way back, the dominant amenity planting model was seasonal bedding, petunias, pelargoniums and pansies – brightly colored, however sterile, devoid of wildlife and missing spontaneity.

The New Perennial Movement, of which Oudolf is usually seen because the figurehead, modified all that, with herbaceous plantings and meadows made up of sturdy perennials and grasses. “Every time I do a private job, I think, ‘This is beautiful and great, but who is going to see it? Two people and their guests.’ My only interest is sharing my work with lots of people,” he says.

Piet Oudolf.

Piet Oudolf. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

He makes use of a complicated palette of vegetation which can be chosen for the rhythm they create over the seasons; they must look pretty much as good in decay as they do within the first unfurling of spring. If eupatoriums and sanguisorba really feel mainstream, it’s as a result of Oudolf launched them to a wider viewers. He has even bred his personal strains together with Gaura lindheimeri ‘Whirling Butterflies’ and Salvia verticillata ‘Purple Rain’. This makes for a panorama that it is advisable return to time and again to see how this gyrating descent and retreat of shades, textures and hues shifts over the seasons. If his gardens look breathtaking on the peak of summer time, by autumn and winter they’re typically heart-rending, because the yellows, purples and reds fade touchingly to subtler shades of brown, tan, blond and ultimately black. There’s one thing emotional about these landscapes.

In the 1980s, Oudolf, alongside together with his spouse, Anja, began a nursery to help Piet’s design studio at their dwelling in Hummelo, a tiny village within the japanese a part of the Netherlands. Here they experimented with a variety of perennials, in search of robustness, but additionally magnificence in decay, how a plant appears earlier than and after flowering, whether or not their seed heads withstood winter, what kind of administration they would want, and how they might compete with their bedfellows. Garden fans and designers from all over the world flocked to purchase vegetation and see his naturalistic plant mixtures at work. “In our first catalogue, there were plants that people had always thought of as wild – and we were selling them,” he says. “They may have been wild, but they were also attractive and well-behaved.”

Now in his 70s, Oudolf exhibits no signal of slowing down. He’s even tackling food-growing, creating an edible meadow round Noma’s new restaurant in Denmark. “It’s an adventure,” he says. “We’ve sown a crop of barley and put some edibles in between. We’re just finding our way – next year it’s going to be much more bold.”

Achillea ‘Walther Funcke’ and Sesleria nitida at Scampston Hall

Achillea ‘Walther Funcke’ and Sesleria nitida at Scampston Hall. Photograph: Alamy

When I consider Oudolf’s work, I take into consideration the parallels it has with these medieval Dutch flowering work that reminded the viewer of the fragility of life – together with the odd worm, moth, torn or fallen petal. Even essentially the most stunning of flowers is to be pollinated, and can ultimately rot. Oudolf’s love of seed heads and wind-dried winter stems is the same reminder, typically of the transience of such earthly pleasure.

The RHS Hampton Court Palace flower show runs 3-8 July (

How to get the Oudolf look

Sanguisorba canadensis A sturdy plant with white cylindrical flower heads that seem in late summer time. Classic Oudolf.

Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ In Oudolf’s phrases, ‘indispensable for the winter garden’.

Molinia caerulea ‘Purple Moor Grass’ Fits in anyplace; slim, clear and can pull an entire scheme collectively so long as you plant sufficient.

Thalictrum flavum subsp glaucum Forms big clumps of waxy blue-grey foliage and clusters of yellow flowers; it does wish to flop, although. Steal an Oudolf trick and develop it behind a shrub it will probably drape itself over.

Cephalaria gigantea An enormous plant, not likely for a small backyard, although it may very well be utilized in, say, a entrance backyard as a stand alone. It has pale yellow scabious flowering on flippantly branched stem and grows to 2.5m tall.

Eupatorium purpureum subsp maculatumAtropurpureum’ Gigantic purple-pink umbels on purple stems, cherished by late summer time butterflies. Grows as much as 2.5m tall.

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